Game 29: Michigan at Illinois Recap

Dylan Burkhardt
Michigan 84, Illinois 53-20

Michigan 84, Illinois 53. Photo Gallery. Beilein Presser. Player Reactions. Groce Presser. Box Score. Photos: Dustin Johnston

Michigan’s game at Illinois on Tuesday night was supposed to be a defensive struggle. It turned out to be a victory lap.

Facing an Illinois defense  that had held its last four opponents under 50 points, Michigan was unfazed. The same Michigan team that been outscored by 61 points in the first 10 minutes of its last six games, wasted no time taking control. The Wolverines scored 52 points in the first half and it took Illinois all 40 minutes to match Michigan’s first half total.

In a season that’s been defined by close victories, Michigan flipped the script in its biggest moment yet. The Wolverines led by as many as 33 points and left no doubt in an 84-53 victory. The 31 point margin marked Illinois’ worst loss in Assembly Hall (now the State Farm Center) history.

Michigan is the class of the conference and Nik Stauskas is the league’s best player. Stauskas could barely miss, connecting on 8-of-11 shots – including a career high seven threes – and finishing with 24 points in 31 minutes.

For the first time since 1986, Michigan will sit alone at the top of the final Big Ten standings.


Michigan has played stretches of dominant offensive basketball this season. The Wolverines are the third most efficient offensive team in the country and obviously have the ability to score points in a hurry, but their performance in the first half was something special.

The Wolverines scored 52 points in 30 first half possessions, an incredible 1.73 points per possession. Michigan’s offense cooled off a bit in the second half, but the damage was done. The Wolverines scored 1.33 points per trip for their game and never cooled off from three-point range.

Michigan was only 13-of-28 on two-point attempts, slightly below its season average, but was an incredible 16-of-23 threes – good enough for a 72.5 effective field goal percentage. This was Michigan’s best shooting effort in a Big Ten game since January 18th, 2006 against Northwestern.

The Illini defense features an over-aggressive approach, heavy on trapping, reaching and going for steals. While that might work against some teams, it doesn’t work against Michigan. Time and again the Wolverines maintained composure, made the extra pass and knocked down wide open shots. The ball movement was clinical. In the end, all eight rotation players notched at least one assist and just over half of Michigan’s makes were assisted. The Wolverines only gave the ball away on 16% of their possessions with many of the turnovers occurring late in the second half when the game had devolved into glorified pick-up ball.

Illinois managed just .84 points per possession, which is tied for Michigan’s second-best defensive performance of the Big Ten season. It’s up for debate how much of that was due to Illinois’ offensive futility and how much of it was due to Michigan’s improved defense. I thought Michigan played well defensively overall, but it’s easy to guard a team that shoots 11% from 3-point range. The key to the Wolverines’ defensive success was defensive rebounding and they grabbed an impressive 85% of Illinois’ missed shots.

John Beilein can do no wrong. Two years ago he shared the Big Ten Championship, then he went to the Final Four, and now he’s added an outright Big Ten Championship to the mix.

Just over three months ago, Michigan was 6-4 on the season after a disappointing home loss to Arizona. Mitch McGary would be indefinitely sidelined a week later. At that point, no one could have predicted this sort of success. But somehow a Michigan team that lost Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary clinched the Big Ten Championship. If John Beilein isn’t the coach of the year in the Big Ten, I don’t know who is.

