Game 20: Michigan at Illinois Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 74, Illinois 60-23Michigan 74, Illinois 60-29Michigan 74, Illinois 60-16
Dustin Johnston

MICH 74 1.14 31-59 53% 26-44 59% 5-15 33% 7-13 54% 12 23 13 12 9 2 12
ILL 60 .92 23-62 37% 17-36 47% 6-26 23% 8-9 89% 16 20 7 15 7 1 14

There are five major conference teams in the country with a younger rotation than Michigan. Those five teams have combined to lose over twice as many games as the Wolverines have won this season – or 46 times as many games as they’ve lost.

Those young Wolverines continued to look poised beyond their years in Champaign, Illinois on Sunday evening in the face of adversity. Michigan lost Jordan Morgan, its starting big man and oldest rotational player, to a sprained ankle just two minutes after the jump ball but showed no signs of panic. Instead the Wolverines took the loss in stride, weathering a hot Illinois shooting start to build a first half lead and carry it to a comfortable 14 point victory.

Michigan leaned on its bench, looking to Mitch McGary, Max Bielfeldt and Jon Horford to anchor the middle. That’s a true freshman, red-shirt freshman and oft-injured big man with 10 minutes of playing time since dislocating his knee cap in mid-December if you happen to be keeping score. The trio was up to the challenge, finishing with a combined 17 points and 14 rebounds in relief duty.

Michigan’s bench heroes had plenty of help as its other stars were up to the task. Trey Burke added 19 points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals while Nik Stauskas (14), Tim Hardaway Jr. (12) and Glenn Robinson III (12) all reached double figures with a combined 70 percent effective field goal percentage.

The 14 point win was routine by any measure and means Michigan is on the verge of securing its first No. 1 ranking in two decades – when four of those young Wolverines weren’t even born.

This wasn’t close to being one of Michigan’s better offensive performances this season, but for an average night it wasn’t bad at all. The Wolverines scored 1.14 points per possession in an offensive effort that was fueled in the paint and in transition. Michigan scored 42 points in the paint and 10 points on the fast break. The Wolverines made 53 percent of their twos and a third of their threes for a 57 percent effective field goal shooting percentage. We’ve entered an era of Michigan basketball where the Wolverines can attempt just 25 percent of their field goals from three point range and it doesn’t even seem out of the ordinary. Michigan continued to be aggressive on the offensive glass as well, rebounding 38 of its misses for 12 second chance points. This offense has played one bad game in 20 tries and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down nearing the midway point in conference play.

For the sixth time in seven Big Ten games, Michigan’s defense held its opposition below the one point per possession threshold. The Illini were able to run and gun with Michigan for about 15 minutes but eventually the three point well dried up and the Illinois offense couldn’t produce. The Illini hit five of their first 14 three point attempts but connected on just one of their final 13 attempts. Michigan’s defensive rebounding was underwhelming, surrendering offensive rebounds on 43 percent of Illinois’ missed shots leading to 20 second chance points. Michigan was able to force turnovers on nearly a quarter of Illini possessions and turned those turnovers into 22 points. Michigan also held Illinois to subpar two and three point shooting numbers: 47% and 24% for a 43% effective field goal percentage.

Michigan’s supporting big men played well in Jordan Morgan’s absence but losing Morgan for any extended stretch could still be a tough loss. (Beilein’s report is that the ankle is sprained and Morgan couldn’t put weight on it.) Morgan is the most consistent interior defender and rebounder on the roster and the best option to deal with opposing big men that run the floor extremely well – such as Cody Zeller next weekend. Michigan’s backups are able but unproven and there’s certain be ups and downs along the way if Morgan’s injury proves severe.

Number one in the country or not, this win ties Michigan at the top of the Big Ten standings with Indiana. It’s also the best start in Michigan’s program history. If both teams hold serve this week – Michigan against Northwestern and Indiana at Purdue – the showdown in Bloomington on Saturday night will be special to say the least.

