|#1 Michigan (20-1, 7-1)||36||32||68|
|Northwestern (12-10, 3-6)||21||25||46|
Not quite one month ago in Evanston, Illinois, the Michigan Wolverines opened up the Big Ten season in grand fashion, storming out of the gates to take down the home-court Northwestern Wildcats by a whopping 28 points. Tonight, Northwestern had the opportunity for revenge. That opportunity, that dream, lasted all of about seven minutes.
With 12:53 remaining in the first half, Glenn Robinson III threw down what has now become a standard alley-oop from Trey Burke to take an 18-11 lead, forcing Northwestern coach Bill Carmody to call his second timeout in just over a two minute span and sucking up what remaining life Northwestern ever had entering Ann Arbor. Unfortunately for Northwestern, that timeout didn’t change the tide of the game much, as Trey Burke scored the next four points himself to help lead the Wolverines to an 18-10 run to end the half.
No one really had any doubt as to what the outcome of this game would be, but the way Michigan continues to win is still impressive. It is increasingly evident that Beilein has four top-notch scorers at his disposal, depth at just about every position, and a team full of players who have bought into his system and play for each other. Trey Burke could go out and score 25 points a night on 20 shots to boost his Draft stock if he wanted to, but instead he consistently has games like tonight – 18 points on 11 shots, eight assists to just one turnover, four rebounds, two steals, and a handful of nice defensive plays that won’t show up in the box score.
This team is, well, just that – a team. Perhaps no play all season embodied that sentiment as well as one tonight early in the first half, when Trey Burke received a long pass from under the basket for an open look from the corner. Instead of shooting, however, Burke made a quick pass to his right, finding Tim Hardaway, Jr. even more wide open for a wing three. For a guy shooting 41 percent from downtown on the year, this was a great shot. So what did he do? He made the extra extra pass, this time to freshman Nik Stauskas, the team’s leading three-point shooter, on the other wing. The Canadian sharpshooter buried the three, of course. With three excellent passes that led to ultimately to the best shot Michigan could get in that possession, the Wolverines again proved that they play more as a team than as individuals. They truly want to win ball games more than they want to inflate their own stats.
In all honesty, that might have been the best look Michigan will get all season. Stauskas, a guy shooting over 50 percent again from downtown, would have had time to tie his shoes and run to the concession stands before a Wildcat would have had the chance to get a hand in his face on the three. The crowd knew it was going down, too, as you could hear the anticipation build from Burke’s pass to Hardaway and then finally from the veteran to the newbie.
Another supremely encouraging aspect of tonight’s game was Michigan’s apparent dedication on the defensive end of the floor. Every college basketball fan in America knows by this time that Michigan can score the ball, but questions remain as to how well the Maize and Blue can prevent its opposition from scoring. For the night, at least, Michigan showed that it is capable of putting forth the necessary effort on both ends of the court, holding Northwestern to a horrid 37.3 percent mark from the field and just 21.1 percent from downtown.
David Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn, the two healthy Wildcats that lead the team in scoring, combined to score just 12 points on 15 shots, as freshman big man Alex Olah was the only one in purple able to break the double-digit barrier with 10 points. It still took him 10 shots to get there though.
For Michigan, Burke led the way yet again on offense, but he was joined by Glenn Robinson III, Stauskas, and Jon Horford in scoring double figures. Horford was perhaps most impressive, as he finally displayed the potential every Michigan fan has been yearning to see in his first start of the season. Filling in for an injured Jordan Morgan, Horford put up a very respectable stat line of 10 points (3-of-5 FG, 4-of-5 FT), seven rebounds, and three blocks in 20 minutes and proved to be Michigan’s best interior defender tonight by a long shot. His back-to-the-basket game is easily the most refined out of all the post players, and his length contributes to his great rebounding and block numbers. Obviously Horford is still working his way back into the lineup, and Mitch McGary will continue to demand 15-18 minutes per game, but all of a sudden Jordan Morgan’s absence is not all that worrisome.
Lastly, Beilein has to be pleased with the way Michigan was able to play smart tonight and hold onto the ball. The Wolverines didn’t turn the ball over a single time in the first half, and only twice in the second, and although Northwestern coughed it up just six times themselves, there is not a team in the country that will consistently beat Michigan when they hold onto the ball like that.
With this sleeper game out of the way, Michigan can now place all of its focus on the looming night game matchup in Bloomington this Saturday. The Hoosiers rolled Purdue in West Lafayette tonight and will enter the game as the third-ranked team in the country. The winner of that game will have an early leg-up on the Big Ten championship race and will likely enter next week as the number one team in the country. A Michigan win would continue to solidify the team’s elite status.
By now, however, there isn’t much more to prove in the regular season. Michigan is elite, and, win or lose on Saturday, the Wolverines have all the makings of a conference champion and a titan in March. With the reigns of the team in Burke’s hands, this carriage is staying well on course.
|Final Game Stats|
|01||Glenn Robinson III*||6-7||1-3||0-2||0||2||2||0||13||0||0||0||0||34|
|10||Tim Hardaway Jr.*||3-10||1-2||0-0||1||1||2||1||7||3||0||0||1||36|