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Posts Tagged ‘John Groce’

Survive and advance: Michigan 64 – Illinois 63

Saturday, March 15th, 2014


Stauskas to Morgan vs Illinois 3-14-14(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

For a team like Michigan, which won the regular season Big Ten title outright by three games over Wisconsin and Michigan State, the conference tournament is somewhat of an unnecessary exercise before the Big Dance. There’s not much left to prove except perhaps bettering their seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. There’s more to lose, from injury to loss of confidence to getting out of sync. But that doesn’t mean John Beilein’s squad wouldn’t try to win and that was evident on Friday afternoon when the Wolverines hung on to beat Illinois 64-63.

Illinois hung around for most of the first half, but in the final five minutes it seemed as if Michigan was about to flex its muscle and pull away. A Glenn Robinson III layup at the 4:48 mark put Michigan ahead 30-23 and prompted John Groce to call a timeout. But over the next two minutes, Illinois outscored Michigan 7-0 to tie the game before Nik Stauskas hit a three to end Michigan’s drought. Michigan took a 38-33 lead into the locker room.

The second half started out all Michigan as the Wolverines scored nine of the first 11 points to take a 47-36 lead. Michigan maintained a double digit lead through the under-12 timeout, but Illinois, which was fighting for its NCAA Tournament life as a bubble team, wasn’t done yet. Seven straight points pulled the Illini within four.

Jordan Morgan atoned for a rough game with the game-winning basket (MGoBlue.com)

Jordan Morgan atoned for a rough game with the game-winning basket (MGoBlue.com)

After a Michigan time out and a missed Stauskas three, Tracy Abrams hit from downtown to bring Illinois within one. Robinson III answered, but it would be the last point Michigan would score for the next 4:21 of game time.

Illinois took its first lead of the second half at the 4:57 mark on a Rayvonte Rice layup and after the under-four time out, Kendrick Nunn scored to put the Illini up by three. But Michigan’s freshman, Derrick Walton Jr., answered with a three to tie the game. Rice followed with another layup to put Illinois ahead 63-61 and Beilein called time out.

On Michigan’s ensuing possession, Caris LeVert, Stauskas, and Walton all missed three-point attempts after Walton and Robinson III pulled down offensive boards. Illinois was unable to take advantage, however, missing a shot, and fouling Stauskas. The Canadian sophomore made one of two to bring Michigan within one with 55 seconds remaining.

Illinois turned the ball over on a shot clock violation to give Michigan the ball back with 11 seconds left, down by one. Stauskas came off a screen near the top of the key and pulled up to shoot. Instead, he hit a rolling Jordan Morgan in the paint and the lone senior who was honored last Saturday, and who had struggled with foul trouble for much of the game, laid the ball up on the rim and it rolled in.

Groce called time out to set up a play and Abrams drove the lane, pulled up and got off a great look from eight feet at the buzzer. But it came up short and Michigan got the win.

The loss likely bursts Illinois’ (19-14) razor-thin bubble hopes, sending them to the NIT. Michigan moves on to face fifth-seed Ohio State, which beat Nebraska 71-67 in the following game. The two faced off just once during the regular season with Michigan getting the better of the Buckeyes in Columbus on Feb. 11, 70-60.

Stauskas led all scorers with 19 points on just 4-of-12 shooting. He made just 2-of-10 three-pointers, but was able to get the the free throw line often and connect on 9-of-10. Robinson III scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while LeVert added 13 points, five rebounds, and four assists.

Michigan made just 10-of-30 three-pointers as a team, struggling to get much offense going against the Illinois zone defense — a much different outcome than when the two teams met a little over a week ago in Champagne.

Three Stars

***Nik Stauskas***
19 points (4-of-12 FG, 2-of-10 3PT, 9-of-10 FT), three assists, two rebounds, one block, two turnovers in 38 minutes

**Glenn Robinson III**
15 points (5-of-11 FG, 2-of-5 3PT, 3-of-4 FT), seven rebounds (two offensive), one assist in 37 minutes

*Caris LeVert*
13 points (5-of-10 FG, 3-of-7 3PT, 0-of-1 FT), five rebounds (one offensive), four assists, one steal, two turnovers in 37 minutes

Quick Hitters:

 

 

 


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Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 5-11 2-5 3-4 2 5 7 0 15 1 0 0 0 37
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 2-5 1-3 0-0 1 2 3 3 5 3 1 0 1 27
11 Nik Stauskas* 4-12 2-10 9-10 0 2 2 2 19 3 2 1 0 38
52 Jordan Morgan* 2-2 0-0 0-0 1 5 6 4 4 0 0 1 1 23
23 Caris LeVert* 5-10 3-7 0-1 1 4 5 0 13 4 2 0 1 37
02 Spike Albrecht 2-3 1-2 0-0 0 1 1 2 5 0 2 0 0 13
15 Jon Horford 0-1 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 3 0 0 1 0 1 15
21 Zak Irvin 1-3 1-3 0-0 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 0 8
44 Max Bielfeldt 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
Totals 21-47 10-30 12-15 6 20 26 15 64 11 8 2 4 200
Illinois 24-53 5-17 10-12 10 23 33 14 63 10 9 2 4 200
Full Stats

Drew’s 3 thoughts: Illinois

Thursday, March 13th, 2014


Michigan-Illinois header_BTT

Michigan just wrapped up its first outright Big Ten regular season championship since 1986. Not only did Michigan win it outright, U-M won the conference by three games. The Wolverines are only the second Big Ten regular-season champion to win the conference by such a margin since 1999. There is no doubt that Michigan was the best team during the Big Ten regular season.

But there is no time for the Wolverines to pat themselves on the back. The regular season is over. Michigan’s march through the postseason begins tomorrow when it faces the streaking Illinois Fighting Illini in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. The Fighting Illini have won five of their last six games, one of which was a 64-54 victory against Indiana in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday afternoon.

Illinois’ only loss during this hot streak? A 31-point thrashing by these Michigan Wolverines at the State Farm Center last week—Illinois’ worst home loss ever in that building. Will the Fighting Illini be able to exact their revenge against the Wolverines? Or will Michigan do as the past ten No. 1 seeds in the Big Ten Tournament have done and advance to the semifinals?

Here are my three keys to consider for Friday’s Michigan-Illinois quarterfinal matchup:

Tracy Abrams led Illinois past Indiana in the first round with a season-high 25 points (Victor Cortez, Illinois Athletics)

Tracy Abrams led Illinois past Indiana in the first round with a season-high 25 points (Victor Cortez, Illinois Athletics)

Don’t Waste Possessions

Illinois’ late-season surge has been keyed by an increased propensity to force its opponents to commit a plethora of turnovers. During this 5-1 stretch, Illinois’ opponents have turned the ball over 22.2 percent of the time. This is a significant bump from the defensive turnover rate of 17.8 percent that the Fighting Illini posted in its first 13 conference games, in which they earned a lowly 3-10 record.

Illinois may have the third-best defense in the Big Ten, but forcing turnovers is the only strength of its defense. The Fighting Illini are ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in both defensive rebounding and field-goal defense. If Illinois cannot force Michigan to commit turnovers, it will struggle to string together enough stops to compete with the Wolverines’ high-powered offense. Plus, fewer turnovers forced means less transition opportunities for the Illini, where they are more efficient than when in their half-court offense.

