Michigan Wolverines: Jordan Taylor

Amanda ChidesterCourtesy University of Michigan AthleticsThe bat of Amanda Chidester needs to get hot if Michigan is to advance to the WCWS.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It was a season where so much of Michigan softball was an unknown.

Over the past two seasons, Michigan graduated the majority of its lineup, most of its power and saw All-American pitcher Jordan Taylor run out of eligibility after last season.

Unlike the previous two Michigan softball teams that slaughtered competition during the regular season only to have postseason failure when facing other top teams, this season’s team has had the opposite happen entering Thursday’s Super Regional at No. 3 Alabama (53-7).

For the first time since 2001, the Wolverines didn’t host a regional. They were in a race for the Big Ten championship, which they won or shared for the fifth straight season, until the last weekend of the year.

In prior seasons they relied on a litter of All-Americans in the lineup and the circle. This season has been nothing like that. While the Wolverines have a lot of talent, they rely more on contributions from every spot in the lineup.

While it was tiring during the season, those experiences helped Michigan now.

“Our defense has moved a lot and you have a freshman battery," senior first baseman Amanda Chidester said. "There’s been a lot of different changes. Our leadership roles have shifted and it was a little rough at the beginning.

“The things we were faced with at the beginning and even in the middle of the season have helped us grow and helped us work together better. We’ve been through everything. We’ve been through losses, been through wins, come back. In the past years, we had never been through everything because we just dominated everyone .”

This is Michigan-relative, of course, since the Wolverines are still 42-15. Consider, though, the Wolverines lost more than 10 games just once in the previous four seasons -- coincidentally the last time Michigan reached the Women’s College World Series. Before this season Michigan hadn’t lost 15 games in a year since 2006.

Michigan also lost two straight series in the Big Ten -- at Minnesota and at home to Illinois -- compared to the past eight seasons where the Wolverines lost four games or less in the Big Ten all year.

This season’s team, though, has embraced the message coach Carol Hutchins has preached throughout her 28 seasons at Michigan: “Everyone do her part.” To win, this season’s team has actually needed to do that.

“In previous years, we probably depended more on our All-American pitchers and big hitters and now it is spread out through the whole team and that is making us better,’ senior center fielder Bree Evans said. “We’re not dependent on just one person. Like everyone in the lineup can get a hit at that one moment."

One other thing has given Michigan confidence during this season of transition: An unlikely star freshman pitcher.

After splitting games with fellow freshman Sara Driesenga early in the season, the Wolverines have turned to Haylie Wagner for most of their big games down the stretch. She won all three games in last weekend’s Louisville regional and has won her last 10 decisions. Against Louisville in the regional final Sunday, Wagner set Michigan’s freshman record for wins, breaking the record of the pitcher she replaced, Jordan Taylor.

“We just, more than anything, try to take the pressure off her,” Hutchins said. “We are encouraging her to just do her part and that she can’t do all of it."
Michigan State enters the Big Ten Tournament with the top seed, despite a two-game losing skid to end its regular season schedule.

While the losses at the end of the season were surprising to say the least, it seemed to exemplify a conference in which on any given night any team (that's right, all you Wildcats and Boilermakers fans) could win.

But here are my predictions for how the Big Ten Tournament goes down in Indianapolis. But I will preface that with the fact that I'm terrible at predictions. With the exception of the 2008 NCAA Tournament, in which I picked all four No. 1 seeds to make it to the Final Four, I've never done well in bracket competitions. So, here goes…

Burke continues to add honors

March, 6, 2012
Freshman point guard Trey Burke added to his already impressive resume on Tuesday when he was named to one of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association's (USBWA) All-District Teams.

Burke was one of two freshman (the other being Indiana's Cody Zeller) to be named to the District V team.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and senior Draymond Green were named Coach and Player of the Year for District V, respectively.

Joining Burke, Zeller and Green on the All-District team were Ohio State's William Buford and Jared Sullinger, Marquette's Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, Purdue's Robbie Hummel, Northwestern's John Shurna and Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor.

3 keys vs. No. 9 Michigan State 

January, 17, 2012
No extra motiviation is needed when Michigan and Michigan State meet. The fact both are ranked -- the Wolverines are No. 19 and Michigan State No. 9 -- and coming off stinging road losses to unranked conference rivals just add to the importance.

The Wolverines are coming off a season in which they swept the Spartans, a memory that sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said is his fondest in college basketball. But if the Wolverines are hoping to extend that streak, here are three keys they'll need to focus on in Tuesday's matchup.

1. Freshman point guard Trey Burke needs to stay on the floor. Teams have figured it out: In Big Ten play, Michigan needs Burke on the floor. Without Hardaway Jr. or senior guard Zack Novak, the Wolverines are down. Without Burke, Michigan is as good as out. There is no backup on this team who can manage the offense as well as Burke or a player that keeps the Wolverines playing in transition and getting those easy buckets. That was shown in the Iowa game. He'll have a solid matchup with sophomore guard Keith Appling, but just as he was psyched to play against Wisconsin senior point guard Jordan Taylor, he should be ready to play against Appling.

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Question of the Week: Best Taunt 

January, 16, 2012
We here at WolverineNation are introducing a new weekly feature today -- Question of the Week.

The concept is simple. Each week we will ask pretty much everyone we chat with whatever the question of the week is. Then, every Monday, we'll post the best answers we got from the mix of people we chat with throughout the course of a week.

