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Michigan Set To Host Minnesota On Saturday

Mentally Preparing For The Let Down That's Sure To Come

The "Please Don't Go To The NIT Again" prayer festival continues into it's 6th week as Minnesota comes calling on the Wolverines this Saturday at Crisler Arena. Saturday's game against the Gophers represents just one more critical game in a string of seven games that will determine if Michigan goes Dancing or looking for a new coach.

Every year Michigan goes into a tailspin at the end of their conference schedule that banishes them from NCAA consideration. This year looks to be no different. Four straight conference losses after bolting to a 4-1 conference record has Michigan standing 7th in the Big Ten with a 4-5 record in conference. But maybe. Just maybe. Things aren't as bleak as they seem.

Normally Michigan's 13 point loss to OSU would simply be another sign that Michigan was doomed to repeat their NIT frustrations. Instead, it provided a strange sense of hope. The team looked good against the #4 team in the country. Instead of getting blown out, Michigan hung tough against OSU and never allowed the Buckeyes to go on one of their patented 20 point runs. Michigan stayed close until the final minutes when OSU's talent was simply too much for the Wolverines. Despite the loss, Michigan seems to have gleaned a considerable amount of confidence from the loss.

Based on their new competence and their remaining schedule, Michigan is looking at a surprisingly winnable slate. Two pending showdowns with annual tormentor Michigan State will likely determine whether the Wolverines receive a Tournament invite. Michigan State is in free fall. After scaring the hell out of OSU, twice, they managed to score only 38 points in a road loss to Purdue. The Spartans managed only 12 2nd half points and have dropped 4 in a row. What's even more surprising out of a Tom Izzo coached team is this Spartan team is even worse than Michigan, last year, a taking care of the ball. Even Michigan State columnists are saying MSU has to sport a .500 record to make the tournament. I think that's crap. Like Michigan, they need a 9-7 conference record to even be on the bubble.

Looking a little further down the schedule, Michigan welcomes Indiana to Crisler for what hopefully will be a little payback. It probably couldn't come at a better time for the Wolverines. Indiana just lost to a white-hot Iowa team on the road. Indiana has been about as bad as Michigan on the road in conference, and this time it's the Hoosiers that are the visiting team. Michigan's inside play looked immensely better against OSU and it will have to stay that way if they're to beat Indiana. Especially when they sport two huge dudes named White that posted double digits on Sims and Co. in Bloomington two weeks ago. Still. This is a winnable game.  

Only visits to Illinois and visits by OSU look like locks for "L's". The schedule, which looked like slow death by NIT a week ago, looks surprisingly do-able.

Now it's up to the players to make it happen. The big question, as Eric Lacy of the Detroit News puts it, is which Michigan team will show up the rest of the way? If the team that was confident, unfazed, and patient plays the rest of the season Michigan is in good shape. To stay that way, Epke Udoh should start every game from this point out and get the bulk of the minutes available.

"Udoh is arguably the best player on the team," according to Lacy, and I agree. He's shown excellent inside presence and a great jump shot. He's earned the right to start and his play is one of the major reasons Michigan hung close with OSU. One thing I was also surprised to see was the relatively solid play of DeShawn Sims. He played fairly good defense against Oden and OSU's other big men and is finally showing a willingness to get his nose dirty and do the little things that win games at the college level. He's also exponentially more offensively gifted than Petway, so until Brent's at 100%, Sims should be the first player off the bench.

At the guard spot we need to see more of Reed Baker. We also need to see more screens and picks setting up his shot. If Sims or Udoh are down low, run a high screen freeing Baker for a clean 3. He's a streaky shooter and if Michigan can get him hot from outside good things will happen. It's not like Michigan has much of a choice. Jerret Smith is still suffering from the effects of the concussion he suffered against Wisconsin. I don't expect to see him back prior to the Big Ten Tournament at this point. Jevohn Shepherd was pretty much useless and Ron Coleman can't guard a doll house from a 3-year old girl. It's not like Baker can either, but at least he can shoot and isn't afraid to drive the lane.

It all comes down to how well Amaker prepares they guys for their games and how well they execute. Against OSU, Michigan was prepared and did execute. Unfortunately, they've never done it twice in a row. A blow out of Minnesota would prove to the fans, and more importantly to Michigan's players, that Tuesday wasn't a fluke.

I'll be at the Minnesota game this weekend and drinking in Ann Arbor afterwards. Hopefully, I'll be around to toast a win. If not I'll be toasting a new coach.

Recruiting Notes: I reported earlier this week that Kenny Frease, the 5* Ohio Center that is or should be #1 on Michigan's target list, was injured in a high school game and stood the chance of missing the remainder of his Junior season. Class of '91 reader Andy hooked up Maize n Brew with the details courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

"[A Canton Central Catholic player's] right hand contacted the right side of Frease's face as the two players pursued a rebound.  Frease suffered two broken bones in his right eye socket and he has potential damage to his right eyelid."

Apparently the hit was malicious enough to warrant a police investigation, though it was determined that charges would not be filed.

Thankfully for Frease and his family, he is expected to make a complete recovery and suffer no long term damage to his eye. It also appears Kenny will be back on the court soon. Maize n Brew wishes Kenny a speedy recovery.