Therefore, Michigan cannot be sloppy offensively and waste possessions with unforced errors and turnovers. The good news for Michigan is that its explosive offensive rarely turns over the basketball. The Wolverines are second in the Big Ten and 10th in the nation in offensive turnover rate, committing a turnover on only about 15 percent of their possessions. If Michigan holds onto the basketball, it will routinely find itself wide open on jumpers outside and inside the three-point line. As long as Michigan knocks those down, the Wolverines’ offense will be very difficult to stop.

Lock Down the Perimeter

During the conference season, Michigan’s biggest weakness was its two-point defense. The Wolverines allowed Big Ten opponents to make 52.7 percent of their two-pointers. No Big Ten defense allowed opponents to make a higher percentage of their shots inside the arc. Opponents had this success because the Wolverines consistently failed to stay in front of opponents’ guards, allowing them to find open space in the paint easily.

Generally, this would be Michigan’s biggest defensive concern. But this is not the case against Illinois. The Fighting Illini had the second-worst offense in the Big Ten, and one the main reasons for this is that they were dead last in two-point shooting. Illinois made only 42.1 percent of its two-pointers against conference opponents. Although Michigan should do its best to stay in front of Illinois’ guards that attempt to penetrate, chances are that those guards will not be able to finish around the rim anyway.

Therefore, Illinois’ best chance to upset the Wolverines will be to find its stroke from beyond the three-point line. The Fighting Illini were not very efficient from there either, making only 30.4 percent of its threes in Big Ten play, but they need their shooters to get hot for only one game. The three Illini that Michigan need to focus on are Kendrick Nunn, Joseph Bertrand, and Jon Ekey. Nunn and Bertrand are Illinois’ two best outside shooters, converting 40 and 38.3 percent of their threes, respectively, while Ekey hangs around the three-point line with 62 percent of his shots coming from there. If Michigan can prevent these three Illini from finding their rhythm from three-point territory, points will be hard to come by for Illinois.

Don’t Expect a Repeat of Last Week

Last Tuesday, Michigan waltzed into the State Farm Center and bombed Illinois on its home court. Prior to that contest, the Fighting Illinois had held each of its previous four opponents to less than 50 points. So what did Michigan do? It piled on 52 points against Illinois. In the first half. With the help of 11 three-pointers. The Wolverines built a 22-point lead by halftime, and the second half was basically 20 minutes of conditioning for both teams. It ended with a 31-point rout for the Wolverines—the largest margin of victory for U-M against a Big Ten opponent since 1998.

This will not repeat itself tomorrow. Michigan may find itself just as open on its shots tomorrow as it did last week, but U-M cannot expect 69.6 percent of its three-pointers to drop once again. The odds are very likely that more of those shots will clang off the iron. Michigan will experience a regression to the mean at some point. It happens to everyone.

Therefore, Michigan cannot get down on itself if it fails to build another 20-point halftime lead. Last week’s blowout is fresh in the Illinois players’ minds, and they will do everything in their power to ensure nothing like that happens again. Chances are that tomorrow’s game will be much more difficult to win than last week. If the Wolverines start panicking, they will make more mental mistakes and give Illinois hope that it can pull off the upset. But, if the Wolverines maintain their composure and play their game, they should be able to show that they are the superior team and build a comfortable lead over time. And I believe that is exactly what will happen.

Prediction: Michigan 73, Illinois 64

Big Ten power rankings: Week 10

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014



As the Big Ten regular season wrapped up on Sunday Michigan was able to sit back and relax having wrapped up the outright conference title by three games and the number one seed in this week’s tournament. The Wolverines will face the winner of the last two teams they faced to close the season, Illinois and Indiana, in the quarterfinals on Friday. The rest of the tournament bracket can be found here

As the conference heads to Indianapolis to battle it out for the automatic NCAA Tournament berth, we took another look at the power rankings.

1. Michigan (23-7, 15-3)  Even
Last week: Mar. 4 W at Illinois 84-53, Mar. 8 W vs Indiana 84-80
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (8) Indiana or (9) Illinois 12pm ESPN/ESPN2

Michigan finished off an incredible conference season by outlasting Indiana on senior night. Jordan Morgan went out with a bang, recording his first double-double of the season and keeping the Wolverines alive early with critical offensive rebounds. The Big Ten outright champions earned the top seed in the conference tournament after running away from the pack and finishing three games ahead of second-place Wisconsin and Michigan State. 

2. Nebraska (19-11, 11-7) • Up 1
Last week: Mar. 5 W at Indiana 60-50, Mar. 9 W vs #9 Wisconsin 77-68
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (5) Ohio State or (12) Purdue 2:25pm ESPN/ESPN2

In its biggest game of the season Sunday, Nebraska beat Wisconsin to finish the year with a league-best 15-1 home record. Incredibly, the preseason pick to finish dead last in the Big Ten earned a first-round bye in the conference tournament and landed just one game out of second place. 

3. Wisconsin (25-6, 12-6) • Down 1
Last week: Mar. 5 W vs Purdue 76-70, Mar. 9 L at Nebraska 68-77
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (7) Minnesota or (10) Penn State 6:30pm BTN

Bo Ryan’s Badgers had their eyes set on a prize outside the Big Ten: A No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A nine-point loss to Nebraska seemingly eliminated Wisconsin from that discussion, but it still earned the second seed in the conference tournament after an 8-1 finish.

4. Michigan State (23-8, 12-6) • Up 3
Last week: Mar. 6 W vs #24 Iowa 86-76, Mar. 9 L at Ohio State 67-69
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (6) Iowa or (11) Northwestern 8:55pm BTN

Michigan State looked like it was back on track after a win over Iowa on senior night. However, a loss to Ohio State in the regular season finale dropped the Spartans to just 5-7 in their last 12 games and 1-2 since sending a healthy starting lineup back on the court.

5. Ohio State (23-8, 10-8) • Up 3
Last week: Mar. 9 W vs #22 Michigan State 69-67
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (12) Purdue 2:25pm BTN

At the beginning of the conference schedule, Sunday’s Michigan State-Ohio State game looked like a potential shootout for the regular season championship. In reality, the game meant very little to the final Big Ten standings. But Aaron Craft did get a win on senior night, and the Buckeyes just barely managed to finish above .500 in the conference.

6. Illinois (18-13, 7-11) • Down 1
Last week: Mar. 4 L vs #12 Michigan 53-84, Mar. 8 W at #24 Iowa 66-63
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (8) Indiana 12pm BTN

John Groce’s team could’ve thrown in the towel after a nine-game losing streak planted it firmly in last place. Instead, the Illini rallied and won four of their last five games, all of which were against NCAA Tournament hopefuls (Minnesota is the only non-lock at this point).

7. Minnesota (19-12, 8-10) • Up 2
Last week: Mar. 9 W vs Penn State 81-63
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (10) Penn State 6:30pm ESPN2

Minnesota put itself into a very tough position heading into the final weekend of the regular season. Losses in nine of 14 games put Minnesota on the outside of the tournament bubble looking in with just a home game against Penn State left. The Gophers did what they had to do, blowing out the Nittany Lions 81-63, but it still may not be enough.

8. Iowa (22-11, 9-9) • Down 2
Last week: Mar. 6 L at #22 Michigan State 76-86, Mar. 8 L vs Illinois 63-66
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (11) Northwestern 8:55pm ESPN2

Near the midway point of the season, Iowa was ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll and competing for a Big Ten championship. After five losses in its final six games, this team is reeling at the worst possible time. Iowa drew a favorable matchup in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, facing a Northwestern team that it beat by 26 points — twice.