Michigan 84, Illinois 53-10
Dustin Johnston

Player Bullets:

  • Nik Stauskas: Stauskas was locked in. He hit deep threes, contested threes and open threes. He finished with 24 points on 11 shots and a 105% effective field goal percentage. He knows the Big Ten Player of the Year is up for grabs and he’s doing everything within his power to win it. This was one of those special performances where all you can do is laugh, sit back and enjoy it.
  • Derrick Walton: Walton has had to watch the ending of the last two games from the bench, but he played very well in Champaign on Tuesday night. I thought Walton set the tone early before Michigan caught fire. He had a team high five assists (and no turnovers) and grabbed two key early offensive rebounds. Walton has to be one of the best 6-foot rebounding guards around, finishing with seven rebounds tonight. His ability to rebound the ball and go is a nice luxury now, but later in his career it will be a feature of Michigan’s offense.
  • Caris LeVert: LeVert got into foul trouble, picking up two quick ones in the first half and then another early in the second. But he still made some plays offensively (who didn’t?), including a couple nice dribble drives and 2-of-3 3-point shooting for an efficient 15 points in 26 minutes. On the negative side of the ledger, he was a bit loose with the ball (2 turnovers) and still struggled to knock down that mid-range jumper.
  • Glenn Robinson III: This was another step in the right direction for Robinson, who finished with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting (1-3 3-point) with five rebounds. Robinson had a pair of strong drives and controlled finishes; he finally made another three, his first since the road win at Ohio State; and he had a steal and run out with a ridiculous dunk in transition. Robinson also connected with Morgan on a ball screen, adding a little wrinkle to his game. Overall, a solid day of work and his fifth straight double digit scoring performance.
  • Jon Horford: Horford got a lot of extra playing time with Morgan’s injury (28 minutes) and I thought he played pretty well. He still has his quirks but he grabbed 10 rebounds and passed the ball well. His two points came on a late dunk, but he could have been a bit more decisive finishing around the rim.
  • Zak Irvin: If Irvin is in the game, he’s going to fire away. Irvin scored 9 points on 3-of-6 shooting in 22 minutes. His shot is funky, but you can’t argue about the results right now. I thought Irvin started to bit a bit more aggressive with the bounce, but he got caught a couple times with two turnovers.
  • Jordan Morgan: Morgan is going to hate Champaign, Ill. for a long time. He went down early in the game taking a charge and bruised his tailbone, sitting out the rest of the game. Morgan’s 67% field goal percentage is bolstered by a lot of easy looks, but he hit a really nice bank shot off of a ball screen pass from Robinson.
  • Spike Albrecht: Albrecht was tagged with two turnovers and damaged his ridiculous 10:1 assist to turnover ratio in Big Ten games. He made up for it with some hot shooting, knocking down both of his three point attempts.
  • Max Bielfeldt: Max got a bit of time but was whistled for two fouls in five minutes.
  • MGoTweeter

    B1G Champs! That is really all that needs to be said but I will say a bit more since I enjoy to hear myself type. Incredible accomplishment for this team considering where they were as Dylan highlighted. I remember going into the Holy Cross game people talking about how they had to win that and the Stanford game just to put themselves into a position to make the tournament. And the people at that time really were not that wrong, but boy this team has grown and improved each and every day just as Beilein preaches. Every day is an opportunity to get better and this team is a prime example.

    Really happy for Jordan Morgan who has fought through battles every time he steps on the floor. He has had his struggles but his effort has never been one of those struggles. So happy for him and his team. Hopefully the tailbone is just a small thing and he will be ready to help this team improve even more the rest of the season.

    The job that Beilein has done is remarkable. His understanding and development of offense is unmatched in college basketball. This game was a great example of that. The biggest reason that the Illini’s aggressive trapping defense did not work is the spacing he provides with the offense. The Michigan defense is still a work in progress but I am continually impressed with his ability to scout a team and force teams away from their best options.

    As great as this accomplishment is, the job is not quite down. Beating Indiana and taking the BTT title could provide Michigan with a number one seed. Still somewhat a longshot, but that fourth number one seed is wide open right now.

    • arete

      Well said — and keep typing!

  • kam

    CHAMPS CHAMPS! You mentioned how good of a rebounder Walton is.. Next years him and caris will be a great rebounding back court they both rebound extremely well! Sooooooo happy for this group they worked hard and earned it. JB and his staff did amazing. GOOOO BLUE. Oh and morgan needs his number retired IMO he was a corner stone in this Rise Of The MAZE&BLUE program!