Michigan 74, Illinois 60-18

Player Bullets:

  • Trey Burke: Even when he’s struggling, Burke is still cold blooded. He closed the first half by scoring seven of Michigan’s final 10 points, assisting the other triple. Does he fall in love with the step back jumper too often? The shot chart says yes (CBS):
  • The step back jumper is a shot that Burke can make – and he has an incredible ability to create space – but in an optimal world he’s shooting close threes instead of long twos or  longer threes. Early possessions triggered flashbacks of Burke’s dismal NCAA tournament performance as Illinois switched every pick and roll, daring Burke to shoot over a bigger and slower defender. He obliged early but Michigan adjusted and Burke did a much better job finding the roll man against a smaller defender and moving the ball as the game progressed.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway is as dialed in as he’s ever been in his career. He’s shooting his threes quickly and confidently off the catch (2-of-4 tonight) and he continues to attack the basket including a handful of beautiful finger rolls in transition. Throw in a couple great passes in the second half and it’s clear that he’s playing the best offensive basketball of his life. His shooting splits in six Big Ten games tell the story: 53% on twos and 52% on threes. Forget about the offensive end of the floor, Hardaway’s transformation on defense is even more dramatic. It’s Hardaway that the Michigan coaches trust to chase Brandon Paul around the perimeter and he’s doing a damn good job of it as Paul was just 5-of-12 and turned the ball over five times tonight.
  • Nik Stauskas: Stauskas isn’t a shooter: he’s a complete offensive player. When he shoots threes, the whole gym expects them to find the net but the joy is in watching him make great offensive plays. He hit two threes on the night but let’s talk about his two hand dunk off of a back cut, multiple strong takes to the rim and pair of assist. We’ve discussed his pick and roll ability, but lately he’s been slicing teams up with the side curl. He’s comfortable doing almost everything out of that set.
  • Glenn Robinson III: It’s just a pleasure to watch Robinson play as he makes the game look effortless. The freshman finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists in 38 minutes. The box score doesn’t credit him for his highlight block (potentially a goaltend?) but his offensive production was as opportunistic as ever with a number of cuts, offensive rebounds and even a strong drive with a more impressive finish. His basketball IQ is off the charts and his raw ability allows him to finish in essentially every scenario.
  • Jon Horford: This was a massive, and unexpected, performance from Horford off of the bench as he scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds in 17 minutes of action. He made a few mistakes but for a guy that has barely played, he was impressive offensively – 3-of-3 with a nice move – or defensively.
  • Mitch McGary: McGary grabbed seven rebounds (3 offensive) but struggled more on the defensive glass than he has all season. Several times he seemed to be out of position, allowing an Illinois offensive board and put back. The energy was still there and McGary does a better job than any of Michigan’s bigs at sealing defenders on the block, either to receive the ball or just clear the lane for a driving Michigan player. If Morgan is out for an extended time, McGary is going to have to learn how to avoid fouls, picking up four in just 16 minutes.
  • Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt’s introduction to Assembly Hall was brutal: an airballed free throw followed by a long brick at the stripe. Having to step to the free throw line on the very next possession, as Bielfeldt did, is an extremely mental test. Bielfeldt passed with flying colors, making both free throws to start a Michigan run and adding a steal, layup and a couple of rebounds in six minutes.
  • Caris LeVert: LeVert had a quiet night, failing to score and handing out an assist but there are so many weapons around him that Michigan can live with a quiet night off the bench.
  • Spike Albrecht: Similar to LeVert, Albrecht was rarely involved and failed to record a statistic in just four minutes.
  • Montreal

    1. Horford seems well suited to running up and down the court with Zeller. I trust him. He has to be the best 3rd string center in the country.

    2. GRIII might be a 1 and done. His “advanced” stats (132 Ortg!) are ludicrous and the only other pure 3 I see at his level is Otto Porter, so a team with a need for a 3 (like Golden State had this year, and Cleveland, Washington, New Orleans and Sacramento all have multiple young bigs but basically nothing at the 3. I think he’ll rise, like Waiters did, once the efficiency stats get looked at more.

