Game 21: Northwestern at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt


MICH 68 1.31 25-49 51% 19-34 56% 6-15 40% 12-18 67% 7 24 14 2 3 3 9
NW 46 .89 19-51 37% 15-32 47% 4-19 21% 4-8 50% 10 19 10 8 1 2 14

John Beilein is one of the most calculated, collected and reserved coaches in college basketball. He’s never one to boast about his team, look ahead or provide a juicy quote. He’s always focused on the next practice or drill and never one to give information – let alone feelings – away to the media. Earlier this week Beilein told Jim Rome that the Wolverines “have a chance” to his most talented team ever – just a chance.

But when Michigan plays the sort of perfect offensive basketball it played in the first half I can’t help but wonder what thoughts race through Beilein’s head. After coaching basketball for 38 years, he has to be simply giddy watching his recent crop of Wolverines play. This isn’t just his most talented team (by a wide margin); this is a team that plays basketball the way that Beilein has preached throughout his career. Michigan spreads the floor, makes the extra pass, doesn’t turn it over, dives on the floor and plays the game the right way. Despite their talent, this group of Wolverines plays just like Beilein’s favorite teams of old. But the talent makes a difference. Suddenly back cuts have gone from layups to two handed dunks and Beilein’s team sits on top of the college basketball landscape.

Three weeks ago in Evanston, Northwestern tried to run with Michigan. Similar to every other team that has tried to run with the Wolverines, the plan backfired. Michigan outscored Northwestern 94-66 in a 69 possession tilt. Bill Carmody is a smart man and he knew he had to change something before traveling to Ann Arbor. Carmody wanted to slow the game down the second time around and his team managed to do just that. At just 52 possessions this was the slowest game that either team had played this season but the slow pace provided no relief for the Wildcats.

Michigan’s offense scored 1.31 points per trip, just a stone’s throw less than its 1.37 points per trip in Evanston, and Northwestern found that points were much harder to come by after holding the ball for 25 seconds. The Wildcats managed just .89 points per trip and the final per possession margin was actually greater in the re-match as Michigan outscored the Wildcats by .42 points per trip.

Michigan’s offense scored over two points per possession over the first eight minutes of the game and managed 1.5 points per trip in the first 20 minutes. Michigan’s offense slowed down a bit but only because keeping up that torrid output is nearly impossible (unless you are Indiana at Purdue). Michigan turned the ball over just twice in 52 possessions (4%) and made 56% of their twos and 40% of their threes for a 57 percent effective field goal percentage. The Wolverines didn’t grab many offensive rebounds and only shot 12-of-18 from the charity stripe but both factors were afterthoughts given the clinical nature of Michigan’s offensive efficiency.

Northwestern isn’t a great offensive team but at .88 points per trip allowed, this was Michigan’s second best per-possession defensive performance since Big Ten play began. The Wildcats hit just 47% of their twos and 21% of their threes for a 41% effective field goal percentage. Michigan surrendered a handful of fluky offensive rebounds off of long misses but still grabbed 70 percent of Northwestern’s misses on the night and avoided sending the Wildcats to the line. The Wolverines only forced turnovers on 15 percent of Northwestern’s offensive possessions but did manage six easy points off of turnovers.

At 20-1 the stage is set for a special day of basketball in Bloomington this weekend. Indiana held serve at Purdue with an easy 97-60 victory and Saturday’s match-up will pit the two best offenses in the country head to head. It’s just the fourth time two Big Ten teams ranked in the top three have faced off and it very well could be the regular season college basketball game of the year. The next two weeks should be the toughest of Michigan’s season with games at Indiana, against Ohio State, at Wisconsin and at Michigan State.


