Michigan hit the ground running against Illinois with a sterling offensive first half featuring great ball movement, shooting and execution. The Wolverines led by five at the break and looked like they would have a comfortable opener at the Big Ten Tournament. But the Illini, winners of five of their last six games, wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Illinois switched to an aggressive, trapping zone defense midway through the second half and gave Michigan everything it could handle. The Wolverines only made three field goals in the final 12 minutes and allowed the Illini to take their first lead since the opening minutes with 4:53 to play in the second half.
Despite the late Illini run, Michigan made just enough plays down the stretch to escape. Down one, Michigan forced a shot clock violation in the final minute with a great pick-and-roll trap by Jordan Morgan and Derrick Walton. On the ensuing offensive possession, Nik Stauskas found Jordan Morgan rolling to the basket for the eventual game winning layup. Illinois would come close on its final offensive possession as Trace Abrams missed a five-foot floater as the clock expired and the Wolverines escaped.
Michigan’s offense scored 49 points in its first 40 offensive possessions, but managed just 15 points in its final 16 possessions over the last 15 minutes of play. Illinois switched to the zone and Michigan’s offense went stagnant. Illinois has a great zone defense, a big reason for its late season turnaround, and Michigan just couldn’t hit perimeter shots. But if the result of that 10 minute stretch is that teams try to zone Michigan in the NCAA tournament, that’s probably a win for Michigan. The Wolverines have played great zone-offense all season and aren’t going to struggle against many zone defense.
Defensively, Michigan couldn’t handle Illinois off the dribble-drive. This, not the struggles with zone-offense, is what the Wolverines need to fix. The Illini were able to beat the Wolverines off the bounce from the perimeter which resulted in Jordan Morgan getting into foul trouble. Morgan was clearly the anchor of Michigan’s defense and when he was off the court, Michigan’s rotations struggled. Illinois had a strong offensive rebounding game, outscoring Michigan 17-7 in second chance points, and was able to get to the free throw line in the second half.
The 1-3-1 zone, which worked beautifully against Indiana, was picked to pieces by the Illini. Illinois scored 11 points in the eight possessions that Michigan ran the zone and only turned the ball over once.
Michigan’s game winner and Illinois’ would be game winner were from similar spots on the floor, but had drastically different probabilities of falling. In Big Ten games, Morgan converted 75% of his shots in the paint. Tracy Abrams? He’s just 29% of his paint looks in Big Ten games.
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Michigan face Ohio State on Saturday (1:40 p.m., CBS, Big Ten Tournament Bracket) for a chance to play in the Big Ten Tournament Championship and move one step closer to a potential No. 1 seed.
- Nik Stauskas: Nik was just 2-of-10 from three-point range and he missed his last six field goals of the second half – all three-point attempts. He was fairly aggressive driving to the hoop (10 FTA), but he just couldn’t get his long range stroke figured out in the second half. With that fact in mind, his ball screen pass to Jordan Morgan for the game winner is an even better play.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson played a great, aggressive game offensively. He finished with 15 points on 5-of-11 (2-5 3pt) shooting with seven rebounds and an assist. Robinson looked confident, shot the ball well and attacked several times off the bounce with some great isolation drives. Robinson is playing some of his best basketball as we inch toward NCAA tournament time.
- Jordan Morgan: It’s sometimes tough to judge a defensive player like Morgan, but watching Michigan’s defense with Morgan on the bench made it very clear. This team needs Morgan anchoring the backline. That means he can’t get into foul trouble like he did today. Morgan was very active defensively and made his only two shots: a nice half-hook and then the game-winner.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert missed his first two triples and then knocked down three of his next five. He finished with 13 points and four assists in 37 minutes of playing time. LeVert didn’t just hit shots, he also took a charge in the second half and grabbed a massive offensive rebound that led to a three for Derrick Walton. LeVert had a few lapses defensively, as did many of his teammates, but overall played a very solid game. It’s also safe to say that LeVert got bailed out by Abrams on the last play as he was way too tight and let him blow-by him.
- Derrick Walton: Walton rushed a few 3-point attempts, but hit one of the most forgotten shots of the game to tie the game with 3:11 to play in the second half – off one of the his favorite shots, the offensive rebound kick-out three. Walton provides good hustle, energy and finished with 5 points (2-of-5 fg) and three assists to one turnover in 27 minutes.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht made a critical ‘shot clock shot’ in both halves: a 17-foot pull-up jumper and a deep three off of a drive and kick. He had a surprising 0 assists to 2 turnovers and 4 of his 7 turnovers against Big Ten teams have been against Illinois.
- Jon Horford: Horford struggled with his defensive rotations. Michigan’s defense looked out of sorts when he was on the backline. Horford missed his only shot attempt, turned the ball over once, and grabbed one rebound on both end in 15 minutes. Michigan is going to need Horford to play more consistently, especially defensively, in the NCAA tournament.
- Zak Irvin: I’m not sure how Irvin got so open on his first three-point attempt, but he knocked it down. He missed his other two long range attempts and only played eight minutes, two in the second half.