Big Ten Tournament: Michigan vs. Illinois Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan looked happy to have a fresh start. Playing to keep its season alive for another day, the Wolverines blew out Illinois at the United Center on Thursday afternoon. The offense flowed as well as it had all season and the defense was engaged for 40 minutes as the Wolverines dismantled an Illinois team that needed to win to make the NCAA tournament.

Michigan started quick, opening up a 14-2 lead, and then bounced back quickly from one of its patented scoring droughts. After letting Illinois tie the game, and even take a small lead, the Wolverines shut the door and cruised to the easy win. Michigan led by 17 points at the half, finishing the period half on a 23-4 run, and won by a final score of 73-55.

Four Wolverines reached double figures, led by Aubrey Dawkins with 18 points in just 24 minutes. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zak Irvin both tallied career highs in something other than scoring. Abdur-Rahkman grabbed eight boards while Irvin handed out six assists – more than he had in the first 11 games of the season combined.

The win marked the first time the Wolverines had won consecutive games since beating Rutgers on January 20th, but they will need to keep the momentum going to keep their season alive for another day.

Michigan’s offense looked crisp and efficient. The Wolverines scored 1.14 points per possession for the game, but moved the ball as well as they have all season.

The Wolverines outshot Illinois by a wide margin with a 55.1 eFG% to Illinois’ 38.1 eFG%, and the difference in offensive execution was staggering. Zak Irvin (6 ) and Spike Albrecht (5) both had as many or more assists than Illinois, which managed just 5 dimes to 10 turnovers on the night.

Michigan hit its threes – 7 of 15 – and the Illini missed theirs (1 of 13), but this wasn’t just a case of hot shooting. U-M cooled off in the second half (1 of 5 from long range) and began to gash the Illini inside as the they extended their defensive pressure. Michigan made 13 of 22 two-point attempts in the second half and the pick-and-roll game, led by Zak Irvin, was as efficient as it has been all season.

The game in Champaign was an example of when the 1-3-1 zone doesn’t work, but the mysterious ‘3-zone’ tilted this one in Michigan’s favor. The Wolverines started sharp, but had let Illinois back into the game and were headed into a timeout tied at 19. John Beilein went with the zone out of the break and Michigan recorded three consecutive stops and opened a seven point lead.

Michigan’s man-to-man defense was also strong throughout the game, managing to hold an opponent under a point per possession for just the second time in the last ten games, but that slight change gave the Wolverines a comfortable lead they would never relinquish.

Next up is a date with Wisconsin. Michigan has grown up by leaps and bounds since it lost in overtime to the Badgers, but facing the conference’s best team – by a significant margin – is the quickest way to end any Big Ten Tournament run. Tip-off is scheduled for noon (eastern) at the United Center on Friday.

Michigan 73, Illinois 55-28

Player Bullets:

  • Zak Irvin: Simply put, Zak Irvin has transformed his game over the last month. He was terrific in the ball screen game and had a plethora of strong drives and dishes. He’s impacting the game with his passing and not his shooting – something I never thought I would write a couple months ago. Irvin’s assist numbers have exploded, which you can see in this chart from Alex Cook.

  • Spike Albrecht: Michigan’s only starter to not reach double figures still ran the team very well. Albrecht hit one of the biggest shots of the game when he broke Illinois’ first half run with a deep three and he also finished with 8 points and five assists in the easy win. His other made field goal was about a 26-foot three-pointer which proved that everything was clicking for the Wolverines.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman was aggressive going to the basket and played one of his best offensive games in quite some time. Early on he had it going with the jump shot, but he had a number of strong drives. He was 6 of 12 from the floor, but his eight rebounds were also impressive in a solid all around game.
  • Aubrey Dawkins: ‘Auto’ contributed an ultra-efficient 18 points on 8 of 12 shooting and grabbed three rebounds in just 24 minutes. His offense mostly came off of residual action, but he’s growing up in terms of picking his spots and getting his shot off so quickly. He was 2 of 5 from long range, but it felt like whenever he was open the ball was going in and there was no hesitation in his shot.
  • Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt was Michigan’s best big man by a wide margin, finishing with 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting. He grabbed four rebounds, but seemed to keep countless others alive, and had one of his best games in the pick and roll game. His one assist was also a beauty, a backdoor dime early in the game.
  • Ricky Doyle: Doyle played just five minutes, making a layup in the process an grabbed two defensive rebounds. He also struggled with foul trouble in the first half, picking up two cheap ones in about 30 seconds.
  • Kameron Chatman: Chatman isn’t always perfect, but his improved play has enabled Michigan to rest the backcourt with a much more effective ‘big lineup’ with Irvin at the two. Chatman grabbed four defensive rebounds and while he missed his four shots from the field, he still played an improved floor game and was active defensively
  • Mark Donnal: Donnal provided some solid minutes scoring on two rolls to the basket and grabbed two rebounds in four minutes.
  • JimC_UM

    Spike made another pass (to Dawkins for a dunk) that should go in the “Best of Spike Albrecht” highlight reel.