NCAA Basketball

NCAA Hoops: Darius Morris Makes Wolverines Dangerous

| by The Sports Columnist

You know what's amazing? Let me explain...

It's amazing, to me, that in today's sports world, a player can go from being relatively obscure and uninvolved one year to being an absolutely stud the next.

And surprise, everyone in doing it.

Coming into this college hoops season, any fan knew that a Harrison Barnes, that a Kyrie Irving, that a Josh Selby would be impact players as freshmen for their respective teams. Everyone knew that a player like Tyler Zeller would be much improved  as long as he stayed out of the training room.

But what did anyone know about Michigan guard Darius Morris?

Last season, I watched the majority of Michigan games, and Morris was never really a factor despite the fact that the Wolverines had a major need at point guard — Morris' natural position. Morris started 19 games, but averaged just 4.4 points and 2.6 assists per outing.

He most often played off Michigan's go-to guys, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, taking spot-up jumpers that looked like misses — and were — the second they left his fingertips.

He looked lost. Disengaged. Unassertive.

In other words, the exact opposite of how he looks now. Because of an aggressive, confidant, creating Morris, the Wolverines (9-2) are easily exceeding the canyon-low expectations that were fairly set for them before the seasons.

On Saturday, they cruised by an Oakland team, 6-6, that is playing a murderer's row non-conference schedule and was coming off its biggest win in school history at No. 7 Tennessee.

Morris has breathed new life into these Wolverines, even if the half-full library crowds at Crisler Arena haven't indicated such a positive upswing. Maybe the fans still don't believe. Heck, I didn't believe my eyes the first three times I watched Morris effortlessly lead the Wolverines fastbreak and create something out of nothing with the shot clock winding down.

But I'm a believer now. Darius Morris, averaging 14.9 points, 7.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game, is one of the best point guards in an absolutely stacked Big Ten. And these young, overachieving Wolverines will go as far as he takes them.

Morris worked out with John Wall over the summer, and when watching him, you can see similarities to the No. 1 draft pick. No, Morris isn't as explosive, or quick, or (fill in an exceptional skill of Wall's) — but the guard from California now plays with a great amount of confidence, loves to have the ball in his hands, and never shies away from a big shot.

Michigan needed a leader to step up with Harris and Sims gone. Morris hasn't wasted a second in accepting that role.

He's also been the leader of the Wolverines' biggest strength — their defense. He's put ball pressure on each opponent's PG, making it difficult to set up their offense. He's been the catalyst for Michigan's surprisingly good man-to-man D, which has been so effective, John Beilein hasn't even spent much time working on his patented 1-3-1 zone.

These Wolverines have been far from aesthetic. They've gone through some ugly scoring droughts and built mansions out of 3-point bricks. But their defense has kept them in games, and their point guard has ended those droughts.

Is Michigan an NCAA Tournament team? I would be shocked if that happened. But this extremely young outfit is achieving much more than anyone anticipated, and that's all that one can ask for.

They've been led by their biggest surprise of all.

If you haven't learned the name, you will soon.

Darius Morris, the super sophomore.