BTT Game 1: Michigan vs. Illinois Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

I won’t deny it. I started to lose faith. With 10 minutes to play, I was wondering whether a loss would send Michigan to Dayton or the NIT. The Illini were not just getting open looks on offense, they were also winning what seemed like every 50-50 ball. For the first three quarters of the game, Michigan was badly outplayed. It only took eight minutes for Michigan to steal the game. Trailing 51-39 with 8:35 to play, Michigan closed the game on a 21-4 run and walked off the court with a victory.

This blog is generally focused on statistics, but the Wolverines won this game because they had more heart. Michigan has now won nine of its last 12 games and four of those victories were second half comebacks away from Crisler Arena. Remember, this is the youngest major-conference team in the country. Now a team picked last in the conference by most preseason prognosticators, and even left for dead at the end of January, appears to have cemented an NCAA tournament berth and will spend tonight preparing for a conference semifinal game.

It sounded overly simplistic when I wrote the game preview, but it couldn’t be more true. If you shoot the ball better than Illinois, you are going to win. Illinois is one of the best shooting teams in the conference and also has the league’s best shooting percentage defense. They just aren’t great at much else. No matter how much bigger they are at every position, the Illini aren’t going to dominate the glass or get to the free throw line. They are also liable to turn the ball over at the most inopportune times. Pundits constantly harp on Illinois’ inability to win close games and, as you saw today, they just don’t do the little things or make the “winning plays”.

Today we saw a classic Illinois performance. For the first 30 minutes, Michigan couldn’t seem to make a shot – obviously bothered by the Illini task force of lengthy defenders – and Illinois hit open three after open three. Despite the discrepancy, Michigan was able to hang on, barely staying within striking distance. Michigan’s late game run included a number of big shots from Evan Smotrycz, Darius Morris, and Tim Hardaway Jr. but the run wasn’t fueled by offense, it was powered by defense. In the four minute stretch that saw Michigan turn an 11 point deficit into a tie game, the Illini turned the ball over three times and missed six consecutive jump shots. The four factors were almost a wash across the board, with the only difference being that Michigan made shots down the stretch and Illinois didn’t.

Nothing is ever guaranteed but Michigan looks to be safely in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan’s RPI climbed to 48 with the win and Joe Lunardi has the Wolverines solidly in the field. Next up is Michigan’s third match-up with the Ohio State Buckeyes. Northwestern took Ohio State the distance, even forcing overtime, but saw their upset bid fall short. Now Michigan will get a shot at revenge after losing both games earlier this season despite feeling that they had every chance in the world to steal a victory. Despite making the tournament, a win in this game would be monumental. It’s a rivalry game against the number one team in the country for the opportunity to play for a Big Ten title. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. Tip off is scheduled for Saturday at 1:40 p.m.


Player Bullets:

  • Darius Morris: Morris did everything within his power to keep Michigan afloat in the first half. As the rest of the Michigan offense stagnated, Morris manufactured points as only he can. To put Morris’ performance in perspective, he had 17 points and scored seven of Michigan’s nine 2-point baskets, interior production that was desperately needed. He also handed out seven assists and grabbed four rebounds. Eight of his 17 points came in the final six minutes of the game as well.
  • Stu Douglass: Stu made McCamey work for every single point. McCamey finished the game with just 10 points on 4 of 10 shooting and Douglass deserves all the credit in the world for defending him. More than just defending McCamey, Douglass was Michigan’s leading rebounder with seven boards. He scored just three points offensively but also had four assists, two steals, and zero turnovers.
  • Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz was awful in the first half. He had two terrible turnovers that both led to easy Illinois baskets, didn’t make a basket, and didn’t change the game defensively. Despite all of his struggles, Michigan was forced to turn to him in the second half when Jordan Morgan picked up his fourth personal foul. Smotrycz delivered. He not only hit two threes but was more aggressive defensively, managing to pick up two steals and some timely rebounds. His late game performance more than made up for his early struggles.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway really struggled with Bill Cole’s length defensively and forced a lot of pull up jumpers early on – trying to shoot over Cole. Luckily his three point shot never left him and he was able to provide the clutch scoring that Michigan needed down the stretch. Hardaway connected on four of seven triples including the transition three that gave Michigan its final lead of the game and also a pair free throws in the final minute.
  • Zack Novak: Novak needed to take advantage of Mike Davis’ inability to guard him on the perimeter and he did; finishing with 14 points on 4 of 8 three point shooting. Michigan needed every point and Novak added the two clutch free throws which iced the game as well. He also managed to limit Mike Davis to just 8 points on 3 of 9 shooting despite an enormous size disadvantage. While the freshmen have grown up, I think it’s pretty clear that Novak has taken his leadership ability to the next level as well.
  • Jordan Morgan: I thought Morgan played hard but he never really got things going offensively and was bothered by Illinois’ interior length, hitting just 2 of 6 shots from the field. He did play tough and physical defense on Tisdale (10 points on 8 shots) which Michigan will need tomorrow versus Ohio State.
  • Matt Vogrich: Matt couldn’t really seem to get open and missed his only three point attempt (although it was half way down).