9. Indiana (17-14, 7-11) • Down 5
Last week: Mar. 5 L vs Nebraska 60-70, Mar. 8 L at #12 Michigan 80-84
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (9) Illinois 12pm BTN

The preseason top-25 Hoosiers know there’s only one route to the Big Dance now: winning the conference tournament. Indiana dropped its last two games to land in the No. 8 slot in Indianapolis and a matchup against the streaking Fighting Illini.

10. Penn State (15-16, 6-12) • Even
Last week: Mar. 6 W at Northwestern 59-32, Mar. 9 L at Minnesota 63-81
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (7) Minnesota 6:30pm ESPN2

Minnesota waxed Penn State in the final road game for the Nittany Lions, but they still managed to finish the conference season with a 6-6 record in the final 12 games after losing the first six. Penn State drew a rematch against the Gophers in the first round Thursday — a chance to strengthen its NIT resume.

11. Northwestern (13-18, 6-12) • Up 1
Last week: Mar. 6 L vs Penn State 32-59, Mar. 9 W at Purdue 74-65
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (6) Iowa 8:55pm ESPN2

Northwestern quietly earned a big road win on Sunday to stay out of the cellar and finish 11th in the Big Ten. The Wildcats held much higher expectations after a 5-5 start, but a seven-game losing streak put any hopes of contending quickly to rest.

12. Purdue (15-16, 5-3) • Down 1
Last week: Mar. 5 L at #9 Wisconsin 70-76, Mar. 9 L vs Northwestern 65-74
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (5) Ohio State 2:25pm BTN

Matt Painter’s team sure hit rock bottom this season. After nearly dethroning the first-place Michigan Wolverines two weeks ago, Purdue had its heart ripped out and lost its three final games. The Boilermakers finished the season by losing 11 of 13 games, including the final six.

Orange crushed: Michigan 84 – Illinois 53

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014


Big Ten champions post-Illinois

The Michigan basketball team entered last night’s matchup at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill. with a monumental opportunity. Win the game, and the Big Ten championship was theirs and theirs alone for the first time since any player on this team was born — the first time since 1986, to be exact.

Win the game, and one of the biggest goals this team has had all season is reached.

Win the game, and the target on their back grows even bigger.

Illinois came into the game with reason to fight just as hard, however. After a brutal stretch of eight straight losses in January and February and 10 losses in 11 games, the Fighting Illini had finally started to right the ship with three straight wins – all over teams with a shot at dancing later this month and all by holding their opponents to fewer than 50 points.

A win over Michigan, and Illinois would have seven conference wins, 18 overall wins, and perhaps a shot at creeping their way back onto the tournament bubble.

That shot left the building about nine minutes after tip, just as Zak Irvin was drilling Michigan’s fifth three of the night to put the Wolverines up by double digits. Illinois would cut the lead to fewer than 10 points only twice the rest of the night, and not once after Spike Albrecht rained down another three, Michigan’s seventh of the night, at the 8:36 mark of the first half.

Michigan’s lead ballooned to 19 points one minute later on a Michael Jordanesque breakaway, double-clutch dunk by Glenn Robinson III. And with a buzzer-beating, 32-foot three from Nik Stauskas – his fourth of the half and the team’s 11th – the Maize and Blue held a 52-30 lead leaving Illinois wishing there was a mercy rule to be found somewhere in the rule books.

Glenn Robinson III and the rest of the Wolverines silenced any remaining critics on Tuesday night (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

Glenn Robinson III and the rest of the Wolverines silenced any remaining critics on Tuesday night (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

When more fireworks came to an end in the second half, the scoreboard, incredibly still functioning, read 84-53 in favor of the visitors — the Victors — and the outright 2013-14 Big Ten Champions.

The shooting discrepancy in this blowout was something for the ages. While Michigan merely tied a school record with 16 threes on the night – their last made with 2:23 to play and the walk-ons at the scorers’ table – they did manage to hand Illinois their largest ever loss at Assembly Hall and outshoot the Illini by 58.5 percent from downtown.

Stauskas, perhaps preparing for the tournaments to come while reminiscing about Michigan’s lopsided win over Florida in last year’s tournament to make the Final Four, made a career-high seven three-pointers on just nine attempts and led all scorers with 24 points on the night. Three other Wolverines, Irvin, Albrecht, and Caris LeVert, hit at least two triples apiece and two more, Robinson III and Derrick Walton, Jr., added to the fun with one each.

After such an incredibly noncompetitive game that was so important to both teams, there’s not much to say. Michigan was far and away the better team last night and seems to be separating itself from the rest of the pack. A one-seed is in the bag for the Big Ten Tournament starting next Thursday (with Michigan tipping off on Friday) and a two-seed in the Big Dance is a very real possibility with Syracuse and Creighton falling again last night.

If Michigan continues to shoot as well as they did in their Big Ten-clincher, the Wolverines simply cannot be beaten by anyone in March. Of course that’s a big if, but I sure won’t be the one to doubt this team’s potential.

The narrative has been beaten to death, set on fire, and tossed into the dumpster, but I think it bears repeating one last time (okay, maybe it will come out again at the end of the year too.). Michigan, a team that lost the National Player of the Year and another first-round guard – both of whom left before their eligibility was up – from last year, and without an injured preseason All-American center, has wrapped up an outright Big Ten championship with relative ease. Oh, and with one of the youngest rosters in the country — the 17th youngest to be exact.

This season, this group of players, has been remarkable to watch, but remarkable is a word that’s also been worn out by these Wolverines’ accomplishments. I just can’t find the words in my lexicon to put it any other way.

Michigan, once left for dead by the national media – not even given a chance at making the NCAA tournament – is Big Ten champs.

The transformation this team has made from early November to today is scary, and the successes have been nearly uncountable. But you know what’s even scarier for the rest of college basketball? Perhaps the best is yet to come.

Three Stars

***Nik Stauskas***
24 points (8-of-11 FG, 7-of-9 3PT, 1-of-2 FT), two assists, two rebounds, zero turnovers in 31 minutes

**Caris LeVert**
15 points (5-of-9 FG, 2-of-3 3PT, 3-of-6 FT), four rebounds, one assist, one steal, two turnovers in 26 minutes

*Glenn Robinson III*
13 points (5-of-9 FG, 1-of-3 3PT, 2-of-2 FT), five rebounds (one offensive), one assist, two steals, two turnovers in 34 minutes

Quick Hitters


 Jordan Morgan was taken out of the game at the 7:25 mark of the second half after suffering an apparent tailbone bruise while attempting to take a charge and did not return. The injury did not appear to be too serious, as the fifth-year senior remained on the bench and on a stationary bike throughout the night, but any missed time would be devastating to Michigan’s next goals of winning the Big Ten Tournament, making the Final Four, and winning a national championship. Without Mitch McGary, Michigan has had to rely on Morgan and Jon Horford to split time down low, and the next remaining option, Max Bielfeldt, is not quite on the same level.

 With the win last night and a win over Indiana on Saturday, Michigan will have beaten every Big Ten team at least once in the same season for the first time since 1992 and would have 15 wins for the first time since 1993.

 In a game when rebounding was pretty much made worthless by Michigan’s hyper-efficiency, Jon Horford came out with 10 boards (one offensive) for the first time since Michigan’s win over South Carolina State on November 12.

