Though it was fans’ first glimpse at the Michigan basketball team this season, most eyes were focused on one player Friday night — freshman Darius Morris.

After the season tipped off inside Crisler Arena, the freshman jitters quickly evaporated for Morris, who is projected to be the team’s starting point guard.

“Before the tipoff (I felt the jitters),” Morris said. “But as soon as I got the ball in my hands it was cool. It felt just like in practice or any other kind of game. Basketball is a simple sport. People try to make it complicated, but if you can block all those other thoughts out, you’ll be fine.”

While Morris had little impact on the stat sheet — posting just four points and three assists — he excelled on the defensive end.

Morris plays at the top of Michigan coach John Beilein’s 1-3-1 zone, where he used his length to disrupt the opposing offense and his speed to lead Michigan on the resulting fast breaks.

“I think because of his length and how active he is and once he learns that he is a finisher … you want a guy on top that’s going to finish on the break, as well,” Beilein said. “I’ve really been impressed with how quickly he picks things up. He’s long enough to do that and really quick.”

Morris, a Los Angeles native, was recognized yesterday by columnist Jeff Goodman in his national “65 things to watch during the 2009-10 season” preview. And one of the keys for Morris is whether he can quickly pick up Beilein’s offense.

“I thought he did a good job,” Beilein said. “He’s learning the offense and now hopefully he’ll find the spots and just drive it. Don’t run any plays just drive the ball when they give it to you. He’s sorting this out. A really high IQ player, hopefully he’ll find the sweet spot.”

Strong turnout: With the Maize Rage extended into the southeast corner of Crisler Arena this season, the question remained — how many students would actually show up for an exhibition game?

On Friday, students made up the bulk of the crowd and impressed Beilein, who remembers some of the not-so-enthusiastic crowds of past exhibition games.

“It was tremendous,” Beilein said. “I do remember, I think, the first exhibition game of going out and saying, ‘I thought this was Michigan.’ There was this small crowd. It was real neat to see everyone come out like that.”

The official attendance was 9,657, but well over 1,000 were in the Maize Rage alone.

One reason for the added support is the stipulation that students who attend the most games will get seating priority for the Michigan State and Connecticut games later this season.

Either way, the team looks to feed off the raucousness of fans.

“Man, that was great,” sophomore Zack Novak said. “The Maize Rage was out there today and I think we really fed off them at times, and if we can have them all year, that’s like having a sixth man on the floor.”

Warming up: With an upcoming schedule featuring bottom-dweller teams like Houston Baptist and Northern Michigan, the merits in favor of holding exhibition games are questionable.

But Beilein said these games are key to get the team in game shape.

“I really liked the competition that we got today,” Beilein said. “You can’t even simulate that in practice with that kind of game speed, especially the start of the game. They hit us with a screen here and a screen there and our kids are thinking and trying to sort everything out. That’s why these exhibition games are teriffic for us to start the year.”

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