Player Bullets:

  • Trey Burke: Burke is the best player (not point guard) in the country. He makes everything go for this group and once he hit a pull up three to open the game over Dave Sobolewski it was clear who was in charge. Burke would go on to score or assist 25 of Michigan’s 36 first half points. The first half was a clinic of flawless offense was Burke was responsible. Burke was 6-of-11 (1-3 3pt) from the field and handed out an impressive eight assists to just one turnover.
  • Glenn Robinson III: Robinson is an indispensable asset for John Beilein at the four position. Forget the fact that he was almost perfect on the night: 13 points on 6-of-7 (1-2 3pt) – yes, that’s a 93% eFG% – with no turnovers in 34 minutes. Michigan doesn’t have another trusted option at the four and John Beilein avoided any two big lineups with Morgan sidelined. Rather than play two bigs, Beilein opted to play Tim Hardaway Jr. at the four. The only criticism of Robinson is that he doesn’t use enough possessions because whenever he does, the result is positive.
  • Nik Stauskas: Shooting slump be damned, Stauskas hit 3-of-5 triples but failed to convert on a couple of drives. He still had a highlight two hand slam and threw two great passes off of the pick and roll to Mitch McGary and Jon Horford for easy buckets. John Beilein continues to run more and more of his traditional wing offense with Stauskas – think the Manny Harris set – featuring side ball screens and curls and it has been very effective for the most part.
  • Jon Horford: Horford got the start for Morgan and made the most of it, finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes. Horford was impressive defensively, using his length to block shots, but his versatility offensively stood out. He scored with a nice post move, off of pick and rolls and even with a back cut. His game is more methodical and composed than Michigan’s other bigs and he could be a valuable asset as he rounds back into form.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Seven points was Hardaway’s lowest scoring output of the season and it only the fourth time he failed to reach double figures on the season. Hardaway missed a lot of twos (1-7 on twos) but they were the sort of shots that he’s been making all season long so it’s tough to complain. Despite the poor shooting night, Hardaway was active moving the ball and had three nice assists. His defensive performance on Reggie Hearn was solid as well, holding Northwestern’s leading scorer to 7 points and 2 turnovers on 2-of-8 shooting.
  • Mitch McGary: McGary seemed to grab rebounds like a magnet, corralling 11 in 15 minutes, but he still had a few issues finishing. He missed a couple of bunnies around the bucket and turned the ball over but his behind the back save while flying out of bounds which eventually turned into a Tim Hardaway Jr. three says everything you need to know about McGary.
  • Spike Albrecht: Albrecht missed an open three but proved that he too is capable of pushing the pace and dropping the ball off to Glenn Robinson III for an easy finish.
  • Caris LeVert: It was another quiet night for LeVert, who did get to the line for a pair of free throws and split the pair in nine minutes.
  • Max Bielfeldt: With Horford and McGary playing so well it was hard to justify finding more minutes for Bielfeldt, who didn’t record a statistic in three minutes.
  • GregGoBlue

    Was impressed by the unselfish play of THJr. Whereas last year when he is in a shooting slump he would have jacked up threes like crazy, when he found himself in the a slump this year he makes the extra pass and hits the open man on two occasions. Contributed well on the defensive end as well. Nice job, Tim.

    • ChathaM

      I was sitting two seats away from a guy that spent part of the game ripping on Hardaway for “not being a team player” and being “selfish”. It was so difficult to not reach across, smack the guy in the head, and ask him why such a selfish player would ever accept the task of guarding Reggie Hearn. Of course, a guy like that wouldn’t know who Reggie Hearn is, so there you go.

    • mikey_mac

      Hearne is a tough matchup for Tim defensively. It was great to see that effort and the results. Tim has been remarkably unselfish and shown a very mature game this season.

    • section13row15

      Completely agree about Hardaway. He had a quiet night but he didn’t just start jacking up 3’s to try and get his as it seemed last year, he just let the offense run.

    • Northern Blue

      Very impressed as well in the last two games. Has really turned himself into a team player that plays within himself and affects the game in every aspect. Last year, if he was having an off night he had a negative contribution, this year he has found a way to be a positive contributor every night, because his unselfishness, team and individual defence, and rebounding has been consistently good, and is doing a way better job of not letting missed opportunities affect the way he plays the game going forward. Staying confident and keeping good body language, much improved shot selection as well. Pretty awesome to see that progression of him growing up.

  • great game team on our way to the ship lets ride

  • MGoTweeter

    good win. That game just had the feel that there was no way that NW could win, even if they were insanely hot shooting. When Michigan needed to get baskets they could and when they needed to get stops they could.

