John Beilein downplayed it afterward but make no mistake about it: this was a pivotal win for his team. Michigan traveled to Minneapolis after a deflating road loss at Ohio State and beat No. 9 ranked Minnesota comfortably. Sure the Gophers scrapped back into the game but the visiting Wolverines made a clear and emphatic statement at the Barn.
For Minnesota, everything seemed to fall apart when Andre Hollins picked up his second foul with 13:55 to play in the first half. The Gophers led 13-10 when Hollins fouled Tim Hardaway Jr. driving to the bucket. From that point on, Minnesota turned the ball over seven more times in the first half and watched Michigan turn a small deficit into a solid six point halftime lead. Hardaway carried the Wolverine offense in the first half 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
Hollins would return in the second half but the damage was done and the Wolverines extended their lead to 19 points in a flash. Over the 20 minutes of clock time immediately following Hollins’s second foul – 13 of which he spent on the bench – Michigan outscored the Gophers 46-24 and never looked back. Minnesota fought its way back into the game late but was never able to legitimately challenge the Wolverines down the stretch despite a messy, free throw heavy, closing stretch.
Michigan’s offense is reaching scary levels of efficiency and its dismantling of Minnesota makes Ohio State’s defensive performance last Sunday even more impressive. The Golden Gophers don’t have the league’s best defense – far from it – but Michigan’s 1.30 points per possession were better than any team has managed against Minnesota since March 2010. Through five Big Ten games Michigan has scored 387 points on 317 possessions or 1.22 points per trip.
The best way to put that number in perspective: Michigan’s best offensive game in Big Ten play last season was 1.19 points per possession at Penn State.
Michigan’s shooting was phenomenal but its offensive attack was far more diverse than a simple hot shooting night. The Wolverines shot 58% on twos and 50% on threes for a 65% effective field goal percentage. Michigan turned the ball over on 19 percent of its possessions, rebounded just under a third of its misses, and attempted 25 free throws to 51 field goals.
The Wolverine offense isn’t just effective, it’s fun to watch. The attack featured a little bit of everything on the night. 19 of Michigan’s 28 makes were assisted, six of those makes were dunks and the bench produced 15 points. Michigan matched Minnesota’s 32 points in the paint but also knocked down 10 threes in a hearty 64 possession game. In a league maligned for hard to watch basketball, Michigan could be one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the country.
The three rules for playing Michigan are clear: don’t run, don’t crash the glass and don’t turn the ball over. Unfortunately for the Gophers, those three traits are ingrained in their DNA.
However, there’s still plenty of growing room for this Wolverine team on the defensive side of the ball. Minnesota scored 1.18 points per trip thanks to 8-of-16 three point shooting and dominant offensive rebounding. The Gophers rebounded 47 percent of their misses on the night – shockingly below their season average – and this was Michigan’s worst defensive rebounding performance of the season by a long shot. Haphazard ball handling cost the Gophers throughout the night. Minnesota turned it over on 24 percent of its possessions (35% in the first half) and Michigan converted those 15 Gopher turnovers into 24 points (22 in the first half). Michigan also struggled with fouls throughout, especially in the second half. The Gophers had a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 52% for the game but attempted 23 free throws to 29 field goals in the second half alone.
It was nice that Michigan forced turnovers but there’s not a lot to brag about with this defensive performance. Earlier in the season I questioned whether Michigan’s offense was good enough to win games in the Big Ten with an average-at-best defense. Games like this prove that might be possible – but defense would be a nice luxury.
At times it seems like one game can change everything but there’s no denying the validation in this win was something Michigan needed. Now the Wolverines take a weekend off before winnable games against Purdue, Illinois and Northwestern. Suddenly a 7-1 record feels possible before a murderer’s row stretch with games at Indiana, against Ohio State, at Wisconsin and at Michigan State in early February.
- Trey Burke: Burke missed more shots in this game than his first two career games against Minnesota combined but he was clearly back on top of his game. Burke was devastating in transition, pushing the ball whenever he could and finding his weapons all over the court. Burke handed out nine assists, most of which came in transition, to just one turnover on the night. He struggled to finish twos (2-of-9) but a lot of players will struggle to finish against Minnesota and the Wolverine leader regained his three point stroke going 3-of-6 from long range.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway’s early hot shooting carried Michigan in the first half and he was lethally efficient from the field. His six turnovers stand out like a sore thumb but he did just about everything else well. While Hardaway’s handle has been criticized in the past, it hasn’t been a major concern on the season and it’s safe to chalk this up as a one game issue.
- Nik Stauskas: Teams are going to do everything they can to deny Stauskas the ball in the half court and Minnesota did its best but Stauskas showed that he’s gaining confidence with his counter moves. It was great to see Michigan open with a great curl to the basket to get the Canadian going but his full arsenal was on display. He got to the line with a great backdoor cut, put the ball on the floor for a blow by dunk and was aggressive throughout. Stauskas was just 1-of-4 from three point range but handed out three assists and grabbed two steals in a complete performance.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson didn’t score in the first half but didn’t pout, instead he responded with a pair of big dunks and a three in the second stanza. It doesn’t seem like anything can affect Robinson’s demeanor on the court but even he couldn’t help celebrating his 360 dunk with a salute in the midst of a deciding Wolverine run. Do you think it was a coincidence that he unfurled the 360 against Minnesota (a team with a high flyer known for the 360 dunk)? Speaking of Rodney Williams, Michigan’s freshman left him noticeably frustrated throughout and Williams finished with just 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting with four turnovers.
- Mitch McGary: McGary’s offensive versatility shines in comparison to Jordan Morgan. He went 4-of-5 from the field including a nice 10-foot jumper and several dunks and layups. He’s a player built for the Big Ten, ready to throw his body anywhere and battle all over the court. He’s going to make mistakes – fouling jump shooters, being overaggressive, not grabbing a defensive rebound in 20 minutes – but he’s going to make enough plays to make up for it. McGary stuffed the stat sheet with eight points, two offensive rebounds (which led to 5 points), three steals, a block and an assist in 20 minutes. Most importantly, he seems to steadily play better on a game-by-game basis.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan might react better to half time pep talks than any other Michigan player in recent memory. He played soft to open the game, getting blocked by Trevor Mbakwe twice and finishing with no points and one rebound in the first half. He responded by going 4-of-4 in the field in the second, scoring nine points and grabbing three rebounds in 10 minutes.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert stepped on the floor in the first half and left Austin Hollins wide open for a three, then he gave up two free throws to Maverick Ahanmisi. Beilein sat him on the bench immediately. But with six minutes remaining and Robinson in foul trouble, LeVert got the call. Thrown into the fire of a Minnesota comeback effort, LeVert stepped up. He knocked down a big time three pointer 23 seconds after stepping onto the floor and then got on the floor for a loose rebound before being crushed by Mbakwe (and made both free throws). LeVert made some mistakes but stepping up off of the bench, especially after his woeful first half, was impressive.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht had seven minutes to make an impact and he succeeded. He handed out two assists, stood in the post and took a charge and even connected on a floater high of the glass late in the second half.