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.
- 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.