    • kam

      oh and NIK is the BPOY!

  • jakerblue

    Any ideas on why the best offensive performances have come against the best defenses in the conference? Is the discipline and composure they have just primed to beat the type of over aggressive defenses that work against most teams, or is it just a coincidence that the hottest shooting had happened to come against these Ds (Nebraska, Illinois)?

    • Good Q. The blowouts have been against teams that don’t have the offense to keep up (NEB, NW, ILL are 10, 11 and 12 in offensive efficiency). If Michigan makes a few shots against those teams… game over.

      On teh game, Micihgan’s offense wasn’t that much better than other B1G games: Penn State 1.34, MSU 1.29, 1.28, OSU 1.19… But if you can’t score with Michigan shot for shot like say a Wisconsin or Michigan State, things get ugly quickly.

      • jakerblue

        Thanks for the explanation. Makes sense, UM is going to get their points and if the other team can’t score it is going to just make hte UM offense look that much more potent.
        It just happens that this year the best defenses in the conference also go along with inept offense.

    • MGoTweeter

      It think Dylan is right on here. If you can’t score against michigan you are in trouble no matter how good your half court D is. I think the nightmare matchup for michigan in the tournament is an efficient offensive team with front court size similar to Wisconsin. If you can score without turning it over and win the board battle, you can beat michigan.

      Interestingly, michigan jumped about eleven spots on kenpom tonight in defensive efficiency.

      • kam

        To be fair Illinois missed a lot of open/ good looks. they’re just very poor offensively

        • MGoTweeter

          That’s what i was trying to say. Beating michigan is more about scoring on their D, than it is slowing down michigans offense. Michigan is going to give you open shots because they don’t have the pieces to take away everything or even challenge everything.

          Michigan tries to take away what you do best (a lot of times unsuccesfully) and hope you miss other open shots or turn it over forcing it to your strength.

  • Indiana_Matt

    Amongst so many other things, I’m happy that when Robinson shushed the Illini crowd, Dakich reminded everyone that Woodbury shushed his own home crowd after that dunk in our blow out Iowa loss. That was so ridiculous it deserved being mentioned again.

    • Burke_Does_Work

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that laughed when Dakich referenced it. Woodbury is an idiot, you don’t shush your own crowd when you’re on a tear.

    • Dan

      Apparently there was context to that shush– Woodbury had been getting criticized by fans for not being able to dunk or something. There were several articles about it after that game, so he wasn’t just randomly shushing the crowd.

      • Indiana_Matt

        Thanks. Didn’t know that. Still seemed kind of goofy.

  • Kenny

    Hope that Morgan will be 100% on his senior night. When he committed 7 years ago, few would’ve imagined that he would be a 4 year starter and finish his career with 2 Big Ten Champions.

    • JimmyZ5

      One can argue that he’s the most accomplished player in M history. Maybe not individually (not advocating for 52 in the rafters), but let’s reflect on his trophy case:

      Wins – tons of them (can’t look up his record), but 6-2 vs MSU stands out
      2 Big Ten Championships
      1 Final Four, NC Runner Up
      1, probably 2, All-Big Ten Defensive Team
      Possible B10 POY (Hammond, Vonleh, Craft…Craft probably wins on career achievement)
      Whatever we accomplish this postseason.
      Engineering undergraduate and graduate degrees, just to ice the cake

      One of my favorite Wolverines of all time. Didn’t even mention his intangibles.
      I’m young, but I sort of wish I had kids right now because Morgan is the type of student-athlete I’d want them to admire. Tough, hard-working, productive, a leader who knows his role, a scholar, and a winner. My childhood idol was Avery Queen (& Blanchard).

      • kam

        just wondering.. Are u the UM fan who does the michigan basketball videos

        • JimmyZ5

          Nope, just a big fan of the team and JMo’s career. I would like whoever that is to make a Jmo video though.