 Trey Burke had a lot of fun watching and tweeting about the game last night and shared a couple observations:

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Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 5-9 1-3 2-2 1 4 5 1 13 1 2 0 2 34
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 2-5 1-1 4-4 2 5 7 1 9 5 0 0 1 26
11 Nik Stauskas* 8-11 7-9 1-2 0 2 2 0 24 2 0 0 0 31
52 Jordan Morgan* 2-4 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 4 1 0 0 0 7
23 Caris LeVert* 5-9 2-3 3-6 0 4 4 3 15 1 2 0 1 26
02 Spike Albrecht 2-2 2-2 0-0 0 1 1 0 6 3 2 0 0 15
05 Andrew Dakich 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 2
14 Brad Anlauf 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
15 Jon Horford 1-3 0-0 0-0 1 9 10 2 2 1 0 1 0 28
20 Sean Lonergan 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 0 0 2
21 Zak Irvin 3-6 3-5 0-0 0 2 2 2 9 1 2 0 1 22
44 Max Bielfeldt 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 5
Totals 29-51 16-23 10-14 4 29 33 12 84 15 10 1 5 200
Illinois 20-52 2-18 11-16 5 18 23 14 53 7 8 0 4 200
Full Stats

Derick’s 3 thoughts: Illinois

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014


Michigan-Illinois header

Illinois hosts Michigan on Tuesday night in a game that could wrap up the Big Ten title race and give the Wolverines their first outright regular season championship since 1986. Michigan leads both the wounded Michigan State Spartans and the charging Wisconsin Badgers by two games, so only an unlikely 0-2 finish can open the door for the Wolverines’ opponents now.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind for tonight’s battle in Champaign.

Make it a half dozen: Illinois is one of the few teams that Michigan has dominated easily under John Beilein. In fact, the Wolverines ride a five-game winning streak against the Illini into tonight’s game, including victories in Champaign each of the past two seasons.

Just a few weeks ago, the matchup with Illinois looked like a cakewalk. The last-place Fighting Illini had lost 10 of 11 games, including five straight at home. Now, Groce’s team seems to have found its groove and boasts a three-game winning streak after shocking Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday.

In order to get its sixth win in a row over Illinois, Michigan can’t take this game lightly. Illinois considers Michigan its most hated conference rival and would like nothing more than to delay the Maize and Blue’s conference championship celebrations.

John Groce has his Illini on a three-game winning streak, holding opponents to just 48 points per game during that span (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

John Groce has his Illini on a three-game winning streak, holding opponents to just 48 points per game during that span (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

Groce found little satisfaction in facing Michigan during his first Big Ten season, as Beilein’s crew spanked Illinois by a combined 27 points in two games. That’s not the only experience the 42-year old boasts against Michigan, however, as his upset win as the coach of the Ohio Bobcats in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament essentially landed him the job at Illinois.

Stop worrying about the offense: Ever since Michigan’s loss in Iowa City two weeks ago, the team has struggled to play inspired basketball from the opening tip. Slow starts have become the Wolverines’ proverbial kryptonite after six straight games began with double-digit deficits.

Settle down, everybody, Michigan is going to be just fine.

Remember that despite those difficult first halves, Michigan finished the stretch 4-2 with wins over both Michigan State and Ohio State. The ability to come out of a stretch that featured four top-25 teams that led the Wolverines by 10 or more with two victories says more about the team’s potential than it does to reveal some fatal flaw.

What seems to be the problem? Early in games Michigan thinks too much about the offense. Many possessions early in the game look pre-constructed and lack flow. During the 10-game winning streak that put Michigan in position to win the conference championship, the offense essentially ran itself. Over-examining its performance on the offensive end puts Michigan on its heels defensively, and players like Denzel Valentine and Lenzelle Smith Jr. take advantage of wide-open opportunities.

Michigan’s offense features explosive players like Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert, two guys that possess an inherent ability to score. They should focus on stopping Illinois on defense and let the offense come naturally.

Run, and don’t stop for 40 minutes: No matter how well Illinois played in its last three games, the season statistics don’t lie: Groce’s offensive strategy simply doesn’t work. Illinois ranks outside the top 300 nationally in points per games and field goal percentage. For a Big Ten team with a 17-12 overall record, those statistics are absolutely staggering.

Heading into tonight’s game against Michigan, Illinois has scored more than 70 points just one time in the past 14 games (an 81-74 loss to Iowa on Feb. 1). In the three Big Ten games in which they scored more than 70 points, the Fighting Illini own a 2-1 record with both wins coming in the first two conference games of the season.

Michigan, on the other hand, eclipsed 70 points 10 times in its first 16 conference games, including a seven-game stretch in which it more than doubled the number of times Illinois accomplished the feat in just 25 days (Jan. 5-30).

Clearly, Illinois can’t compete with Big Ten competition when the score approaches this height, and as a result, Michigan represents a tough matchup on Tuesday. If Michigan pushes the tempo and makes Illinois play a high-scoring game, it can exploit the thin offensive arsenal of Groce and run all the way to an outright Big Ten championship.

Prediction: Michigan’s golden opportunity to shock the Midwest comes to fruition on Tuesday night. While Illinois has won three straight games against potential NCAA Tournament teams coming into the only matchup of the season, too much is at stake for Michigan to overlook the 6-10 Fighting Illini. The Wolverines will make things official with a 73-60 Big Ten championship-clinching win.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 9

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014



This week’s edition of the Big Ten power rankings features more movement than usual as the conference continues to deal surprise after surprise. With March upon us, teams that play well down the stretch often outperform teams with more impressive overall resumes in postseason tournaments.

While teams like Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa will certainly make the field of 68, playing poorly in late February and early March can really take the steam out of a potential deep run in the Big Dance. Meanwhile, teams that streak into the tournament on the final days of the season (Nebraska? Indiana?) represent extremely dangerous matchups.

So here’s how the Big Ten teams are playing with less than a week remaining before they head to Indianapolis.

1. Michigan (21-7, 13-3)  Even
Last week: Feb. 26 W at Purdue 77-76 OT, Mar. 1 W vs Minnesota 66-56
This week: Tuesday at Illinois 7pm ESPN, Saturday vs Indiana 6pm 

The in-state rival Spartans lost just before tip-off in Ann Arbor on Saturday, and after Michigan took care of Minnesota, it officially clinched at least a share of the regular season Big Ten championship. John Beilein’s surprise team can seal the title alone with a win at Illinois tonight or against Indiana on Saturday. 

2. Wisconsin (24-5, 11-5) • Even
Last week: Feb. 25 W vs Indiana 69-58, Mar. 2 W at Penn State 71-66
This week: Wednesday vs Purdue 9pm BTN, Sunday at Nebraska 7:30pm 

History shows that no matter what happens early in the season, a hot team is dangerous in March. The Badgers are red-hot heading into the final week of conference play, riding a seven-game winning streak and tied with Michigan State for second place in the Big Ten. Wisconsin could represent the most dangerous team in the conference, but clinching a share of the title gave Michigan the nod at No. 1 for now. 

3. Nebraska (17-11, 9-7) • Up 4
Last week: Feb. 26 L at Illinois 49-60, Mar. 1 W vs Northwestern 54-47
This week: Wednesday at Indiana 7pm BTN, Sunday vs #9 Wisconsin 7:30pm

Despite last week’s loss to Illinois, which looks slightly less egregious after the Illini won in East Lansing on Saturday, Nebraska finds itself contending for a first-round bye in Indianapolis. Tim Miles’s team held off Northwestern on Saturday and can secure a winning conference record with a win in either of its final two games (at Indiana on Wednesday or against Wisconsin on Sunday).

