Game 26: Illinois at Michigan Recap

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Photo: AnnArbor.com

Michigan’s nine point home victory over Illinois wasn’t always a thing of beauty but tenuous moments were few and far between for John Beilein’s Wolverines. Michigan opened up a nine point lead midway through the first half and managed to keep the Illini comfortably at bay until the final horn. This was the sort of business as usual home win that should be expected from a Big Ten contender. The Wolverines are now one of just two Big Ten teams that remain perfect on their home floors and are just a half game out of first place with five games to play.

The Michigan offense was very efficient against one of the league’s better defenses, scoring 1.17 points per possession. The Wolverine offense benefited from its slumping weapons rediscovering their offensive form. Evan Smotrycz and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to score 28 points and handed out five assists while playing with as much offensive confidence as they have since December. Michigan shot the ball well inside (53% on twos) and outside (43.8% on threes) for a 57.6% effective field goal percentage on the day. It was a balanced Wolverine attack, with seven of eight Michigan players making at least two shots from the field. Michigan also was fundamental with its offensive execution, turning the ball over on just 15% of its offensive possessions and making 17-of-22 free throw attempts.

The Wolverine defense wasn’t faultless but was plenty good enough to win. Brandon Paul scored 21 points but also turned the ball over seven times. Michigan allowed seldom used substitute Tyler Griffey to have a career night (18 points) but was effective in slowing the rest of the Illinois roster. Meyers Leonard scored two baskets in the first two minutes before failing to record another field goal while DJ Richardson was just 1-of-8 on three point attempts. Illinois struggled to finish around the basket, making just 42% of its two point attempts, and also turned the ball over on 21.7% of its offensive possessions which resulted in 19 Wolverine points.

Michigan was abused on the defensive glass, allowing Illinois to rebound 40% of its missed shots, but was able to weather the damage. The Illini scored just nine second chance points despite grabbing 14 offensive rebounds and Michigan was able to exploit the Illini defense in transition. The Wolverines outscored Illinois 10-0 in fast break points and found even more easy looks in the secondary break, consistently punishing Illinois for sending so many players to the offensive glass.

Michigan is now 19-7 (9-4 Big Ten), matching last season’s regular season win totals, overall and in Big Ten play, with five games left on the schedule. The Wolverines are a half game out of a first place tie with Michigan State and Ohio State and have a week to prepare for a primetime Saturday night game against Ohio State. ESPN’s College Game Day will be in Ann Arbor on Saturday and a Michigan win would more than establish the Wolverines as serious title threats down the stretch.

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Photo: AnnArbor.com

Player Bullets:

  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway seemed to gather some early confidence after a beautiful assist in transition to start the game. The rest of his game took off after he knocked down his first three point shot attempt of the day. He finished with 15 points on 5-of-9 (2-3 3pt) shooting with three assists and two turnovers. It was a steady and consistent performance, despite foul trouble in the second half, from a player that’s been anything but over the last month. I’ve been as guilty as any for over analyzing Hardaway’s (negative) demeanor on the court throughout his slump so it’s only right to point out what a positive attitude he seemed to have throughout today.
  • Zack Novak: One of the defining images of Novak’s career is his bloodied face during a home win over Illinois as a freshman. Looking back to that game makes Novak’s performance today that much more impressive. At that point Novak was a tough kid that could shoot threes. Now, Novak is Michigan’s most improved player and doing so much more. It was Novak’s rebounding and transition offense that stood out today. He scored 12 points, grabbed nine rebounds (2 off.), handed out three assists and picked up a steal. The confidence with which he pushed the ball and passed it was remarkable and his two offensive rebounds were more traditional “Novak plays”: a rebounded free throw miss and a rebound among four Illinois defenders followed by a reverse put back.
  • Stu Douglass: It might not have shown on the stat sheet today but Douglass is playing solid basketball across the board. He was 2-of-5 from the floor and missed both three point attempts. In the past a long range 0-fer from Douglass was a pre-determined bad game, today he grabbed four rebounds, handed out a pair of assists and came up with a steal. He was tasked with guarding Brandon Paul and was a major reason why the Illinois star had seven turnovers on the day. Then there was his dribble hesitation move and blow by for an easy layup; I’m not sure Douglass even knew that he had that in his arsenal.
  • Trey Burke: Burke was solid but never quite found his shooting stroke, finishing 5-of-15 (0-4 3pt) on the game. He missed a lot of looks around the bucket that seemed to be half way down but that didn’t deter Beilein from going to the pick-and-roll down the stretch where Burke continued to make the smart plays. Burke hit his free throws, grabbed two steals and handed out three assists in a solid if unspectacular performance. One thing that the freshman guard needs to work on is getting the ball to his teammates in a slightly better position when he’s pushing the ball in transition – he has the habit of leading them into turnovers, especially Jordan Morgan.
  • Evan Smotrycz: This was easily Smotrycz’s best game since December as he had a complete offensive performance: 13 points on 3-of-6 (2-3 3pt) shooting with three rebounds and two assists in 29 minutes. Smotrycz stepped up with Morgan riddled with foul trouble and changed the game. His style of defense is gambling but disruptive as he used his active hands to grab four steals. He battled at the five and despite being guilty on some of Tyler Griffey’s buckets, he was surprisingly solid defensively. At the end of the day he’s an offensive player and his scoring adds another dimension to the Michigan attack. The Illini bigs just couldn’t defend him on the perimeter and was certainly the sort of game that he can build on going forward.
  • Jordan Morgan: Morgan had been doing a better job of staying out of foul trouble lately but this was a regression. Morgan had four fouls in 12 minutes of playing time and most of them were of the frustrating variety that he needs to be smart enough not to commit. To his credit, he did have a huge offensive rebound and put-back in the second half.
  • Matt Vogrich: Vogrich was a game changer, playing with energy on the defensive end and knocking down open shots offensively. He took a huge charge in the first half which was Meyers Leonard’s second foul, he scored off of a nice back cut, tied up Leonard in the second half and hit a pair of threes. Eight points, two rebounds and a steal rounds out to a big afternoon for the junior in 18 minutes of playing time.
  • Blake McLimans: McLimans didn’t seem to be on the same page with Burke or Hardaway. He almost always pops after setting a screen and Burke and Hardaway both were looking for him on the roll. The lack of communication resulted in a turnover for Hardaway and some forced shots for Burke. McLimans has now failed to grab a rebound in his last 27 minutes of action over the last seven games.
  • Offtopic_Pedant

