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Posted on Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 1:38 p.m.

Coaches say Michigan basketball team is one of this season's surprises

By Michael Rothstein


Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean said he's impressed with what the Michigan basketball team has accomplished so far this season.

Associated Press

Indiana coach Tom Crean hasn’t seen a lot Big Ten basketball this season, but from what he has seen, one thing stands out.

The Michigan basketball team is surprisingly good.

The Wolverines, without a senior on their squad, are 7-2 entering their game Tuesday against North Carolina Central (7 p.m., Big Ten Network) including a win on the road at Clemson.

“If I was going to pick a team, I would probably go with Michigan,” Crean said. “I think they are playing well. Even when they’ve struggled a little bit, they’ve been creating an identity.

“…Just seeing them briefly, I think they’re the team right now that is surprising people.”

Much of that has to do with Michigan’s defense.

Michigan has held opponents to 57 points a game and limited them to 38.8 percent shooting. The Wolverines also haven’t let an opponent score more than 65 points in a game this season.

“Our defense has really improved as the year has gone on,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Obviously it’ll be challenged much more in the next month as we continue to play a challenging schedule. We are really competing at a high level in games, and some of our guys are really getting to feel the game much better.”

Much of that has to do with sophomore point guard Darius Morris, who has had four games of 10 assists or better this year. He’s also leading Michigan in scoring (14.9 ppg.) and has played more under control than a year ago.

“Michigan has got some kids that have jumped up,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “The point guard (Morris) last year was feeling his way through the system and really made some strides.”

Michigan wasn’t the only team the Big Ten coaches noted as a surprise in the league - Minnesota and its hot start led by forward Trevor Mbakwe - was also brought up.

So, too, was the play of Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger, who was named the Big Ten’s Rookie and Player of the Week this past week.

But much of that conversation ended up coming back to Michigan.

“Those guys have won some games,” Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. “That I didn’t know if they’d be capable of winning early.”

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein



Wed, Dec 15, 2010 : 7:12 a.m.

I saw both games--I wouldn't necessarily say Michigan played better against Syracuse than MSU did so much as I'd say Syracuse played better against MSU than they did against Michigan. It also seems like a couple people here--how to phrase it--aren't putting things into the correct perspective. rnich might be a MSU fan, so, I mean, that would explain where he/she is coming from. As a Michigan fan, I would not be putting MSU down for playing the kind of non-conference schedule they play, not to say that Michigan should step ours up. They play Final Four-type teams, and then they seem to be the better for it at the end of the season. That could very well be something that benefited Michigan a couple years ago, playing Duke, UCLA, Conn, etc. And Oakland beat Tennessee, so there might really be something to that Oakland team. But what makes me say some people maybe lack perspective is Michigan just is not anything like MSU right now, and that's also not really why I'm criticizing Michigan's non-con. schedule. I think Michigan has actually been surprisingly good, as well, for everything that they lost and looking as if they had no leaders, no consistent shooters, etc, so I think Michigan has needed the confidence boost this schedule is providing them as well as some fans. In truth, Michigan shouldn't look any better than that team currently does and should not be getting any poll votes, so Michigan's play is impressive for where we're at right now and it doesn't mean coaches are not impressed just because they recognize that maybe it's too early to think Michigan is a top 25 team (which Michigan isn't). A coach is going to have more perspective than a fan of a rival team will.


Tue, Dec 14, 2010 : 3:39 p.m.

True; Michigan did play better against Cuse than MSU did. Big Ten play will tell the story. Every B10 team has a tough schedule in conference play.


Tue, Dec 14, 2010 : 1:02 p.m.

WOW!! Relax man!! No one on this site is even claiming that Michigan will even make it to the tournament this year. Most of us are just happy to have a competitive team. We all know that we will probably finish less than.500 in the conference. It's not that big of a deal!


Tue, Dec 14, 2010 : 12:54 p.m.

You realize MSU hasn't won the Big 10 tourney since 2000? Who cares! would you rather win in the Big Ten tournament or go to Final Fours?! Oh, I forgot, your team never makes it to the dance so that question is for someone other than a UM fan!


Tue, Dec 14, 2010 : 12:09 p.m.

"Every year UM fans put their foot in thier mouth saying MSU won't win the big ten, won't beat UM, won't make the dance, won't get to the final four." I cannot remember ever saying any of those things and I doubt that most Michigan fans would make those claims. I mean the only plausible claim out of any of your tirade is that the Spartys won't win the Big Ten. Because out of all of their accomplishments they have had a hard time winning the Big Ten.


Tue, Dec 14, 2010 : 9:17 a.m.

rnich You realize MSU hasn't won the Big 10 tourney since 2000?


Tue, Dec 14, 2010 : 8:54 a.m.

I proves that Izzo is confident enough in his team and coaching ability to play anyone at anytime which prepares the team for a tough Big Ten schedule and deep tournament run. Every year UM fans put their foot in thier mouth saying MSU won't win the big ten, won't beat UM, won't make the dance, won't get to the final four. What happens year after year???????? MSU goes to the final four after winning the big ten tournament while UM doesn't get into the NIT


Tue, Dec 14, 2010 : 8:17 a.m.

Yeah izzo had a real easy time with that tough oakland squad in that impressive one point win! Sure Beilein could schedule all of the big name teams and lose to all of them just like izzo has done this season! What does that prove? They know how to lose well?


Tue, Dec 14, 2010 : 12:02 a.m.

This team is young, but is no longer a doughnut hole. They are complete inside and out and on the point. Of course we will see in the big ten.

The Fan

Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 11:20 p.m.

I thought Michigan played Syracuse better than MSU did.


Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 8:02 p.m.

How are there NO seniors on this team. This is JB's 4th or 5th year? I know Manny left early, and Cronin may have been a senior?...not even sure about that. So what happened to the rest of the guys?!


Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 6:04 p.m.

Coaches are surprised but not impressed. ESPN/USA Coaches poll didn't give this team one single vote this week. They may not be the worst team to ever play in the Big Ten, (Jury is still out), but they are still far from decent. Just another sorry UM team who tries to play the easiest conceivable pre-season schedule to have a chance to play in the tourney/bowl game, after getting crushed in regular season play. Until Izzo and Dantonio retire, this program will continue to be irrelevant and laughable.


Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 6:02 p.m.

Keeping it real... anything but. Only one thing you said has any sort of "real-ness" to it, that being waiting until Big 10 play to make any serious judgement on anything. The rest of it is rubbish posted simply for the sake of hoping that someone will bite... oops, I just did.


Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 3:53 p.m.

Right now, M have probably one player that is a legitimate B10 player and I will reserve my final final thoughts on that player until they enter B10 play. Even when M has won this season, I have not been impressed with their play. At best, M will probably make it to the NIT.