4. Indiana (17-12, 7-9) • Up 4
Last week: Feb. 25 L at #14 Wisc. 58-69, Feb. 27 W vs #20 Iowa 93-86, Mar. 2 W vs #22 OSU 72-64
This week: Wednesday vs Nebraska 7pm BTN, Saturday at #12 Michigan 6pm

Don’t look now, but Indiana is making the run that Big Ten fans were waiting for. Indiana knocked off two straight top-25 teams last week to keep its dim tournament hopes alive. They may not recover from the 3-7 stretch that plagued the heart of their conference schedule, but the Hoosiers aren’t going down without a fight. It may take a win in Ann Arbor in the season finale to put Indiana over the hump.

5. Iowa (17-12, 6-10) • Up 3
Last week: Feb. 26 W vs Nebraska 60-49, Mar. 1 W at #18 Michigan State 53-46
This week: Tuesday vs #12 Michigan 7pm ESPN, Saturday at #24 Iowa 8:30pm

John Groce waited nearly two whole months of Big Ten play for his team to show some life, and although it’s likely too late to join an already-crowded NCAA Tournament bubble, Illinois played spoiler three times in the past two weeks. A win over Michigan State in East Lansing proved the most impressive feat for Illinois on the season, but beating Minnesota and Nebraska the week before was more nationally significant, as both teams have tournament hopes that hang by a thread.

6. Iowa (20-9, 9-7) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 25 L at Minnesota 89-95, Feb. 27 L at Indiana 86-93, Mar. 2 W vs Purdue 83-76
This week: Thursday at #22 Michigan State 9pm ESPN, Saturday vs Illinois 8:30pm

When both Michigan and Michigan State faltered on their home courts on Feb. 16, Iowa climbed to within one game of the conference co-leaders in the loss column. The Hawkeyes responded by losing their next three games and falling completely out of contention. After struggling to beat Purdue at home, Iowa looks to take advantage of an equally-wounded Spartan squad on Thursday.

7. Michigan State (22-7, 11-5) • Down 3
Last week: Mar. 1 L vs Illinois 46-53
This week: Thursday vs #24 Iowa 9pm ESPN, Sunday at Ohio State 4:30pm

All season long Tom Izzo stuck to the same story: when Michigan State returned all of its injured players, the miraculous turnaround would begin. Well on Saturday Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson all played against Illinois and the Spartans lost on their home court, and scored just 46 points in the process. The time to start worrying about Michigan State has arrived, as it has dropped six of its last 10 games, with half of those coming at home.

8. Ohio State (22-8, 9-8) • Down 5
Last week: Feb. 27 L at Penn State 63-65, Mar. 2 L at Indiana 64-72
This week: Sunday vs #22 Michigan State 4:30pm CBS

The last time Ohio State lost to Penn State, it responded by winning six of its next seven games. This time, the Buckeyes followed up with a loss to Indiana. Unfortunately for Thad Matta’s squad, the most glaring part of the statement is that the Buckeyes have lost to the 5-11 Nittany Lions twice.

9. Minnesota (18-12, 7-10) • Down 3
Last week: Feb. 25 W vs #20 Iowa 95-89, Mar. 1 L at #16 Michigan 56-66
This week: Saturday vs Penn State 8:30pm

Minnesota nearly punched its NCAA Tournament ticket for good Saturday when a furious second-half charge brought it to within two points of first-place Michigan. The visible frustration on coach Richard Pitino’s face as the game slipped away perfectly sums up the remainder of his team’s season. Minnesota will sit and watch the rest of the bubble teams play during the week before hosting Penn State in a game that does little to strengthen its tournament resume. As Joe Lunardi’s “last team in,” this stressful week could turn Pitino’s hair a few shades closer to his father’s.

10. Penn State (14-15, 5-11) • Up 1
Last week: Feb. 27 W vs #22 Ohio State 65-63, Mar. 2 L vs #14 Wisconsin 66-71
This week: Thursday at Northwestern 7pm ESPNU, Saturday at Minnesota 8:30pm

Though Penn State is unlikely to win its final two road games and finish the season with an overall .500 record, it did complete a sweep of the preseason No. 11 Buckeyes on Thursday. After losing their first six conference games, the Nittany Lions can settle for morale victories.

11. Purdue (15-14, 5-11) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 26 L vs #16 Michigan 76-77 OT, Mar. 2 L vs #20 Iowa 76-83
This week: Wednesday at #9 Wisconsin 9pm BTN, Sunday vs Northwestern 12pm

Purdue played both Michigan and Iowa to the end last week, but the end result was two losses, bringing the streak to a total of four. The Boilermakers’ last chance to play spoiler against a tournament team comes on Wednesday, when they travel to Madison to battle the streaking Badgers.

12. Northwestern (12-17, 5-11) • Even
Last week: Mar. 1 L at Nebraska 47-54
This week: Thursday vs Penn State 7pm ESPNU, Sunday at Purdue 12pm

Northwestern crashed and burned after a strong start to the conference season, currently riding a six-game losing streak. The Wildcats do have an opportunity to finish on a positive note as the final two regular-season games come against fellow last place Big Ten opponents.

Michigan hoops preview: Illinois

Monday, March 3rd, 2014


Michigan vs Illinois banner
#12/12 Michigan (21-7, 13-3) vs Illinois (17-12, 6-10)
Tuesday, Mar. 4 | Champaign, Ill. | 7 p.m. EST | ESPN
Offense
74.9 Points/gm 65.1
(726-1,521) 47.7 Field Goal % 40.7 (664-1,630)
(232-597) 38.9 3-pt FG % 32.3 (179-555)
(412-544) 75.7 Free Throw % 72.5 (380-524)
14.7 FT Made/gm 13.1
32.5 Reb/gm 34.4
14.6 Assists/gm 10.2
9.5 Turnovers/gm 10.6
Defense
65.1 Points/gm 62.0
(676-1,541) 43.9 Field Goal % 41.4 (636-1,535)
(163-491) 33.2 3-pt FG % 32.8 (170-519)
31.2 Opp. Reb/gm 33.9
5.1 Steals/gm 6.2
2.5 Blocks/gm 3.9
Individual Leaders
N. Stauskas (17.1), Caris LeVert (13.4) Points/gm Rayvonte Rice (15.8), Tracy Abrams (10.9)
Jordan Morgan (4.5), Caris LeVert (4.5) Reb/gm Rayvonte Rice (6.0), Nnanna Egwu (6.0)

___________________________________________________________________________________

Michigan clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title with a win over Minnesota on Saturday and can now clinch the sole title with a win over either Illinois or Indiana. The Maize and Blue would rather get it over with on Tuesday night as opposed to waiting until Saturday, especially since Indiana has been a thorn in Michigan’s side the past couple of years.

Illinois comes in with a three game winning streak, including a 53-46 victory at Michigan State on Saturday that helped Michigan clinch the conference title. Can the Illini continue their late-season surge, or will Michigan keep rolling along and lock up its first outright title since 1986? Let’s take a look.

