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Published: Sunday, 3/18/2012

Promising season ends early for UM

John Beilein has helped Michigan back into Big Ten contention. John Beilein has helped Michigan back into Big Ten contention.

ANN ARBOR -- All season long, Michigan's goal was to win a Big Ten title -- the school's first in the regular season since 1986.

Once the Wolverines accomplished that, they exited the postseason quickly and quietly.

Fourth-seeded Michigan was upset in its NCAA tournament opener Friday night, losing 65-60 to 13th-seeded Ohio. It was an abrupt finish for a team that looked capable of making an extended run in its fifth season under coach John Beilein. Instead, the Wolverines can only look ahead to a future that still seems bright for the rebounding program.

"Most teams do end with a loss, whether it's first round or the fourth round," Beilein said. "We thought we could play for a while."

Michigan tied Michigan State and Ohio State for the conference title, but the Wolverines were blown out by the Buckeyes in the semifinals of the league tournament before their season ended against Ohio. They finished 24-10, making the NCAA tournament for the third time in four seasons and earning their highest seeding since 1998. That acclaim was of no use against Ohio, which moved the ball comfortably and had little trouble scoring against the Wolverines until both teams misfired throughout the final minutes.

"I think we knew that the opponent we had in front of us was very good," senior Zack Novak said. "They had talent and we just -- we knew it was a tough team."

It was the first time in more than a decade that Michigan made the NCAA tournament without having to sweat out the draw. The Wolverines were in the field comfortably after being in the Top 25 the entire season.

The Wolverines will have to replace Novak, who averaged 9.2 points per game, and fellow senior Stu Douglass, who made 17 starts in the backcourt.

There's plenty of talent coming through Michigan these days.

Point guard Trey Burke was terrific as a freshman, leading the team in scoring with a 14.8-point average, and sophomore Tim Hardaway, Jr., averaged 14.6 points despite erratic outside shooting.

Burke took over the point guard duties right away, replacing Darius Morris, who left for the NBA after leading Michigan to the NCAA tournament in 2011. The 5-foot-11 Burke hurt opponents with his quickness and was also a threat from 3-point range.

Sophomore Evan Smotrycz was outstanding during the nonconference season, but his performance dipped after that. He kept Michigan in the game against Ohio, though, scoring 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting. The 6-9 Smotrycz often appears more comfortable on the perimeter, but 6-8 sophomore Jordan Morgan provided a presence inside, shooting 62 percent from the field.

Morgan might have some help soon. Michigan has signed 6-10 Mitch McGary of Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, who should be able to add some bulk to the lineup next season. Forward Glenn Robinson III, son of the former Purdue star with the same name, is also part of that recruiting class.

Those newcomers should keep the excitement level high in Ann Arbor next season. For now, the loss to Ohio stings and probably will for a while.

"We knew we were going to have to play a really good game," Beilein said. "We didn't play as well as we had played earlier in the year."

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