    Bill Carmody reminds me a lot of Beilein in terms of how he coaches offense. Maybe that is why Beilein is always so quick to praise him. He does a great job of getting players in terrific positions to score, but basketball always comes down to talent. I would really like to see Carmody get a job at a place that can recruit for itself. If you put Michigan’s players in his system I think you would see a very potent offense.

    Well it is money making stretch time. The next four games will go a long ways toward determining if Michigan will defend its crown as B1G champs. The bottom line, at least to me, is getting at least 2 wins. That would put Michigan in good position to win it, anything more and they are the clear favorite the rest of the way. Anything less probably means Michigan would need to be near perfect the rest of the way. Very exciting time. It is going to be a big time weekend. Go Blue!

    • Mith

      Agreed, I’m hoping for at least 2-2 in this stretch.(OK, secretly hoping for 3-1.) The last six after that are all very winnable, so if we can get through this gauntlet then we’re in line for a nice 15-3 record and probably at least a share of the B1G.

    • ShoelaceNation

      Generally, Northwestern doesn’t look to penetrate as much as Michigan does. That’s been the case even when they’ve had better athletes than they do now.

      • MGoTweeter

        It is a different kind of penetrate than what Beilein traditionally uses. Beilein’s offense is much more predicated on creating space for a player and allowing the player to dribble drive or attack off a screen/curl. Carmody’s system looks for more back cuts, post ups and player movement off those post ups. The ball is “penetrated” inside in both instances, just happens in different ways. The end result is typically the same, get your best players the ball in space.

        In terms of straight dribble drive guys, the only one that I can really remember well who was any good, was Juice Thompson. Carmody used him a lot off the bounce. More traditionally, they looked to post up Shurna a ton. The big problem is that they have never had a full compliment of talent. They have had a couple guys at best on any given team. Similar to Michigan’s early Beilein teams where if Manny/Deshawn did not do anything than the ball never entered inside the three point line.

  • Kenny

    Horford just had the best game of his career, and he looks much more composed and did a lot of things offensively that he was not able to do in the past. Once JMo comes back, our front line will be ready for any competition and we will see much more of two-big line-ups.

    • A2JD

      Either last night or the game versus UCLA last year. Horford can be a weapon, if he can stay healthy. He seems to have the best post game among the bigs.

  • Wayman Britt

    I am looking for something to do this Saturday night around 9 p.m, does anybody know of anything going on?

    • Brad S

      I heard there will be a good movie on Lifetime

    • gobluemd16

      Same, I’ll be in Bloomington, probably just gunna grab something to eat – a late dinner.

  • Chabvis

    Great game. I love watching this team play. I like that Beilein went with Horford getting the start and continued to bring McGary off the bench. I suspected that this would happen and think that it is the right move going forward.

    I don’t see it happening long term, but I think as a team we have a higher ceiling with Horford in there rather than Morgan. I like Morgan a lot and don’t have any real complaints with him, but Horford’s low post game gives us that final offensive weapon that we don’t have with Morgan in there. And thus far, I have not seen much of a drop off defensively between the two.

    The real test of my hypothesis comes on Saturday, assuming Morgan does not play (although, we obviously haven’t seen Morgan vs Zeller yet this year). So we shall see.

    • Mattski

      Agree about his post game, but think that Morgan is still our best underneath defender–his prowess there has been established in several recent articles, here and at mgoblog. All three bring a really distinct dimension, which is fantastic for the team.

      Nice write up, Dylan; the opening is especially inspired. Nice to see the blog assuming rich mature form along with the team. Wish I could herd another several hundred more regulars this way. Now that I think of it, maybe we could all try to point friends and family toward the site. . . have been sending highlights to my brother, anyway.

      • JeremyS

        “Nice write up, Dylan; the opening is especially inspired…” I agree wholeheartedly.

  • EchoWhiskey

    I hope Morgan can make it back for Saturday’s game – though I would be surprised – but the silver lining here is that Horford is getting minutes now to round him into shape and make him a legit contributor later in the season.

  • Devin

    I hope Michigan comes out in the maize jerseys this weekend instead of the blue ones.