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Rayvonte Rice (G) 32.7 15.8 41.8 32.8 71.5 6.0 1.5 1.5 0.3 1.6
Tracy Abrams (G) 29.4 10.9 34.4 27.0 75.8 3.3 3.2 1.9 0.2 1.2
Nnanna Egwu (F/C) 29.1 6.9 41.4 21.7 80.0 6.0 0.4 1.2 2.2 0.3
Kendrick Nunn (G) 17.4 5.8 43.8 40.3 83.3 1.5 1.1 1.0 0.2 0.6
Malcolm Hill (G) 12.8 4.2 39.1 30.3 80.0 2.3 0.6 0.9 0.1 0.2
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Joseph Bertrand (G) 26.6 9.2 47.9 40.9 67.1 4.3 0.7 1.8 0.0 0.7
Jon Ekey (F) 26.7 7.3 39.1 35.3 75.0 5.2 0.2 0.5 0.3 0.9
Jaylon Tate (G) 13.2 2.0 26.4 04.5 65.5 1.0 2.0 1.0 0.1 0.5
Maverick Morgan (C) 7.5 1.5 59.4 00.0 66.7 1.3 0.1 0.4 0.3 0.1

Rayvonte Rice is the main scorer for Illinois, averaging 15.8 points per game, but head coach John Groce seems to have found a lineup that is getting better results. Since inserting freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill into the starting lineup against Penn State on Feb. 9, the Illini are 4-2. They have averaged a combined 19.8 points per game during those six. Nunn himself scored 19 against both Penn State and Minnesota on a combined 14-of-26 shooting and 9-of-16 three-point shooting. 

The freshmen replaced Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey, who have combined to average 16.5 points per game throughout the course of the season, and while their minutes have been slashed to 20 or fewer per contest, the net result has been positive for the Illini. 

Inside, Groce relies on 6’11″, 250-pound junior Nnanna Egwu. The big man averages 6.9 points and six rebounds per game. While not a huge scorer, he ranks second in the Big Ten with 2.2 blocks and third with 2.5 offensive rebounds per game. 

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 8 Alabama State W 80-63
Nov. 10 Jacksonville State W 86-62
Nov. 13 Valparaiso W 64-52
Nov. 17 Bradley W 81-55
Nov. 22 Chicago State W 77-53
Nov. 26 at UNLV W 61-59
Nov. 29 IPFW W 57-55
Dec. 3 at Georgia Tech# L 64-67
Dec. 8 Auburn W 81-62
Dec. 10 Dartmouth W 72-65
Dec. 14 #15 Oregon L 64-71
Dec. 21 #23 Missouri W 65-64
Dec. 28 UIC W 74-60
Dec. 31 Indiana W 83-80 OT
Jan. 4 Penn State W 75-55
Jan. 8 at #4 Wisconsin W 70-95
Jan. 12 at Northwestern L 43-49
Jan. 15 Purdue L 58-66
Jan. 18 #4 Michigan State L 62-78
Jan. 23 at #17 Ohio State L 55-62
Jan. 26 at Indiana L 46-56
Feb. 1 #15 Iowa L 74-81
Feb. 4 Wisconsin L 63-75
Feb. 9 at Penn State W 60-55
Feb. 12 at Nebraska L 58-67
Feb. 15 #22 Ohio State L 39-48
Feb. 19 at Minnesota W 62-49
Feb. 26 Nebraska W 60-49
Mar. 1 at #18 Michigan State W 53-46
#Big Ten/ACC Challenge

As mentioned above, Illinois comes in with its longest winning streak since the start of the new year — three games — and has won four of its last six following an eight-game losing streak. During the current three-game winning streak, the Illini have gotten it done with defense, holding Minnesota, Nebraska, and Michigan State to an average of just 48 points and none of the three topped 50. Include the loss to Ohio State prior to the start of the streak and that’s four straight opponents held below 50 points. By comparison, Michigan’s lowest scoring output of the season was 52 at Indiana on Feb. 2.

Even over the course of the season Illinois has produced the Big Ten’s second best scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of 62 points per game. However, opponents are shooting 41.4 percent overall and 32.8 percent from three-point range, both of which rank sixth in the conference. Per Kenpom, the Illini adjusted defense ranks 14th nationally at 93.2 points per 100 possessions.

The issue for John Groce’s squad is scoring. Illinois ranks 11th in the Big Ten with 65.1 points per game and 198th nationally per Kenpom. The Illini shoot 40.7 percent from the field and 32.3 percent from downtown, figures that rank 11th and 10th, respectively, in the conference.

In the loss to Ohio State on Feb. 15 Illinois scored just 39 points and made only 18-of-53 shots from the field. And that was against a Buckeye team without Aaron Craft for much of the first half after he picked up two early fouls. During the eight-game losing streak, Illinois averaged just under 59 points per contest and had games of 43 against Northwestern and 46 against Indiana.

Michigan, on the other hand, ranks sixth in the conference in scoring defense and last in field goal percentage defense. The Wolverines have allowed big performances by individual players several times recently — Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble, and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. That could be good news for the only Illinois player in the conference top 25 in scoring, Rayvonte Rice.

Rice ranks eighth in the conference with 15.8 points per game, but his offensive rating per Kenpom ranks 39th in the conference among all players at 107.9, trailing Jordan Morgan (126.1), Nik Stauskas (123.9), Caris LeVert (112.9), and Glenn Robinson III (112.1). Derrick Walton Jr. has the same offensive rating but with about seven percent fewer possessions used.

The Series

Michigan leads the all-time series 85-76 and has won the past five meetings. However, the Wolverines are just 25-55 all-time at Illinois. Last season, Michigan won 74-60 at the State Farm Center and 71-58 at home. This is their only meeting of the 2013-14 regular season.

Big Ten hoops power rankings: Week 2

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014


1. Michigan State (15-1, 4-0) Even
Last week: Jan. 7 W vs #3 Ohio State 72-68 OT, Jan. 11 W vs Minnesota 87-75 OT
This week: Wednesday at Northwestern 7pm on BTN

The Spartans have remained undefeated in the Big Ten by winning their previous two games in overtime at the Breslin Center. Though the performance against Minnesota was less impressive, the victory over Ohio State is enough to make Michigan State the frontrunner through two weeks.

2. Wisconsin (16-0, 3-0) • Even
Last week: Jan. 8 W vs #23 Illinois 95-70
This week: Tuesday at Indiana 7pm ESPN, Saturday vs Michigan 6pm

As the highest ranked team in the conference, Wisconsin has taken down a couple of top 25 Big Ten teams in its past two games. A comeback win over Iowa was followed by a 25-point dismantling of Illinois in which Bo Ryan’s team scored an uncharacteristic 95 points. Wisconsin is dangerous in 2014.

3. Iowa (14-3, 3-1) • Up 2
Last week: Jan. 8 W vs Northwestern 93-67, Jan. 12 W at #3 Ohio State 84-74
This week: Sunday vs Minnesota 1pm BTN

Iowa has had a brutal early Big Ten schedule, travelling to both Madison and Columbus to play top 5 teams. After blowing a second half lead against the Badgers, the Hawkeyes came up with the best win in the conference so far by beating the Buckeyes on the road. Iowa’s offense ranking in the top 10 nationally in points, rebounds and assists per game.

4. Michigan (11-4, 3-0) • Even
Last week: Jan. 9 W at Nebraska 71-70
This week: Tuesday vs Penn State 8pm BTN, Saturday at #3 Wisconsin 6pm

The Wolverines have had a cakewalk of a conference schedule so far, playing three teams with a combined 3-9 Big Ten record. A close call in Lincoln proved just how deadly this conference can be in road games, so the 2-0 record away from Ann Arbor is a welcome start for a McGary-less Michigan team.

