Sunday, February 24, 2013

Wolverines use energized defense to outlast Illini

Quick Recap: The Michigan Wolverines played their most complete basketball game in what seemed like quite a long time, topping the Fighting Illini by a score of 71-58. Michigan kept pace in a crowding race for second place in the Big Ten, improving to 23-4 on the season and 10-4 in conference play. The Wolverines turned a 31-28 halftime deficit into a blowout in the second half, putting up 43 points while looking like the Wolverines that rose to #1 in the country earlier this season.

Finally….Some Defense: After a lackadaisical defensive performance allowing 71 points to Penn State, following a rough stretch of 4 games where Michigan’s defense was, well, not very good, John Beilein finally found a combination that worked for him on that end of the floor. After starting center Mitch McGary picked up his 3rd foul early in the 2nd half, Beilein went back to the veteran Jordan Morgan and Michigan went on a 12-3 run and never looked back. Caris LeVert played the majority of the final 10 minutes of the game in place of Nik Stauskas, whose poor defensive performances of the past month have made him somewhat of a liability when his shots aren’t falling. Sporting the lineup of Burke, LeVert, Hardaway, Robinson and Morgan, the Wolverines put on an absolute clinic on defense, holding Illinois to 18 points over the first 17 minutes of the 2nd half. Illinois’s 3 starting guards combined for 10 turnovers and Michigan held the hot shooting Illini to 32% from 3-point territory.

Glenn Robinson III is Back: Sure, a modest 10-point and 3 rebound performance is not anything to get overly exited about. But Glenn Robinson appeared as if his energy level has heightened back to the point where it was earlier in the season when his athleticism was such a crucial part of Michigan’s success. Robinson was on the receiving end of 2 dunks, one on a nifty pass from Jordan Morgan, and he took his jump shots with a confidence that was unseen in the past month against the Big Ten’s best. This performance, along with last week’s dunk-fest against Penn State, will hopefully restore Robinson’s confidence back to the point where he’ll be able to make an impact on a bigger stage against better competition.
Trey Burke’s Stats Continue to Impress: Trey Burke, amid all of Michigan’s recent struggles, is quietly amassing performance after performance of unparalleled efficiency. Burke scored 26 points on 8-11 shooting, including 8-10 from the free throw line, to go along with 8 assists and only 1 turnover. This followed a 29-point performance on 16 shots against Penn State. The more Trey Burke impresses, the more Michigan fans realize that they might not see another player like him come along in the next 20 years. I’m not sure if he’ll win national player of the year, but if he continues to operate at this high level of play, he might singlehandedly lead Michigan deep in March and potentially April.

Big Picture: This was a game Michigan absolutely could not afford to lose if they wanted to keep their slim Big Ten title hopes alive. Michigan’s home winning streak is up to 15 and they remain the only in the Big Ten without a loss at home. Positive momentum heading into matchups against Michigan State and Indiana will be crucial. Next matchup is Wednesday at Penn State.

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