Michigan basketball team may be peaking at right time again, and more notes
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Hours before the Michigan basketball team saw its 26-year Big Ten title drought evaporate, the 2011-12 version of the Wolverines left Pennsylvania in a good place.
No. 13 Michigan got a scare from Penn State in its regular-season finale Sunday, but nothing more. And in the end, the Wolverines put together their sixth victory in seven games with a sizzling shooting night that showed glimpses of the team's full capability.
So, with a Big Ten title share in tow, a No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament on the horizon and a shot at a lofty NCAA tournament seed beyond that, is Michigan playing its best basketball of the season?
"Absolutely," Michigan senior co-captain Zack Novak said. "The guys we've got stepping up right now have been huge.
"Look at a guy like Tim Hardaway, he's got his stroke going right now. Evan (Smotrycz) is playing well, (Matt) Vogrich is playing well. I don't anybody had an off-day, and that's what you like to have at the end of the year."
Smotrycz, who was stuck in a slump for the better part of 2012, put together his best showing since December, racking up 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting from the center position.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore ended the regular season on a high note, just as he did a year ago by scoring 14 points in the final regular-season game against Michigan State.
"That's how it's been for me, I'm always trying to move on to the next one," Smotrycz said. "It's a good time for me to start making shots, I guess."
Smotrycz isn't the only one scoring.
Hardaway struggled to score in the second half, but his 15-footer with 40 seconds to go basically iced the game for the Wolverines. He finished with 13 points on 4-for-9 shooting, just three days after he put up 25 points and 11 rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting against Illinois.
The Wolverines once again got steady performances from Novak (11 points, four rebounds) and fellow captain Stu Douglass (nine points, six assists) and Trey Burke continued to be Trey Burke.
The freshman sensation finished with a team-high 19 points, 10 of which came after the half.
Michigan got 3-point field goals from five different players Sunday, and Vogrich (who is 9-for-18 from deep over his last seven games) wasn't one of them.
With six deep threats, an emerging wing in Hardaway, a mult-tooled five-man in Smotrycz and a dynamic point guard in Burke, the Wolverines appear to have plenty of tools needed for a lengthy run this March.
Is Michigan playing its best at the exact right time?
"I feel good because of the way we're finishing," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "With wins, and very few losses."
Burke appeared to give Michigan control of the game late in the second half when he converted a rare four-point play that put the Wolverines up 10 with 4:39 to play.
Thirty seconds later, though, the big-time shot was completely wiped out, as Penn State guard Trey Lewis knocked down a triple from the corner while being fouled by Novak.
And, of course, he made the free throw.
Burke said he'd never seen back-to-back four-pointers before, and said it was fitting that the ensuing shot came from Lewis — a former Ohio high school rival of Burke's.
"That's crazy, and it had to be Trey Lewis out of all people," Burke said. "It was a crazy game."
Obviously the team's first Big Ten title in 26 years was the ultimate feather in the cap Sunday.
But Michigan's victory against Penn State also put the Wolverines to 5-4 on the road in league play, something that hadn't happened in 18 years.
"When we started on the road, we lost three of our first four, but three losses were at Indiana, at Ohio State, at Michigan State, three pretty darned good teams," Beilein said. "The Iowa game was in the middle of a cluster, and Iowa has done that to a lot of people.
"The constitution of this team was to stay engaged, stay focused, don't be afraid of the road, embrace it and do your best."
Odds and ends
Michigan's No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament is the highest seed the Wolverines have ever earned in the event. ... Douglass' six assists were one shy of a career-high. ... Novak made his 90th consecutive start, and has 119 starts overall.