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  • Dylan Burkhardt

    Here are some Big Ten Network highlights.

  • Biiliam

    Dylan, you going to write a pre osu write up?

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      I usually do a mini-preview combined into the open thread. We will have a Five Key Plays tonight thought.

  • ChathaM

    Great call re: Douglass’ contribution. There’s a reason he guards every team’s best wing scorer. He did do a very good job on McCamey. I was also impressed with his ability to stay disciplined on the perimeter switches during Illinois’ second to last (I think) possession. That showed progress from the Wisconsin breakdown. I realize that Stu can be frustrating to watch at the offensive end, but he’s going to be out there, and his ability to defend is the reason.

    Someone in another thread mentioned that it seemed like we were getting grossly outrebounded. I felt that, too, and was surprised to see the rebounding stats come out fairly even. Maybe it’s because many of our rebounds weren “clean”, and many of Illinois’ rebounds were clean.

    I thought that Morgan had some kickout pass opportunities when he got the ball in the post and Illinois collapsed. Instead, he forced a couple of jumphooks. I expect he’ll learn from that.

  • um basketball fan

    Team, team, team.

  • steve

    maybe we can bring the maize uniforms out tomorrow… not liking the white ones as much

    • JD

      We’ll be the lower seed so you won’t see the “Home” whites.

      • slt

        but there are times when they wear their maize’s on the road. I agree with you Steve, I would prefer they always wear their maize’s at home.

  • jmblue

    The offensive rebounding percentage amazes me. It seemed, watching the game, like we were getting hammered on the boards. We must have made up a lot of ground rebound-wise during the run.

  • Brian W

    It sucked having to work when the game was going on, but watching it on the DVR was worth it. Love the mental toughness of the team. Things looked pretty bleak for while there, but they toughed it out. Really looking forward to the game tomorrow… Beilein did so many things right this year (overseas trip, new assistants, adding new things to the offense), it’s too bad that he didn’t get the coach of the year. Before the season, I never thought that we’d have a shot at buying tickets to see the guys play in the NCAA tournament. Wow.

    One of the officials who blew the end of the St. John’s game in the Big East Tournament is working the Purdue-MSU game.

    • Ha, think it sucked working while the game was on? Try being in a country where they’ve never even heard of ESPN! (or broadband for that matter…)

      Yea, welcome to rural Bolivia. FML.

      • Brian W

        Hmm. I suppose Directv isn’t an option in rural Bolivial. Hopefully you have fresh water, sanitation, and electricity. Keep safe. Go Blue.

  • Vinay Chari

    11-9/1-6. Clawing our way back. Gut-punched by Wisconsin. Getting up again. Losing today’s game comfortably, but refusing to accept that fate. What a special year this is becoming. Go Blue!

  • KAB

    I love the white uniforms and not mention that we won.

  • Dylan Burkhardt

    We can’t wear white tomorrow because we are the lower seed. I suspect we’ll see the maize.

    Punch Michigan State’s ticket and they are most likely out of the “First Four” play-in games.

    • Tweeter

      listening to Gus Johnson do State games when they win just breaks my heart. Luckily that has not happened much this year

      • Tweeter

        additionally as much as it pains me to see them win, State just helped us out. Purdue was the one team I did not want to see in the finals. Anyone else and I like our chances.

        • Tim Kim

          This is operating under the assumption we beat osu…a very large assumption. If we play like we do in the last 1/4 of the game…we will be in it for sure. If we are anything like we were in the 1st half you can forget it and just be happy we made the dance. Side note…somehow MSU flicked their “oh crap its march switch again”…hopefully we get a chance to beat them for a 3rd time!

          • Tweeter

            its no assumption. We are beating OSU tomorrow. End of story.

            I don’t buy that MSU found anything just yet. Maybe they will still find that, but tonight I think was largely due to Purdue just not showing up for the first half. They looked disinterested for most of it and once they started stepping up the pressure it was already to late. Hard to come back down 18 to anyone, let alone a team fighting for their life to make the dance.

  • billiam

    Also, MSU helps our seeding by winning. (We…urm…beat them TWICE. ZING!)

  • Kainkitizen

    All we have to do is score 1 more point against our opponent tomorrow. It doesn’t have to be a blow-out or a 10 point win. The way state played today seems as though they want to play on Sunday. Just a thought! We’ll beat them again if it happens. I hope it does! Great win today by the young men. Illinois did not put the ball in the basket 5-6 trips down the court during our run and that’s where the rebounding numbers changed. It was a one and done for them.

  • Devin

    I’m feeling a huge game for Morgen tomorrow! He was absolutely awful today, I think he rebounds big time and scores in the mid-teens.

  • ScottGoBlue

    We presently have 6 RPI-Top-50 wins (2 more on the verge):

    32/33. Harvard
    38/38. Michigan State (2)
    42/39. Penn State (2)
    46/47. Illinois
    53/52. Clemson
    54/51. Oakland

    And we’re sitting at 48/44

    *** according to