          Are you Kam Chatman? Ha, jk. But really…

          • kam

            there is a michigan basketball fan who does videos.. His name is “jimmyz8” i think on youtube.. Im pretty sure after this year he will have to do a big video on morgans career considering he’s a huge part of the program. Haha and no I’m not

      • jakerblue

        and it’s not like he came into a program that was on a roll. Coming in while the program was down makes those accomplishments shine that much more.

      • robpollard

        “One can argue that he’s the most accomplished player in M history.”
        I love Jordan, but no…one couldn’t argue that. That honor about “trophy cases” (even just focusing on team accomplishments, not individual, of which Jordan does not have many compared to many UM greats like Phil Hubbard, Rickey Green and Glen Rice) goes to Cazzie Russell:
        – 3 Big Ten Titles
        – Two Final Four appearances, one of them in the title game

        Again, Jordan is a great Wolverine, but the run of success UM has had these last three years is not unprecedented. Outside the tire fire that was the late 90s to late 00s, UM has a great basketball history.

        • JimmyZ5

          Haha ok, clearly a shortsighted post. And laced with superlative. But, one COULD argue. He’s definitely worth a mention in the argument, though I agree he wouldn’t “win” the discussion. He still has a chance to win a
          BTT and an NC, so let’s talk after (hopefully). Off the top of my head, Glen didn’t win the conference. What I was getting at is that he’s checked off a lot of boxes in the goals of career accomplishment.

    • JeremyS

      This year was such a huge jump for Morgan. He always played well defensively, but offensively, he would miss so many bunnies. It wasn’t only at the end of last year, it has been his whole career. It was very frustrating. But this year, he hasn’t missed one bunny (that I can remember). He must have spent hours in the gym every day practicing layups – and it paid off in a big way! The guy is finally playing to his full offensive potential and Michigan is reaping the benefits.

      • Cory

        He missed a bunny at the start of this game.

  • ChathaM

    The ESPN feed was such a mess here in Canada that I couldn’t even watch the game after the midway point of the first half. I noticed that BTN is replaying the game today at 4:30. This will be the first time that I’ve ever watched a replay of a blowout, and I’m going to enjoy every second of it.

    • rlcBlue

      Don’t miss the last five seconds of the first half, eh.

  • Indiana_Matt

    I believe the last time we were 15-3 in the Big Ten (but didn’t win it) was the Fab Five era. We should be able to achieve that against IU.

    • rlcBlue

      1993 it was.

  • mikey_mac

    Anyone else puzzled by UI’s defensive game plan? They guard the ball screen differently than any other B1G team, I think. Never seen anyone else go under the screen against UM this season. Seemed like a terrible strategy to just concede open threes, with Nik, Caris, Zak, Derrick, Spike. UM even passed up on a handful of these opportunities, if you watched closely.
    UM was in control from the start because of what UI was willing to give them.

    • A couple people have done a similar thing this year. I think the idea is that you worry about the roll. Illinois started jumping/trapping it soon after. But I agree with you… not sure what they were thinking.

  • Richmond_Eric

    What a game! What a B1G season! Anyone else see Stauskas’ help D? At least two times last night he was in what I thought was excellent help defensive position that altered sure layups andor dunks (one time Dakich said he was late, but still able to effect a missed shot). Just another indication of team basketball which I think Michigan does so well and which I love to watch making this team a must-see in my household.

    Love Bacari’s pre-game “stick together” schtick, he seems to be an excellent motivator (as are all the coaches – can’t say enough about how they are able to “coach up” these players!). Remember reading about Trey Burke about this time last year in SI and how he worked so hard to improve his game and increase his vertical by 6″. After the results Caris and Nik have displayed this year, hopefully Derrick, Zak, Donnal, and whomever else will be on team next year engages in the strength and conditioning program.

    Go Blue!