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Beilein's Wolverines looking as good as advertised

Beilein's Wolverines looking as good as advertised

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Tim Hardaway Jr. opened the scoring with a smooth 3-pointer from the right corner, then Trey Burke added another, dribbling behind a screen for an open shot near the top of the key.

Moments later, Hardaway came breezing across midcourt and snapped a quick pass to freshman Nik Stauskas on the left wing. Another 3-pointer gave Michigan an 11-2 lead.

This is exactly what the Wolverines were hoping for when John Beilein was hired as coach in 2007.

Over the last six seasons, Michigan has built a program that can again challenge for a national championship, and that early flurry against West Virginia on Saturday has become the norm lately. After an 81-66 victory over the Mountaineers, the Wolverines are 11-0 and sitting at No. 2 in the latest AP poll - their highest spot since the Fab Five era.

``We feel if we play our best basketball, we can compete with anybody,'' forward Jordan Morgan said. ``We can't guarantee a win, but we're going to play hard every game.''

Beilein arrived before the 2007-08 season with a distinguished resume that included NCAA tournament appearances at Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia. He came within a game of the Final Four with the Mountaineers in 2005, but the jury was still out on whether he could help Michigan become one of college basketball's elite programs again.

For the last three years, the Wolverines have been trending sharply upward. They tied for the Big Ten title last season, and now they have achieved their highest national ranking since the 1992-93 season, when Chris Webber led Michigan to its second straight appearance in the NCAA title game.

Expectations began to soar when Burke decided to stay at Michigan following a terrific freshman campaign in 2011-12. He's now perhaps the nation's best point guard.

``The better the challenge, the more he responds individually,'' Beilein said. ``He plays beyond his fatigue level, beyond his years.''

Burke is the leader of an offense that is precise, efficient and extremely difficult to defend right now. Beilein's teams have always done a good job spreading the floor, and there's not a lot of wasted movement. Players like Burke, Hardaway and freshman Glenn Robinson III have the ability to drive to the basket and finish if there's no help defensively.

Add in a crafty big man in Morgan and a 3-point threat in Stauskas, and the Wolverines seem to have everything they need for a deep NCAA tournament run. They could use a little more depth, and their defense may be somewhat ordinary by Big Ten standards, but there's still plenty of time to improve.

Under Beilein, Michigan has never been a team that rushes on offense, but the Wolverines are capable of running, with a more athletic rotation than in seasons past.

``There were times when Jordan Morgan, early in his career, would rebound, but we still struggled with the outlet,'' Beilein said. ``Now, the outlet's much better, and Trey Burke getting the ball up the floor.''

Saturday's game might have been Burke's finest as a Wolverine: 27 points on 12-of-16 shooting, eight assists, five rebounds, three steals and no turnovers. And not once did he seem to be forcing the issue or taking unnecessary risks.

A few days later, when Burke showed up for a midweek news conference, the competitive point guard was preparing to go back to the court after losing a game of 1-on-1 to freshman Caris LeVert.

``I'm trying to get back out there to play him right now,'' Burke said. ``I'm mad about that.''

Burke and the Wolverines haven't had to deal with much losing lately. If they can beat Eastern Michigan on Thursday night, they will be 12-0. Only one Michigan team has reached that mark - the 1985-86 group that started 16-0 and went on to win the Big Ten.

For the current Wolverines, each victory seems to raise hopes and expectations even higher - with the most important games still to come.

``We want to be playing our best basketball and win as many games as we can in the Big Ten,'' Morgan said. ``And be playing as good as we can toward the end of the year.''

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Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

On a roll

The Wizards have some serious momentum going right now. With an impressive win over the Cavs on Thursday, they have now won three straight games and eight of 10 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. They had a week off due to the All-Star break, but didn't show any rust at all in their first game back.

The Wizards are now 34-24, 10 games above the .500 mark. They are fourth in the East and could move into third on Friday if they win and the Cavaliers lose. Even with Wall out, things continue to look up for Washington.

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Hornets have had their number

The Wizards haven't done so well against the Hornets so far this season. Charlotte has taken both meetings and that includes a 24-point win on Jan. 17. That game featured Dwight Howard taunting the Wizards late in the fourth quarter.

Howard has killed the Wizards through two games with averages of 22.0 points and 14.0 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb (20.0 ppg vs. Wizards) has been a big factor as well as All-Star Kemba Walker (21.5 ppg vs. Wizards).

The last time these teams played about a month ago frustrations boiled over in an incident that got Tim Frazier ejected. Michael Carter-Williams picked a fight with Jason Smith and Frazier went off:

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

Hornets coming in hot

The Hornets are outside the playoff picture at the moment at eight games below .500, but they have won two straight games and Walker and Howard are coming off huge games. In a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Walker dropped 31 points and Howard grabbed 24 rebounds.

Those guys will be riding a high coming into Washington on Friday. But it should be noted that Howard complained after the game how tired he is at this point in the season. That exhausion could affect him more in the second game of a back-to-back.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

 

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Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

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USA TODAY Sports

Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Vincent Trocheck scored on the power play with 18.7 seconds remaining and the Panthers escaped with a 3-2 victory on an emotional night in Sunrise, Fla.

Trocheck’s goal was Florida’s second in the final four minutes…and the Caps were left to lament yet another incomplete performance. Washington has now lost three of its last four games and fell to 4-5-2 in February.

Tarik’s three stars of the game:

1-Vincent Trocheck, Panthers

Trocheck did what Trocheck does in the third period: The Florida forward scored a clutch goal in the final seconds, redirecting a Jonathan Huberdeau shot through Brooks Orpik’s legs and past Braden Holtby. Eller was in the penalty box when Trocheck scored his 13th third period goal of the season.

2-Andre Burakovsky, Capitals

After losing a goal to Eller in the first period, Burakovsky made sure he didn’t go home empty handed. No. 65 scored on the power play in the second period to put the Caps ahead 2-1. It was Burakovsky’s third goal in six games. He also earned a secondary assist on Eller’s redirection score.   

3-Braden Holtby, Capitals

Following a handful of un-Holtby-like performances lately, Holtbeast roared Thursday night at BB&T Center. He made at least one game-saving stop in each period: an arm save on Trocheck in the first period; a pad stop on Denis Malgin in the second and another extended pad stop on Evgenii Dadonov in the third. Holtby finished with 30 stops.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.