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December 20, 2012With strong, aggressive big men like Deniz Kilicli, Volodymyr Gerun and Aaric Murray, West Virginia posed a big challenge for the Wolverines inside the paint in last weekend's 81-66 win in Brooklyn, N.Y.
It was a great learning experience for Michigan, as it gears up to begin the Big Ten portion of its schedule in a few weeks.
"West Virginia was a really physical team," redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan said. "We knew that going in. That's how they're coached. We were prepared, but it was definitely a battle. In every small part of the game, it was a battle for everything.
"I felt it a little bit the next day, but we got some good treatment in."
Post-game treatment is something the Wolverines will be stressing to their young stars. Now 11 games into the season, physical wear and tear is an obvious side effect of a tough schedule.
"You have to make sure you're waking up, eating right, eating breakfast, taking care of your body after the game and after practice," sophomore point guard Trey Burke said. "A lot of guys, sometimes, try to sneak out of here after games, but it's important for us to get in the cold tub.
"That's something that has really helped the whole team out, just getting in the cold tub and stretching after games and practices. It helps our bodies and gives us more fuel down the stretch. That is the main thing I let them know about - you have to stretch and take care of your bodies."
Taking care of your body is paramount to sustaining a high level of competitiveness, especially once Big Ten play begins.
"We have kind of a slow break right here. We have a game and get some time off before we really get going in the Big Ten," Morgan said. "When the Big Ten hits, it's much more rigorous than what we have gone through. We will be playing the same number of games, but the toughness and physicality of the Big Ten - every single game - is tough on your body. We'll get down the stretch, and we have great trainers and strength coaches who keep us strong and healthy. We'll put a strong focus on being the best physically that we can.
Sometimes, it's hard to teach freshmen the importance of cold tubs and postgame treatment, which is taken much more seriously at this level than in high school.
Burke acknowledged that it was a habit he was forced to adapt last year as a true freshman - and guys like Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas are learning it now, as well.
"Regardless of whether you believe it or not, you're going to feel the pain if you don't take responsibility in those things," Burke said. "Once I got used to it and got adjusted and starting taking responsibility about getting in the cold tub, my body started feeling better.
"I get stretched by our strength coach right after the game. And then right after talking to the media, I'll go get in the cold tub for 8-10 minutes. They say you're not supposed to stay in there any longer than that, because by that time, you're numb. And then, the next day, we'll come in and have a light practice, and we'll stretch before and after practice and then get in the cold tub again. By the day after the game, we're pretty much back to normal."
Diving into a vat of freezing cold water is never going to be fun - but the advantages are well worth the 10 minutes of shivering.
"It's a shock every time I jump in there still," Burke said. "When they first started getting in, I know it was on their minds every practice. It was on mine last year. I knew they were going to force me in there. After two or three weeks of getting in there, you're kind of adjusted, but it's still a shock every time. It's too cold.
"Now that I know what to expect, I'm getting more rest than I was last year. It's benefitting my body, and I feel much better."
Redshirt sophomore center Jon Horford injured his left knee in the game against West Virginia.
"He is a really positive person, so he doesn't get down too much," Morgan said. "You just give him words of encouragement. I've been there a few times, so you just encourage him to stay focused and engaged. We need him as we move on through the season, and we'll need him more and more. Just rest and give him what you can."
Although Horford's defensive prowess has helped the Wolverines down low, they still have freshman Mitch MgCary and redshirt freshman Max Bielfeldt to lend depth inside.
"I don't think the injury changes it that much," Morgan said. "I've tried to keep focused every game, ready to play as hard as I can. I don't think about who's coming in for me.
"We have depth inside, but we have it everywhere. We talk about our next-man-up mentality. When someone falls, you have to have the next man step up so we can finish and keep moving forward as a team."