For the debut this week, we decided to ask people 'What is the best taunt you ever heard?' Want to submit your own question for consideration? Do so here in The Den.

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3 keys vs. Northwestern 

January, 11, 2012
The No. 14 Michigan basketball team hasn't lost on its home court so far this season. The Wolverines have picked up convincing wins over Penn State, Minnesota and Wisconsin, but now they turn their focus to Northwestern.

The Wildcats are 1-2 in league play but have a strong inside/outside combo in senior forward John Shurna and junior guard Drew Crawford. Northwestern hasn’t picked off any top 25 teams yet, but if Michigan takes this game too lightly, the Wildcats definitely have the potential to do so. If Michigan wants to remain perfect in Ann Arbor, here are three keys it needs to focus on.

1. Take advantage of the mismatches. The most glaring mismatch is between two freshman point guards: Michigan’s Trey Burke and Northwestern’s Dave Sobolewski. But Burke has the upper hand here. He’s coming off his best defensive performance (containing senior point guard Jordan Taylor). Sobolewski might have a 2-inch height advantage on Burke, but if Burke plays like he has been playing, he should be able to take Sobolewski off the dribble and continue his streak of non-freshman-like play. Another possible mismatch we could see (though less frequently) in the paint is redshirt sophomore Jordan Morgan against Shurna. If/when Shurna goes inside or tries to stick with Morgan defensively, the Wolverines need to take advantage of that. 2. Continue to thrive on the energy of Crisler Arena. Home games have been getting more and more rowdy as the season goes on. The Wolverines need to learn how to draw on that energy like Indiana draws on the fans in Assembly Hall or how Wisconsin pulls from its crowds inside the Kohl Center. Michigan basketball is gaining recognition on campus and if the Wolverines can continue to impress inside Crisler and use their fans to help put away opponents, it’ll benefit Michigan down the road when it welcomes teams Michigan State and Ohio State to Ann Arbor.

3. Contain Shurna. He’s the Big Ten’s leading scorer right now (19 points per game) and works well in the Princeton offense the Wildcats run. Ohio State held Shurna to 11 by shadowing him the whole game and trying to take away as many quality opportunities as they could. When shots did come for Shurna, several were low-percentage opportunities (Shurna finished 5-for-18 from the floor, including 1-for-6 from behind the 3-point line). Michigan needs to stick with Shurna to make sure he doesn’t catch fire, because if he does, the Wolverines could find themselves dealing with a very talented shooter. Whether it’s senior guard Zack Novak or sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz, they need to be like Velcro to NU’s star.

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Jennings' 3-pointers vs. Wisconsin 

January, 8, 2012

Last season, the Michigan basketball team lost to Wisconsin on a last-second 3-pointer off the glass. They followed that game up with a 70-63 win over Minnesota.

This season, the 13th-ranked Wolverines dropped a game at Indiana, 73-71, with a desperation heave by senior guard Zack Novak coming up empty. They followed that up with a 59-41 win over the 19th-ranked Badgers to stay perfect in the Crisler Center.

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Player of the half: Michigan freshman guard Trey Burke. The Ohio native drew the assignment of All-American guard Jordan Taylor and held him to four points on 2 of 8 shooting. Even more predictable and expected was Burke's offensive performance. He seems to have shaken off a rough game at Indiana to lead Michigan with six points -- tied with Zack Novak -- along with two rebounds and two assists. But his job on Taylor has made him the player of the game.

Turning point: Tim Hardaway Jr. didn't shoot much from 3-point range in the first half -- at least not like he has done the prior three Big Ten games -- but his 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Wolverines a 16-14 lead with 6:46 remaining in the half. It led Michigan close the half on a 12-6 run, which against Wisconsin is a big deal.

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Trey Burke makes Cousy Top 20 

January, 5, 2012
Freshman point guard Trey Burke was named one of 20 finalists for the 2012 Bob Cousy Award, a distinction given out to college basketball's top point guard. Only two other players from the Big Ten made the cut -- Ohio State sophomore Aaron Craft and Wisconsin senior Jordan Taylor.

The list will be narrowed to 10 in February, with the winner being announced April 2.

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Rothstein's 5 moments from 2011 

December, 31, 2011
What a year for Michigan sports.

The school began 2011 with a embarrassing 52-14 loss to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl, changed football coaches, offensive and defensive philosophies and ended up on the last day of the year preparing to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

The Michigan basketball team looked to be in trouble at the start of 2011 as well, going on a six-game losing streak before rebounding, beating Michigan State, having John Beilein see his first-ever player drafted (Darius Morris), and now the Wolverines are one of the up-and-coming programs in college basketball.

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Burke a Cousy nominee

December, 19, 2011
Michigan freshman point guard Trey Burke has had a surprising rookie year for the Wolverines, and the award committees are taking notice.

Burke was one of 60 candidates named Monday for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the country's top point guard. He is averaging 13.1 points and 4.7 assists this season.

Burke is one of five Big Ten point guards on the list, joining Ohio State's Aaron Craft, Purdue's Lewis Jackson, Penn State's Tim Frazier and Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor.

Interestingly, this nomination comes a season after former Michigan point guard Darius Morris -- eventually a second-round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers -- was snubbed from the Cousy Award list.


Harbaugh: Split With 49ers Not Mutual
ESPN NFL nation reporter Nick Wagoner discusses Jim Harbaugh's comments on "The TK Show," saying that the split between Harbaugh and San Francisco wasn't mutual.