5. Ohio State (15-2, 2-2) • Down 2
Last week: Jan. 7 L at #5 Michigan State 68-72 OT, Jan. 12 L vs #20 Iowa 74-84
This week: Thursday at Minnesota 9pm ESPN2

After starting the season win 15 wins, the Big Ten schedule has hit Ohio State in the mouth. Michigan State won a hard-fought battle in East Lansing after Aaron Craft led a strong fourth quarter comeback to force overtime. Just five days later, Iowa walked into Columbus and stunned Thad Matta’s team, which now sits at just 2-2.

6. Minnesota (13-4, 2-2) • Up 1
Last week: Jan. 8 W at Penn State 68-65, Jan. 11 L at #5 Michigan State 75-87 OT
This week: Thursday vs #11 Ohio State 9pm ESPN2, Sunday at #14 Iowa 1pm

Minnesota has looked shaky since the start of Big Ten play, winning two games over Penn State and Purdue by three points each. On the other hand, both losses have come to undefeated Big Ten teams, one by just three points and one in overtime on the road. All signs point to the Gophers playing to the level of their competition, which makes this team dangerous late in the season, but will keep it from contending for the conference title.

7. Northwestern (8-9, 1-3) • Up 5
Last week: Jan. 9 L at #20 Iowa 67-93, Jan. 12 W vs #23 Illinois 49-43
This week: Wednesday vs #4 Michigan State 7pm BTN, Saturday at Indiana 2:30pm

Chris Collins’ team came from nowhere to upset No. 23 Illinois and get its first Big Ten win Sunday. After losing their first three conference games by 27, 23 and 26, the Wildcats held Illinois to just 43 points in Evanston.

8. Purdue (11-5, 1-2) • Up 1
Last week: Jan. 12 W vs Nebraska 70-64
This week: Wednesday at Illinois 9pm BTN, Saturday vs Penn State 7pm

Purdue has a losing record early in Big Ten play, but single-digit losses to Ohio State and Minnesota suggest that Matt Painter has his team of Johnsons ready to play this season. A 10-3 non-conference finish was a success, too.

9. Illinois (10-5, 0-2) • Down 3
Last week: Jan. 8 L at #3 Wisconsin 70-95, Jan. 12 L at Northwestern 43-49
This week: Wednesday vs Purdue 9pm BTN, Saturday vs #4 Michigan State 8pm

Through 17 games, Illinois ranks outside the top 290 teams nationally in both assists per game and field goal percentage. What does that mean? The team doesn’t make good decisions. Illinois seems to impress the country each year during the non-conference schedule only to struggle through the tough Big Ten slate. After being embarrassed by Wisconsin and losing a laugher to Northwestern, John Groce’s team appears to be heading down that same path in 2014.

10. Indiana (11-5, 1-2) • Down 2
Last week: Jan. 11 W at Penn State 79-76
This week: Tuesday vs #3 Wisconsin 7pm ESPN, Saturday vs Northwestern 2:30pm

Easily the most disappointing team in the Big Ten so far is Indiana. The Hoosiers have yet to put a complete game together after losing to both Illinois and Michigan State and squeaking out a three point win against the Nittany Lions. A home game against Wisconsin tonight offers a chance to turn things around in a big way.

11. Nebraska (8-8, 0-4) • Even
Last week: Jan. 9 L vs Michigan 70-71, Jan. 12 L at Purdue 64-70
This week: None (Jan. 20 vs #11 Ohio State)

Nebraska is much closer to being competitive than it was last season. Three of the four Big Ten losses so far have come by 10 or less points. Three missed layups in the final seconds against Michigan snatched away the chance to open the new Pinnacle Bank Arena with a Big Ten win.

12. Penn State (9-8, 0-4) • Down 2
Last week: Jan. 8 L vs Minnesota 65-68, Jan. 11 L vs Indiana 76-79
This week: Tuesday at Michigan 8pm BTN, Saturday at Purdue 7pm

Unfortunately for Penn State, the return of star guard Tim Frazier has done little to make the team more successful. Eight losses, including the first four of Big Ten play have Penn State sitting at 9-8 halfway through the season.

Michigan 71 – Illinois 58: Wolverines top Illini to stay perfect at home

Sunday, February 24th, 2013


Final 1st 2nd Total
#7 Michigan (23-4, 10-4) 28 43 71
Illinois (20-9, 7-8) 31 27 58

Trey Burke scored 26 points and dished out eight assists (MGoBlue.com)

After coming off a brutal four-game stretch that included three road losses to top-25 teams, the Michigan Wolverines returned home last week Sunday looking flat and uninspired against the lowly Penn State Nittany Lions. For nearly the entire game, the winless Lions traded punches with the mighty Wolverines, getting into the lane seemingly at will, making timely three-pointers, and forcing Michigan to play much harder than they had apparently planned after trailing throughout the first half. The Maize and Blue never led by more than nine points in a way-too-close 79-71 squeaker that afternoon.

Fast forward one week, a week that Michigan got to rest up during and focus on defense, which has been their Achilles’ heel so far. Illinois entered today’s game as the winners of five straight, including huge victories over Indiana at home and at Minnesota. First-year head coach John Groce’s team was coming together after struggling through the early part of their Big Ten schedule, opening conference play losing seven of their first nine games.

Certainly if Michigan played like they had last week, the Fighting Illini wouldn’t let a golden opportunity slip away as Penn State did, and for the first half again, the tide seemed to be crashing that way. The Wolverines plodded through 20 minutes missing box outs, losing out on loose balls, and overall playing very sloppy basketball, and they paid the consequences. Allowing a team like Illinois to rebound nearly half of their misses and turning the ball over six times led to a 31-28 deficit for the home squad at Crisler Center; granted, the lead was aided by a buzzer-beating three-pointer off the glass from Brandon Paul and a couple circus threes to start the game that gave Illinois an eight-point lead early, but Michigan was again playing below par.

Was this what Michigan had become? After running scathe-free through the non-conference schedule and grabbing the nation’s top ranking briefly in January, were the Wolverines finally showing their true colors? Or were those three losses simply a case of running into great teams playing well on their home floors?

All these questions loomed before Michigan inbounded to start the second half. By the time the final buzzer had rung, Michigan had answered.

Four minutes into the second half, John Beilein’s team raced out to a five-point lead and never looked back, sending Illinois a message that not just any team can travel to Ann Arbor and board the bus home with smiles on their faces.

Trey Burke wasn’t going to let former Ohio coach John Groce beat him again after the heartbreaker in the Tournament last year, scoring 19 points and dishing out four assists for good measure in the second half.

Brady Hoke liked what he saw while hosting a big recruiting weekend (MGoBlue.com)

Glenn Robinson III wasn’t going to let the doubters continue to run their mouths after his play was widely questioned in Michigan’s rough stretch a couple weeks back, throwing down two huge dunks to open the half on his way to scoring 10 points overall.

Perhaps most of all, Caris LeVert wasn’t going to let Groce forget about him after signing him at Ohio and bolting to Illinois in the offseason, draining two monster threes and two more free throws after the break.

Offense has never really been a problem for this team, and they showed that again today. The difference was on the other end of the court, where Michigan constantly hounded Illinois ball-handlers, deflecting all sorts of balls and forcing bad passes and worse shots throughout the second half.

Illinois struggled to respond to the pressure and to the noise in the building, turning the ball over 13 times while only making 41.2 percent of their shots. Groce’s looks of encouragement early on slowly shifted to helplessness as Michigan proved to be lethally efficient from the field, making 51 percent of their own attempts from the field.

