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Posted on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 11:13 a.m.

Michigan basketball's versatility led it to the brink of the NCAA tournament

By Michael Rothstein

John Beilein looked at his roster before the season started, saw what was leaving and what was staying and wondered where the Wolverines’ scoring might come from.

Then the Michigan basketball coach thought back to teams from his past. He had coached young teams before, remembered they had struggled but by the end of his first season at Canisius and his first season at West Virginia those squads had shown signs of a turnaround.

At Michigan this year, it might have happened even faster than he expected.

“Any time, forget about who was out there, any time you have the inexperience, we were bringing back 11 points a game, 13 points a game and you have to score 65 or so to have a successful season,” Beilein said. “Stu (Douglass), Zack (Novak) and Darius (Morris), that was it. Matt’s numbers were nothing last year. So you had three guys coming back.

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“We leaned tremendously heavily on Manny (Harris) and DeShawn (Sims) last year so you’re saying ‘How are we going to replace those points?’”

How Michigan did is why the Wolverines (19-12) are in the position they are now — in the mix for a NCAA tournament berth as the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament. They will open Friday in a quarterfinal game against No. 5 Illinois (2:30 p.m., ESPN).

The growth has come from the versatility in Michigan’s scoring. Six players have led Michigan in scoring this season and Beilein has said often this season that he sometimes doesn’t know where scoring is going to come from on a particular night.

Back in his office in October, he said some of his best teams had that quality.

“No matter who the personnel was, you know that usually it takes longer than this,” Beilein said. “This one sort of, temporarily right now just sort of all came together to be 9-9. “We’re not Big Ten champions, we’re just 9-9, but we’re working to get above that.”

It is the future of Michigan basketball melding into the present that makes the Wolverines a dangerous team entering the Big Ten tournament. They are 8-4 over their last 12 games and only three teams — Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin — have been better over that period.

Much of the turnaround started at the end of January, when Michigan lost its sixth straight game, held a team meeting to air grievances and then went out and beat Michigan State.

“The second part of the season, it’s an unbelievable turnaround,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “Obviously the first Michigan State game was kind of the big statement game that got them going in the right direction.

“They got some confidence and (Darius) Morris is playing at a high level. The biggest thing is just that (Tim) Hardaway has raised his game and is a go-to guy.”

During the stretch Michigan has gone to Hardaway. And Morris. And Jordan Morgan, Stu Douglass and Zack Novak.

Michigan has options now — exactly what Beilein wants.

Morris, at least, thinks supporters have noticed, especially after the Wolverines swept Michigan State and could be a NCAA tournament team for the second time in three years after spending 10 years away from the field.

“We just came off of spring break so you can’t tell just yet,” Morris said. “But I think the fans are more proud of us, fans are more willing to root for us in public or something, I don’t know.

“Definitely positive vibes around Ann Arbor.”

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



Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 7:38 p.m.

This team has a very nice mix and they have all bought into Beilein's schemes on both ends of the court. I don't know if I would say the players themselves are versitile, but the mix makes the team able to adapt to a lot of different situations. I hope they can figure out a way to adapt to two 7-footers tomorrow. Illinois is a middle of the pack team, but they definitely have some world class height.