    • Agree with Horford to an extent, but I like him more in the half court right now. I’m not sure if Horford (or McGary at this point I don’t think) are up to run the floor like will be required at IU — especially for extended playing time. Not to mention that IU draws fouls as well as anyone in the country.

      • ZRL

        Agreed. I think McGary and/or Horford get in serious foul trouble, leaving Max to cover Zeller for a significant period. I don’t think Morgan’s injury is as serious as it first appeared, though. He would have been icing the ankle and keeping it elevated in the 2nd half it was a bad sprain.

    • Cheechmo

      RE: Your point #2


    • mikey_mac

      Horford is fairly mobile, but I would still be much more comfortable with Morgan sticking to the task of chasing down Zeller, but physically and mentally.

  • DingoBlue

    I have to say, was really pleased with the play of the bench. Horford definitely has a spot on this team. I’m worried we’ll lose him after this year because he really is good enough to start on other teams. Bielfeldt just needs to continue to play with poise going ahead.

    • Graham Brown

      Horford will be back, and I think he might give Morgan and McGary a run for their minutes. Next year: Morgan will be a senior, Horford a junior, and McGary a sophomore.
      I think THJ might stay if he’s not a lottery pick, but his play continues to improve, so who knows. GRIII could leave, but he likely won’t get the experience of being the #1 focus of a scouting report of a defense until after this year. He certainly has all the physical tools to go the the NBA, but he might stay to develop his IQ under Beilein. Either way, next year’s team will have tremendous depth too.

    • Adam St Patrick

      Beilein’s shown himself to be a very flexible coach. Next year, without Burke, perhaps we’ll see more size out there if McGary is still here. The offense should run through a sophmore McGary. I say “should”, but we’ll see. Beilein’s certainly not taking advantage of size this year.

  • CDeSana

    The one big thing I took from this game is that more and more people are willing when given a chance to run the point taking some pressure and allowing some on course rest for Burke. Timmy, Nik and Caris all played a little point at times allowing Burke to run a little 2 guard, and even better they made some very good decisions while doing it.

    Other note worthy comments are the defensive developments where Timmy really has improved and the young guys are coming around fast.

    Last but not least that block by GRIII was sick!

  • Don Dula

    I’m loving the way that Tim is playing right now, particularly rebounding the ball on the defensive glass, but I think the coaches really need to limit the way he handles the ball. I don’t think he can initiate the offense in the half court, as the ball is stolen from him too easily. He can initiate transition, and does a good job of passing on the pick and roll, but it just makes me cringe sometimes when he tries to split double teams or has the ball poked away from behind seemingly every other time he dribbles in traffic. I know it’s something he has worked on, but I just don’t think he is strong enough with the dribble and it leads to fast breaks the other way far too often. On a more positive note, I’ve never had more confidence when he puts the ball up from anywhere on the court.

    • DoubES

      I felt this way all the time last year, but this year I really don’t feel it as much. He certainly doesn’t have the handles Burke does, but Tim has been so effective at taking it to the hoop and finishing this year. He has really surprised me with the improvement there, so I don’t mind the occasional TO.

    • AADave

      I agree that Tim’s ballhandling can be shaky. But it’s vital for Michigan’s offense that he be allowed to create with the dribble. He will make some TO’s but the offense he creates for himself or somebody else more than makes up for the TO’s. I think he will continue to work on limiting TO’s, many of which seem to be due to inattention rather than ballhandling limitations. He’s just too dynamic offensively to put a straitjacket on him because of a couple TO’s. He’s one of their 3 main offensive weapons, not just because of his shooting but because of his driving and slashing to the basket. Limit him to just creating in transition and Michigan’s offense would become two-dimensional and much less effective.

      • Mattski

        Agree. And the more confidently he goes about it the less he screws up. I don’t even remember being upset about it the last few games, whereas in the past it was definitely an issue. His handles and his confidence are markedly improved.

