Michigan got a game they had to have on Thursday night by smashing Minnesota at home. It's as good as they have shot the ball in a long time, led by Zack Novak hitting 6 of the team's 13 threes. Novak has a unique way of catching and shooting the basketball. Most good shooters try to catch the ball on the hop, so their feet are set and they are ready to rise and fire. Novak does it the other way around, but never really gets called for the walk. He catches the ball, then takes his crow hop to set himself for the shot. Sort of like what Rip Hamilton will do on occasion, but much exaggerated.
The game also proved that Kelvin Grady really needs to be in the rotation for this team, as he knocked down all four of his shots and set up teammates with his blistering speed. C.J. Lee plays tough defense and works hard, but when it comes down to it, his ineffectiveness on offense and Michigan's tendency to have sustained scoring droughts makes it difficult to justify his playing 37 minutes in a game. Grady is the most talented point guard the Wolverines have by a wide margin. John Beilein loves for his team to shoot from downtown, and Grady was 3 of 3 on Thursday night. Hopefully this performance will lead to increased time on the court. Michigan's best lineup right now seems to be Novak, Stu Douglass, Manny Harris, DeShawn Sims, and Grady. Five legitimate scoring threats that you cannot sag off of and help on others.
Manny Harris needs to allow the game to come to him. His propensity to turn the ball over and force bad shots is becoming a nightly occurrence (4 TO/Game last 7 gms). Save for his brilliant second half performance at Northwestern, he has played poorly in 3 of his last 4 games. For Michigan to make the final push to get into the NCAA tournament, he must find a happy medium between being aggressive and not forcing the action. He is not a good enough shooter to get away with forcing bad fallaway jumpers the way a Vince Carter might be able to. The sooner he realizes this, the better off Michigan will be.
A quick look at Michigan's last four games. Right now, they sit at 17-10 and an even 7-7 in the Big Ten. While two more wins would put them at 19-12, that seems like bubble city if you ask me. While the big wins over Duke and UCLA will mean a lot, it seems unlikely that the committee would select eight teams from the conference, which would probably be the case if Michigan gets in. Now, if they happen to get three of the last four, putting them at the 20-win mark, you have to love their chances regardless of what happens in the Big Ten tourney.
@ Iowa- This is a must game for Michigan, and possibly the easiest of the four remaining. The Hawkeyes lack any real firepower and rarely score 60 points in a given game. They play tough on their home floor, but still usually fall short. This team is 3-10 in conference and also lost 6 of their last 7. If Michigan can't find a way to get this W, their chances would diminish greatly. After the way Michigan played tonight, they should be flying high coming into this game and I expect them to come away with a victory.
Vs. Purdue- Talk about a team starting to hit their stride. The Boilermakers looked outstanding in their home rout of Michigan State, as they are getting healthy now and wreaking havoc on the Big 10. The saving grace for Big Blue in this game is the fact that Purdue hasn't been all that impressive on the road this year. It will be Senior night for such legends as David Merritt and C.J. Lee, which will surely whip the crowd into a frenzy (sarcasm intended). I think Manny Harris plays with a chip on his shoulder to try and exact revenge for having to leave the first meeting with an ejection after an elbow to Chris Kramer. It will take a great effort, but after Michigan played Purdue very tough on their court for the better part of 30 minutes earlier in the year, I think Michigan gets another win on Senior night. Michigan State fans would not mind this result, either.
@ Wisconsin, @ Minnesota- These will be the hardest wins for Michigan to grab down the home stretch. It is very hard to imagine Michigan walking out of either building with smiles on their faces. They have two road wins in conference this season, coming at Indiana and Northwestern. And both of those wins came in overtime. If there is a game you could see them getting here, it would be the Minnesota game, as the wheels seem to have fallen off Tubby Smith's squad. On a side note, it seems hard to remember the last time Tubby really had a great team. He gets a lot of notoriety for being one of the top coaches in the game, but the truth is he won a title his first year at Kentucky with Rick Pitino's players in '98 and has not been back to a Final Four since. For now, let's chalk the Wisconsin game up as a loss, and with a week to prepare for the game in The Barn, a Wolverine victory to end the season at Minnesota. If everything goes as scripted here, Michigan will be making their first trip to the real tournament since 1998.
The Pistons still make me sad. There's too much to say right now, and none of it is positive. We'll leave it at that. Who's excited for that 1 vs. 8 match-up with the Celtics a couple months from now?!?!? But hey, at least Baron Davis pushed the streak to 60 last night! Post your thoughts on the college hoops scene or the NBA or anything else (anybody can comment...do not need to register or anything). Or just break me off an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org