Five Key Plays: Michigan vs. Illinois


1) Zack Novak’s four made 3-pointers

Zack Novak is one of Michigan’s players that tends to influence the box score by doing more than just scoring, but today he provided Michigan with a big boost offensively by tallying 14 points. Zack’s weapon of choice on offense was the long ball, and while there were certainly bigger shots in the course of the game, there were many times when the Wolverines appeared to be teetering on the edge and one of Zack’s triples brought them back. His first two 3-pointers went toward building Michigan’s initial lead. His first one was a good illustration of something the Illinois players talked about at length after the game, which was how much success Michigan had when they got out in transition. The two 3-pointers Zack sunk in the second half were big in that they kept the lead Illinois held for most of the game from ballooning into unmanageable territory. They kept Michigan within striking distance in the second half  which enabled the late Wolverine run.

2) Evan Smotrycz’s two second-half 3-pointers

Smot’s first 3-pointer could not have come at a better time. After Tim Hardaway Jr. cut the Illini lead to nine with a triple, Brandon Paul knocks down an extremely deflating 3 to recover the 12-point lead. It was around this time when the game seemed like it just might be out of reach for the Wolverines. But if they were on life support, Smotrycz’s 3-pointer on the next possession functioned as the defibrillator. Evan actually had two chances to take this shot on the same possession but passed on the first. His next 3, with about five and a half minutes left, came after a Darius Morris lay-in and a stop on the other end. At this point Michigan looked like they had some life and that they at least had a run in them. Then on the ensuing possession, Stu Douglass sets a screen on Evan’s man as Evan pops out to the top of the key, Darius finds him, and Smot drains on of the biggest shots of his young career. His triple cut the Illinois lead to just four points.

3) Darius Morris scores eight points in the final eight minutes

In the midst of Tim Hardaway’s emergence as one of the best freshmen in the country, it’s important not to forget that Michigan has not one but two scoring guards who can put the team on their back late in games. Darius was instrumental in today’s comeback, willing the Wolverines to scores on numerous occasions in the final eight minutes. Whether it was creating in transition, taking the ball to the hoop or pulling up for a mid-range jumper, Darius seemed to have the answer to every defense that Illinois threw at him. Morris had a great all-around day: he finished as Michigan’s leading scorer with 17 points, gathered four rebounds and dropped seven assists to only two turnovers. When Darius was off the court, the offense looked aimless; it might not have been that pretty even when he was on the floor, but at least it looked like there was some direction. Perhaps the best part of Morris’s late run? With just over two minutes left and Michigan down two, he went to the free throw line and calmly knocked down two freebies.

4) Tim Hardaway Jr’s late 3-pointer

Just because Darius was the one who put the Wolverines on his back doesn’t mean Tim didn’t get in on the act as well. The situation: Darius sinks two free throws to tie the game with two minutes left. Evan Smotrycz makes a great play on defense by stealing an errant pass by Demetri McCamey to Mike Tisdale and getting Michigan out on the break. Darius drives like he’s going to the basket but sees Tim is open on the perimeter. Darius dumps the ball off to Tim, who buries the triple to put Michigan up by three with just over a minute and a half to play. Once again, while this wasn’t completely a “fast-break basket,” the Illini still didn’t have a chance to totally set their defense before Hardaway let the shot fly. It was a big reason why Tim was open, and opportunities to score in transition were a big reason Michigan was able to come back late in this game.

5) Zack Novak’s rebound in traffic to ice the game

On Illinois last real possession, the Illini still had a chance to tie the game after Smotrycz missed the front end of a one-and-one. It could have been disastrous, but Michigan played smart defense and let Illinois get the harmless two. Except Brandon Paul missed the easy lay-in and Zack grabbed the rebound like he grabs every rebound — fiercely. Novak elevated among multiple Illinois defenders and brought the ball down before calmly walking to other end and making his free throws.

  • um basketball fan
  • MaizeNBlueJ

    Torrent of the game is up at

  • mistersuits

    Good grief. It’s looking like we were one Northwestern upset away from having a NW/UM/MSU/PSU BTT semifinals. How much madness can there be?

  • j-turn14

    Don’t have BTN, but it seems PSU and Wisco set the game back about 70 years in the nightcap.

  • Tim Kim

    Ya…it was a painful snoozefest…PSU came through with the upset. Hopefully, there showing against MSU is more respectable.

  • AG2

    Wow, did PSU really just win 36-33? Taylor Battle outplayed Jordan Taylor, but that’s not saying much, lol!

    • SJWolv

      Hopefully PSU moves into the top 50, now we are swimming in top 50 wins with Clemson, PSU (twice), Harvard, MSU (twice) and Oakland knocking on the door.

