Michigan’s ‘eye-opening’ improvements on full display against Illinois

Alejandro Zúñiga

CHICAGO, Ill. — The Michigan basketball team has adopted a familiar mantra.

Zak Irvin was chanting the message before Thursday afternoon’s game against Illinois, and Kameron Chatman was exclaiming it in the locker room after the decisive win.

“We gonna shock the world!”

The Wolverines certainly looked the part in the evisceration, as they took control in the first half and slammed the door in the second. Even if Michigan fails to make the NIT or NCAA tournament — the road gets much more difficult Friday against top-seeded Wisconsin — the blowout of Illinois demonstrated once again how much the team has improved.

And John Beilein knew it Wednesday night.

“The last few days of practice have been a little bit eye-opening as to some plays that all our guys have made,” the coach said. “I watch practice every day, then I watch it again on a video, and then I show them cuts on the video. There were some really positive cuts last night at 9:30 at night that I’m showing them. Kam, that’s what we’ve been talking about. Aubrey, Muhammad, this is the play we’ve been talking about. Look, you just made it!”

Nearly everyone was clicking for the Wolverines against the Illini. Zak Irvin, for instance, had six rebounds and six assists, demonstrating an amount of in-season growth Beilein admitted he hasn’t seen very often before. The forward made several pinpoint passes, including a lob to Aubrey Dawkins for an early alley-oop.

“He’s been a shooter, a shooter, a shooter,” Beilein said. “Now, at this level, you have to be more than a shooter. If he wants to help us win, if he wants to have a great career after Michigan, have to be more than a shooter. Have to be a defender, and a passer with his size, and he’s shown great strides there.”

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, meanwhile, broke out of his scoring slump in a big way, tallying an efficient 15 points. And Spike Albrecht continued to dazzle, hitting a big three-pointer in the first half to end a 13-0 Illini run and later dishing a behind-the-head assist to Dawkins for a transition dunk.

The freshman forward led all scorers with 18 points, and 8-of-12 shooting was worthy of his nickname, “Auto.”

“It’s our chemistry out there,” Dawkins said. “We’re all finding each other in the right spots, knowing where everybody can score.

“Our chemistry is growing with every game. I think that’s what you saw: a fluidity on the offensive and defensive end. We all connected, and it’s fun.”

With Dawkins, Abdur-Rahkman, Irvin and Albrecht all major contributors, Michigan recorded a solid 1.14 points per possession, and the game never seemed competitive after the opening minutes of the second half.

“All the work we put in throughout the year, I believe it’s starting to show now,” Ricky Doyle said. “We’ll see how far we can go with it.”

Shock the world? Probably not — after all, the Badgers are one of the best teams in the country. But Friday gives the Wolverines another opportunity to mesh.

“They just [didn’t] see it, and now they’re seeing it,” Beilein explained. “… We really have nothing to lose right now.”

  • Wayman Britt

    Would really like to watch the game tomorrow at noon, anybody got any good excuses I can give the boss to take a 2.5 hour lunch?

    • jakelam2116

      Tell them it’s a professional development conference — you want to learn from example from a group of guys who always strive to improve and expand their toolbox of skills. And it’s free!

  • A2MIKE

    Dentist appointment