    • Lester Abram

      it’s also worth noting that THJ does well with assists and rebounding; but when a defense is keyed in on Burke and the freshmen are playing (and learning on the go) as freshmen, THJ makes Michigan go. (see Michigan @ Minnesota, first half). He was a scoring machine against a defense that I think is still very strong despite it’s current losing streak.

      Preseason, THJ promised he’d play the role of Draymond Green this year, and I think he’s delivering on that promise. He puts the team on his shoulders when it needs him. As good as the freshmen are, they don’t yet have the college-bball IQ to do that.

  • JeremyS

    Burke’s one-on-one defense when the opponent comes across half court is getting ridiculously good. He doesn’t put pressure like this all game, but when it does, it causes serious trouble and is giddy fun to watch. I wonder if this effort comes from Beilein, or from Trey himself? Does Beilein tell Trey to go into “Craft mode”, or does Trey just knows that at certain times he needs to step up his game and make something happen defensively?

    I wonder if it too much to ask to have Trey play defense like that all game? I mean, he is already running the team offensively and putting that much effort on defense has got to be exhausting. I would expect extra effort on defense would equate to less offense. Is it worth the trade-off? Maybe, that is where Spike comes into play. Trey can get more rest while leaving more out on the floor when he is out there.

    Because when he does defend like that, he takes his game to the next level and there is nobody better in college.

  • Adam St Patrick

    Not at all surprised Horford did well. He’s been a good defender when given the chance, and is probably the best one-on-one defender on the team. I continue to be absolutely mystified as to why Morgan is considered the best interior big on defense other than very-small-sample statistics. He’s good and steady player; nothing wrong with him. This team’s taking it up a notch or two, however, when McGary finally gets truly comfortable and stops being overeager, and when Horford is allowed to do his thing. It would make things harder on offense, to be sure. I can see why those two aren’t going to be allowed extended minutes together. In tight games on offense/defense substitutions however, those two need to be in there together to get stops late.

    • Because Morgan has experience, is the most mobile and the one that the coaches trust. He’s limited in one on one situations but does a good job of defending ball screens and denying the post.

      • Adam St Patrick

        Agreed that it’s a matter of trust. McGary still screws up a bit. However at this point Horford is a known commodity as a defender and McGary needs time and reps. Give them that now and it’ll pay off in March, but already it’s harder to score on the inside in general when McGary’s in, and he’ll make plays that Morgan can’t that offset his effors. You’re only going so far with Morgan, who, to be fair, is not an automatic two around the basket. He’ll whiff on his share of singles too. He’s a good player, but he’s limited. Especially on defense, where he lacks the range to backstop the perimeter defense like McGary does now.

    • Daniel Horton

      the bigs have to be able to consistently hit singles. Morgan has a career of having learned to do this when Michigan had no big men.
      I think Beilein is terrific at bringing players along while growing their confidence, much less keeping it from deteriorating.

  • ChathaM

    I don’t mind the step-back jumper from Burke when it’s in the flow of the offence (eg.- when the defence is forcing a one-on-one situation, and Burke can’t necessarily beat his man with the dribble). It’s the end of half or end of game reliance on the step-back that I don’t like. With a team that’s more limited offensively, I could accept it. But, with this roster, and with a halfcourt offence that routinely gets a good look at the basket within the first 15 seconds of the shot clock, there is absolutely no reason to let the game clock reach 5 seconds, then fall back on a Burke step-back to score. This is especially true at the end of the half, where I couldn’t care less whether we attempt the last shot. I’d prefer a great look, within the offence, and give the opponent the final 8-10 seconds to get off their best shot, to a last second, lower percentage step-back look from Burke. Even at the end of a game, where it should often be a priority to take the last shot, I’d prefer a regular set that begins with 15 seconds on the clock to an isolation set that everyone in the gym knows is coming.

    After watching both IU and UM yesterday, I don’t expect that either team will be able to guard the other. It’ll be interesting to see how much zone the teams go to throughout the game. If both teams do end up needing to rely on zone for a significant number of possessions, I think that swings things in UM’s favour, as the UM zone looked much better than IU’s defensive zone possessions yesterday, which were horrible.