      • Devin

        You can throw Illinois in there now too.

  • JD

    Way to break it down, Dylan!

  • SJWolv

    CB with 27 tonight, Southfield advances:

  • Fred_Ex

    Nice quote um_basketball_fan, sincerely, I might have to use that. I are want our guys (the good guys) to win so bad tomorrow. Then a MSU v. U of M showdown for the BTT title. It’s so much fun just watching how far the baby blues go. Really would it be U of M athletics without an awesome story?

  • steve

    thank god we won today because both MSU and PSU won… i am no longer going to need to read bracketology stuff obsessively… now i can just enjoy the game tomorrow

  • billiam

    Interesting tourney. Let’s get ourselves a win tomorrow so we can beat sparty THREE times in a year.

    Just a “what if” but how cool would it be if we saw the “baby blues” win the BTT on the same weekend we watch the Fab 5 documentary?

    • JimC

      that would be sweet!

  • Tweeter

    Big Ten gettin 7? Joe Lunardi thinks so…at least as of right now. Last team in PSU. 7th to last in, Illinois. Michigan and MSU do not appear on the final 8. Still do not understand how he can have St Marys as 6th to last in, but whatever.

  • AG2

    Basically Lunardi seems to believe that UTEP and Memphis are both getting in, but whoever’s bid they take either PSU or USC will depend on if PSU beats MSU tomorrow. I don’t anticipate Alabama jumping back up, they’re going to get clobbered by Kentucky. UK will have revenge on its mind after the last meeting and they’ll be ready to close it out.

    Also he seems to think Michigan and MSU are now both ahead of Illinois in the field, can’t say I blame him.

    I still wonder if we’ll see a mid-major in the field that nobody saw getting a bid, like Missouri State or VCU. But at this point you’d have to believe it would come at the expense of another mid-major like St. Mary’s or Richmond. Could St. Joe’s *really* win the A10 as a 12 seed!?

    • Tweeter

      I dont think he believes both UTEP and Memphis are getting in. As of right now it appears he only has UTEP in as the winner of ConfUSA. Memphis is in the last four out. I guess it Memphis wins tomorrow, he could put both in, but I think he would more likely just drop UTEP out.

      USC is kina of surprising. I dont know why he has them in ahead of both of Georgia and Alabama. I could also definitely see VCU getting a lot of consideration. Lunardi is not very high on them, but other predictors have them in.

  • billiam

    Doesn’t matter. We’re in.

    We’re also going to be ranked higher than these guys after we beat O$U (64-60).

  • Kainkitizen

    Lunardi has us as a #12 seed playing #5 seed Vanderbilt. I bet that changes to like a 6 or 7 seed when we win on Sunday. I would prefer a #6 seed in one of the regional brackets. That way you wouldn’t have to play a #1 or #2 seed until the sweet 16. It would be easier to knock off a #3 or #4 seed in second round then a #1 or #2.

    • Mith

      It’s interesting to debate Michigan’s ceiling if we somehow get past OSU and manage to win the BTT. I would guess we would probably pull an 8, but I guess a 6 or 7 is not outside the realm of possibility.

      • paul r

        Crazy to think about this, but I believe if we beat OSU and win the BTT, I think 5 seed.. that would mean we finsed the year on a 12-3 run. with one of those losses on a banked three and a last second loss to Ill. go blue!!

  • JB

    For those interested, it looks like the game will be live streaming from CBS again.

  • Cyrus Ernesto “Ernie” Zirakzadeh

    Zack’s recovery and succesful shot after being hit in the head with the ball is one of the guttiest and funniest turn of events I’ve seen this year. If there is a highlight film for Zack, it should include that 3 pointer, plus the defensive stand at Minnie and the “howl” at MSU. Perhaps a talented cartoonist could combine all three Zack moments into an image for a t-shirt. I’d buy one.

    Cheers! Go Blue! Go Team!

  • DB

    Ha. We suddenly have 6 top 50 wins because of Penn State and Sparty

  • MH20

    According to, Penn State is now #42, and MSU #38 in the RPI. Clemson and Oakland are just beyond that threshold, at #53 and #54, respectively. OU likely is stuck just beyond the top-50, but Clemson will undoubtedly jump up several spots if they can beat UNC. That will also help our SOS and RPI.

    So, with PSU now in the top-50, we have 6 wins against RPI top-50 teams. I like it.

  • Before Smotz second three the announcer says “Michigan to put it in” to which I said to my buddy, “Yes, let’s put it in, but not just the tip.” When Smotz buried that jumper I turned to my buddy and said “THAT’S NOT JUST THE TIP!”

    Go Blue, beat the Buckeyes.