    It looks like there might be a typo in McLiman’s line: he only played 4 minutes. Also, more noteworthy than his lack of rebounds is the fact that he registered an even 4 trillion in the box score.

    Also, RE Burke’s difficulty converting on drives today, it looked to me like he was absorbing a lot of contact that went uncalled. I thought the refs were decent in letting both teams play physically, but Burke could have easily gone to the line on a few of his missed shots in the paint.

    • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

      The last 27 minutes stat was referring to the last seven games that he’s played in, added that clarification. 

      • Offtopic_Pedant

        Ah, sorry for the misread. That is indeed a pretty impressive stretch of time for a 6’10″ guy to go without a board.

    • Flwolve

      Dylan’s comment is that he hasn’t had a rebound in his last 27 minutes of action which obviously goes back more than just this game.  That’s actually pretty hard to do and next to near impossible if you’re over 6’10.

  • Wayman Britt

    When Evan and Tim are hitting their shots, this is a different team.  It effects not only the offense; but defense, transistion and the bench.  Good Work.

  • Drew

    This team can beat anybody when Hardaway and Smotrcz are involved and shooting well. It can also lose to anybody when the entire offense is Burke on ball screens

  • johnnyumfan

    I’m enjoying this team. 9 – 4 in the BIG and undefeated at home with a freshmen pg, this team has exceeded my expectations. I agree about Burke, he sometimes gives Morgan and other UM bigs the ball in ackward positions near the rim. But if Burke had converted a few more of his looks, and several were  easy , including a missed bunny, he would of been the leading scorer in the game.

    • Mith

      Going into the season I was really concerned we might see a repeat of 2 years ago with a preseason top-25 team performing well under expectations.  I’m so glad I was wrong!  It’s been a great year and I hope we can finish it strong.  Happy days!

  • Flwolve

    Hey Dylan, I still can’t get over Hardaway Sr.’s comments the other day that the offense isn’t running as smoothly this year as it was last year.  To my untrained eye, the offense is much more efficient this year as evidenced by the fantastic two point shooting.  Sometimes it looks like we’re running a layup drill out there.  Morris was tough in the lane but Burke is more than capable of getting his share of layups. If Hardaway could ever regain his shooting stroke, then this year’s offense would be borderline explosive.  Is there a site out there that would already have some offensive efficiency stats for this year vs. last?

    • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

      KenPom Adjusted offensive efficiency numbers.
      2012: 112.6 (23rd)
      2011: 112.8 (31st)

      Big Ten Points Per Possession:
      2012: 1.044
      2011: 1.061

      Pretty close given that this season isn’t complete. The biggest difference is that this team is worlds better than defensively, although the numbers over the second half of Big Ten play last year are comparable.

    • q-sac

      that may be a subconscious reactions to tim jr’s struggles this year. he’s got to be more focused on tim than an impartial observer, and could be attributing his struggles to a perceived decline in offensive efficiency. as far as morris being a better creator than burke – maybe. but burke’s individual contributions more than make up for it i think. i wouldn’t trade trey for darius right now. no way. and burke, even when his shot’s off, look more comfortable running the team each game and finding his points in the offense.

      hopefully tim and smot’s games today will get them to turn the corner and propel this team down the stretch. 1/2 game out… and like the way we’re coming together.

    • ForeverBlue

      I hadn’t seen his comment on the offense.  It’s definitely different this year with Burke and THJ is also being defended differently.  Burke does tend to make some passes in almost “bail me out” fashion after he’s cut off or can’t get any space.  Morris was much more strategic in drawing defenders and finding the open man.  It will come for Burke.   

  • q-sac

    also – love the way they handled leonard today. after two quick easy buckets it looked like it might be a long day. to hold him without another bucket for the next 35 mins – great d. the double teams, then the help and recovery left him a nonfactor (other than reb’s). beilein always seems to have a good plan to stop other teams’ bigs, even though we’re pretty undersized. interesting to see how they do they at illinois, assuming the illini are more comfortable shooting outside at home.

  • Champswest

    It is great to see the team in 3rd place and only 1/2 game out.  I don’t think that they have played a great game yet, maybe a great half game.  Their defense and willingness to play hard has kept them in games and earned wins.  It could be an exciting finish.

  • sane1

    Michigan’s RPI is 14 after todays game.

  • Indiana_Matt

    Great win.

    And just to make a quick comment on the future, does anyone else think it might be a good thing that Glenn III didn’t make the McDonald’s game and Gary Harris did? He had two great twitter responses. He graciously congratulated Harris and Yogi on making the team. He also basically said in a couple years we’ll really see who the best players are from this class. The young man seems to be a fierce competitor and I think this will only serve to motivate him and make him even better.

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