|Novak along with teammate Stu Douglass.|
Zack Novak often plays the bulk of each game, usually 35 minutes or so. He plays so many minutes for various reasons. First, he can. Second, he had the ability to make everyone on his team better. Third, he had probably the most game experience of anyone on the Michigan team. And finally, no one on the court is going to out-hustle him or play with more heart than he is.
I expected Michigan to hang tough with Minnesota in their game just this last Saturday afternoon. Coming off an absolute heart-wrenching loss to Wisconsin just a few days prior, this Michigan team had a clear choice to make before their final two games of the season. They could fold and just go through the motions the rest of the way, or they could find inspiration from their leader, and play their guts out.
That's what this Michigan team is all about. Heart. They have it in spades. Everywhere you look on this team you see hungry eyes. Even the coaches know it, and it's reciprocated in their emotions about this basketball team.
If you watched their most recent game against Minnesota, then you know what I'm talking about. Down by 1 with just under 2 minutes to play, Michigan needed a bucket. With the shot clock winding down, Darius Morris was looking for a turnaround jumper from the top of the key, but it wasn't there. With just seconds left, Morris kicked it out to Novak who had a look. And as the ball was released and the shot clock buzzer sounded, Zack Novak put his team up for good.
[Videos courtesy of UMHoops.com]
But the real reason we're talking about a Michigan win, and not a narrow defeat, is because of the play on the next possession on the defensive end.
Novak made a play that he had no business making. Just watch.
It should go without saying that Morris made a very great heads-up play by slowing down to draw the foul and use his body to shield the block to ensure the and-1. But what a great play by Novak to get the steal first of all, and then see a streaking Darius Morris and get the ball to him in-stride. That's a championship type of play.
We don't cover basketball that much, but that doesn't mean I don't watch. I love watching this team. I can't wait until this Saturday when Sparty comes to Crisler for their season-finale. It's going to be a great game. Sparty may be down, but they'll rise up for this one. But the time is right for Michigan to rein supreme. The shoe is on the other foot now, and this is Michigan's time.
There will be no Big Ten Championship on the line, only pride. Tons and tons of pride. And Michigan has all the heart.
UPDATE: FWIW, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been named the Big Ten freshman player of the week 3 weeks in a row. Take that Jared Sullinger!
Via Big Ten media relations:
Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. earns his third straight weekly award after averaging 19.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game while shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 60.0 percent from long range. Hardaway helped the Wolverines to a road win at Minnesota, leading the team with 22 points, marking his sixth 20-point game this season. Against Wisconsin, Hardaway scored 16 points, was 4-for-7 from long range, grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists. The freshman has scored in double figures in his last 11 games. This marks Hardaway’s fourth weekly award.
Last Michigan Freshman of the Week: Tim Hardaway Jr. (Feb. 21, 2011)