Just when games were supposed to become more challenging, Michigan’s offense demonstrated that it was capable of reaching new heights. Northwestern is an average team trending toward the league’s cellar without its two best players but the offensive clinic that the Wolverines executed in front of a pro-Maize and Blue crowd in Evanston should serve as a warning shot to the rest of the Big Ten.
John Beilein has managed to surround the nation’s best point guard with a versatile combination of scoring threats that are nearly impossible to contain on any given night. Trey Burke set the tone, scoring 13 of the game’s first 20 points to give Michigan 16-4 lead before finishing with 23 points and five assists, but he allowed his supporting cast to shine as well. Tim Hardaway Jr. (21 points), Jordan Morgan (12 points and 13 rebounds), Nik Stauskas (10 points) and Glenn Robinson III (10 points) all reached double-figures as the Wolverines extended their lead to 20 points just 10 minutes into the game. When the smoke cleared, Michigan’s 94-66 win was its most lopsided Big Ten road victory since 1964.
Michigan’s 1.38 points per possession was its best against a Division I opponent this season and it can beat anyone in the country when it shoots the ball that well. The Wolverines made 60 percent of their twos and 59 percent of their threes for a 71% effective field goal percentage that remarkably isn’t even their high water shooting performance of the season. But beyond the hot shooting, Michigan’s ability to exploit Northwestern’s weak defensive rebounding is what gives this offense an aura of sustainability. The Wolverines rarely missed but were still able to corral 40% of their misses when they did. Those second chances – half of which were credited to Jordan Morgan – are an invaluable boost to the Wolverine offensive attack. There will be off-shooting nights before April and Michigan’s offensive rebounding will be the difference in two or three games this season.
It’s tough to know what to make of Michigan’s defense in a game like this. Holding the Wildcats to .97 points per trip isn’t awful but is far from awe-inspiring either. Much of that production came with the game essentially out of hand but this game isn’t going to eliminate any nerves about a potentially suspect Wolverine defense. Michigan did clean up its defensive rebounding woes from its last outing (although Tim Hardaway Jr. grabbed just one rebound), securing over 75% of Northwestern’s misses on the evening. The Wildcats connected on 45% of their twos and 36% of their threes for a 49% effective field goal percentage, all of which falls almost directly in line with their season averages of 46/38/51%.
While John Beilein is certain to praise Iowa and Nebraska over the next week, it’s tough to look at Michigan’s next two home games as anything other than minor distractions before the first true Wolverine test: a Sunday afternoon trip to Columbus, Ohio on January 13th.
- Trey Burke: Burke puts games to sleep before they even begin. By the first media timeout there was no question who was the best player on the floor and just how this game was going to play out. The plays that Burke makes are often times simply impossible to guard whether it’s a step back three, a crafty drive to the bucket or an assist in transition. He was noticeably upset by his two back-to-back turnovers around the 13 minute mark in the first half and responded by not turning the ball over for the rest of the game. Enjoy the show while it lasts because Burke has been simply terrific.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway showed no signs of rust or a lingering injury, scoring 21 points on just 6-of-8 shooting. His first three triples came from the exact same spot on the floor but he branched out to the other wing to hit his fourth consecutive triple in the first half alone. He was dialed in but also aggressive pushing the ball and slashing, getting to the free throw line six times and handing out four assists.
- Jordan Morgan: Forget about elbow jumpers or a mid-range game, this is the sort of game that Michigan needs from Morgan every night in league play. He dominated both backboards (5 offensive rebounds, 8 defensive rebounds) and finished effectively (6-of-8 around the basket). Michigan has flash, flair and creativity at every other position on the floor but Morgan is the glue to hold everything together in the middle.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas actually struggled with his perimeter shot (his 2-of-7 performance accounted for over half of Michigan’s missed threes) but he was effective slashing to the basket. Northwestern’s over aggressive and extended 1-3-1 zone provided ample space for Stauskas to utilize his pump-and-drive. He was 2-of-4 inside with three assists (with an important goose egg in the turnover column).
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson’s makes all came at the rim en route to his quietly efficient 10 point (4-4 fg) and five rebound performance. He had his fair share of freshman moments defensively guarding Northwestern as he struggled to defend Jared Swopshire for stretches in the second half.
- Mitch McGary: “Over active” isn’t necessarily the label you want when attempting to defend an offense predicated on the back cut. His defensive eagerness led to two steals and a block but also three fouls and a couple of easy baskets on backcuts. McGary will also have to continue to develop discipline when defending the post and finishing around the basket against bigger and more athletic squads in league play.
- Caris LeVert: Burning LeVert’s redshirt looks smarter after every game. The lanky freshman might shoot it from his chest a bit but he drilled two triples, grabbed two rebounds and handed out two assists in 15 minutes of playing time.
- Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt is a strong offensive rebounder but his lack of height and athleticism limits his ability on the defensive glass. He still was very productive with four points (1-1 fg, 2-4 ft) in four minutes. He needs to finish more confidently at the basket but in the meantime uses timing well to draw fouls around the rim.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht did very little in his seven minutes of game time as the only play that stood out was an errant back-door pass turnover.