Nik Stauskas may make headlines with his bombs-away shots and Glenn Robinson III may make highlight reels with his ridiculous dunks, but another freshman is affirming himself as a workhorse, do-anything-type player, whose contributions might just take the Wolverines to the next level.
Although freshman center Mitch McGary didn't explode out of the gate as quickly as Robinson or Stauskas, he is really starting to find a footing on the low block.
In the Wolverines' first 13 games, McGary averaged just 14.6 minutes per game.
Since then - which coincides with the start of Big Ten play - he hasn't played fewer than 18 minutes in a game, adding crucial depth and consistency inside to help out redshirt junior Jordan Morgan.
"The five's role is so different than it used to be," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "There is no way the five can go out and play 36-38 minutes anymore. He just can't. It's too much sprint work, too physical. You have to split those guys up a little. I'm really pleased those guys are getting their share of the minutes.
"I'm not scouring over the minutes. You're just trying to use them according to the flow of the game, but they are certainly doing a good job of splitting up those 40 minutes."
Beilein has been very impressed with McGary's transformation over the last few months.
"I think he is playing much bigger than when he first got here," Beilein said. "He was not playing at his full height, just habits. He has cleaned up a lot of those areas. He is a lot more comfortable in playing without fouling now. That gives him minutes. You have seen games where he made cameo appearances, because he was in foul trouble. He has so much energy out there. He has to learn to harness that so it doesn't turn into offense for the other team."
When Beilein first saw McGary, he was awed by the big man's effort and motor. But young players tend to play slower, as they're getting accustomed to the new skill level found at the college game.
McGary's first is starting to return.
"He saw several clips of the Minnesota game where he just won the ball with effort," Beilein said. "And then ran the floor. He knows that is a big part of what we're depending on. There are other areas he is working on that we need to continue to address.
"He knows what to do when the ball is in the air around the rim. When it's a 50-50 ball, he's pretty good at getting those. He doesn't think about that."
Big Game Vs. Purdue: The Boilermakers are coming to Crisler Arena with a three-game winning streak. They're also the only team that has beat the Wolverines on the home court in the last two seasons.
"Purdue has really played us tough since we have been here," Beilein said. "I think we only have two wins against them. Their defense is physical. They're an excellent team. Barring injury and bad breaks, they're another NCAA Tournament team from the Big Ten. As you know, it's tough to win on the road, so you have to hold court at home. I hope we can do that. We'll be trying to do that."
Beilein reflected on last year's home loss to Purdue, a 75-61 drubbing that spoiled Michigan's bid for a perfect home record on the year.
"We did not play very well in that game," he said. "They out-hustled us, out-schemed us. It was our senior day, and it was a tough loss. At that time, someone asked about the Big Ten Championship, and we didn't think there was a chance then. Everything would have had to drop exactly right after that one home game."
Back To Basics: The Wolverines had some much-needed downtime, with a week in between the Minnesota and Purdue games. Coming up, they'll have three games in the span of a week: vs. Purdue, at Illinois and vs. Northwestern.
So Beilein switched up the practice schedule a bit.
"We took a break this week," Beilein said. "Because of all the games next week, we took two days off this week, so we don't have to take a day off next when, when we have three games in a week. It's an NCAA rule, and this is the first time we have ever used it. I think it was good to get guys two days back-to-back of rest."
The Wolverines also spent time revisiting fundamentals.
"When you have two games a week during the season, it's really hard to get back to basics," Beilein said. "You're always trying to get rest after one game and then getting ready for the next one. We went back to just playing defensive principles. And offensive principles. We had one defensive practice and one offensive practice, just to get back to things that we had fallen behind a little bit.
"There is scouting reports, and then there is just fundamentals. Sometimes, you can get so into scouting reports that you're playing the play instead of just playing basketball. That is an area we have to watch."
Horford Update: Beilein talked briefly redshirt sophomore forward Jon Horford's continuing recovery.
"As he tries to get back into the type of shape we need, both in offense and defense," he said. "Max Bielfeldt has played terrific in practice. Really well. It's part of that, and Jon has struggled at times just getting back. He was hit with a month at the beginning of the season and then a month again, and it's hard. But Jon is ready to go as needed. He believes he's ready to go."