It seemed that the week off paid huge dividends for all of Michigan’s players, as they were noticeably quicker and more alert on defense, often double-teaming Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand, and D.J. Richardson out to the half court line and recovering very well from there.

With such an arduous run of games now in the rearview mirror, the Wolverines did exactly what they had to today, holding serve convincingly at home against one of the hotter teams in the country. With Burke continuing to run the show so effectively, finishing the afternoon with 26 points, eight assists, and only one turnover, Michigan is elite. A healthy Jordan Morgan will continue to help the team improve after flexing his muscle to shore up the rebounding department in the second half, and a timely Tim Hardaway, Jr. should be the vocal and intense leader that can also fill up the stat sheet for the Maize and Blue down the stretch.

Performances like this one suggest that Michigan will be a tough team to bring down in March, and while every team will certainly have weaker areas, the defensive showing today must be extremely encouraging. Any questions?

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 5-9 0-3 0-0 0 3 3 1 10 0 0 0 2 36
4 Mitch McGary* 3-4 0-0 0-2 1 1 2 3 6 0 1 1 1 16
03 Trey Burke* 8-11 2-3 8-10 0 3 3 0 26 8 1 0 1 39
10 Tim Hardaway Jr.* 4-11 1-4 4-5 1 6 7 1 13 3 4 0 2 36
11 Nik Stauskas* 0-5 0-4 0-0 1 2 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 26
02 Spike Albrecht 1-2 1-1 0-0 0 1 1 0 3 0 1 0 1 7
15 Jon Horford 2-4 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 1 4 1 1 0 0 7
23 Caris LeVert 2-3 2-3 2-2 0 2 2 3 8 1 0 0 1 16
52 Jordan Morgan 0-0 0-0 1-2 3 3 6 2 1 2 1 0 1 17
Totals 25-49 6-18 15-21 7 22 29 11 71 15 10 1 9 200
Illinois 21-51 7-22 9-14 8 20 28 16 58 7 13 4 3 200

Michigan vs Illinois preview

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013


#7 Michigan vs Illinois
Sunday, Feb. 24 | 1pm ET | ESPN
22-4 (9-4) Record 20-8 (7-7)
Slippery Rock 100-62
IUPUI 91-54
Cleveland State 77-47
Pittsburgh 67-62
Kansas State 71-57
NC State 79-72
Bradley 74-66
W. Michigan 73-41
Arkansas 80-67
Binghamton 67-39
West Virginia 81-66
E. Michigan 93-54
C. Michigan 88-73
Northwestern 94-66
Iowa 95-67
Nebraska 62-47
#9 Minnesota 83-75
Purdue 68-53
Illinois 74-60
Northwestern 68-46
#10 Ohio State 76-74 OT
Penn State 79-71
Wins Colgate 75-55
St. Francis NY 89-64
Hawaii 78-77 OT
USC 94-64
Chaminade 84-61
Butler 78-61
Gardner-Webb 63-62
Georgia Tech 75-62
W. Carolina 72-64
#10 Gonzaga 85-74
Norfolk State 64-54
E. Kentucky 66-53
Auburn 81-79
#8 Ohio State 74-55
Nebraska 71-51
#1 Indiana 74-72
#18 Minnesota 57-53
Purdue 79-59
Northwestern 62-41
Penn State 64-59
#15 Ohio State 56-53
#3 Indiana 73-81
Wisconsin 62-65 OT
#8 Michigan State 52-75
Losses #12 Missouri 73-82
Purdue 61-68
#8 Minnesota 67-84
Wisconsin 51-74
Northwestern 54-68
#2 Michigan 60-74
#13 Michigan State 75-80
Wisconsin 68-74
76.2 Points Per Game 71.2
61.4 Scoring Defense 65.1
739-for-1,498 (49.3%) Field Goal % 699-for-1,634 (42.8%)
609-for-1,459 (41.7%) Def. Field Goal % 634-for-1,508 (42.0%)
210-for-524 (40.1%) 3-point % 222-for-671 (33.1%)
170-for-529 (32.1%) Def. 3-point % 183-for-532 (34.4%)
292-for-413 (70.7%) Free Throw % 374-for-522 (71.6%)
11.2 FT Made/Game 13.4
35.8 Rebounds Per Game 34.2
30.6 Opp. Reb. Per Game 34.8
14.8 Assists Per Game 10.8
9.5 Turnovers Per Game 11.6
5.6 Steals Per Game 7.2
2.7 Blocks Per Game 4.0
G – Trey Burke (18.6)
G – Tim Hardaway Jr. (15.2)
Leading Scorer G – Brandon Paul (16.4)
G – DJ Richardson (12.9)
F – Mitch McGary (5.9)
F – Glenn Robinson III (5.6)
Leading Rebounder G – Joseph Bertrand (4.5)
F – Nnanna Egwu (4.5)

At this point in the season for the past three or four years, Michigan has faced must-win games down the stretch in order to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. This year, there’s no question the Wolverines will get in; the question is whether the Wolverines will win the Big Ten and finish well enough to earn a No. 1 seed. On Sunday, a team comes to town in the very position Michigan is happy not to be in this season.

Illinois has enough quality wins to earn a bid to the big dance, but the Illini can’t afford to slip up down the stretch. The rough spell in January that saw Illinois lose six of seven – and eight of eleven from Dec. 22 to Feb. 3 – nearly wiped out the Illini’s chances. But that all changed when a beautifully executed inbounds play at the buzzer shocked No. 1 Indiana. It sparked a string of five straight wins and the Illini now find themselves as the hottest team in the Big Ten.

John Groce’s squad comes to Ann Arbor looking to avenge a 74-60 loss to the Wolverines in Champagne on Jan. 27. That win propelled Michigan to the No.1 national ranking, but it also came at a cost, as Michigan lost Jordan Morgan to an ankle injury. He hasn’t been 100 percent since then and Michigan has gone just 3-3 since then.

Illinois surrendered 15 turnovers in the first meeting and Michigan dominated the paint with 42 points, even without Morgan for much of the game. You can bet Groce will aim to prevent that again, especially given the struggles that Michigan’s freshmen Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III have faced over the past few weeks. The two had good games against the Illini last time out, scoring 14 points and 12 points, respectively, but have not fared well during Michigan’s rough patch, and Groce will want to force them to beat his Illini.

Star guard Brandon Paul has had his own share of troubles as of late, scoring 10, three, and eight points against Minnesota, Purdue, and Northwestern. He shot just 6-of-22 in those three games, but the Illini won all three. That’s a good sign for Groce because it means others are stepping up – most notably D.J. Richardson. The senior guard has averaged 17.3 points per game over the last nine and 18 points during the five-game winning streak while shooting 46 percent.

As a team, Illinois shoots just under 43 percent from the field and 33.1 percent from three. The good thing for Michigan is that the Illini have the conference’s second worst scoring defense, ahead of only Penn State, the third-worst field goal percentage defense, and the second worst three-point percentage defense, so Michigan should be able to score often. Illinois is also not a great rebounding team, so the Wolverines won’t be overmatched on the boards like they were against Michigan State.

Michigan is still struggling to regain the top form that carried it through the first half of the season, while Illinois is soaring with momentum. The home crowd will benefit Michigan, but as the Wolverines saw with Penn State last Sunday, they can’t sleep on anyone. Expect a dog-fight to the end and a great guard battle between the combos of Trey Burke-Tim Hardaway Jr. and Paul-Richardson. Michigan’s ability to score inside should determine the outcome. Prediction: Michigan 77 – Illinois 73