Quick Recap: Michigan survived a wacky end to their contest against Michigan State, defeating the Spartans 58-57. The victory vaults Michigan into a 4-way tie for 2nd place in the Big Ten at 11-5 with Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. This means that Indiana has clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title. For the Wolverines though, this victory was a huge mental boost to a team that struggled against elite Big Ten competition in the past month.
Big Time Players Make Big Time Plays: Michigan’s only points in the last 2:53 of the game came courtesy of their leader, Trey Burke. With Michigan State in the midst of a 7-0 run to tie the game at 56, Keith Appling brought the ball up the court with 32 seconds left and Michigan State looking to holding for the final shot. As Appling gazed to the bench to attempt to call a timeout, Trey Burke smartly went for a steal, got it, and streaked uncontested up the court to the Michigan basket for a flush. Later, on the game’s final possession, Trey Burke picked off Gary Harris’s attempted pass to Appling with under 2 seconds remaining to play, allowing Michigan to escape with the victory. Burke finished with another player-of-the-year resume building afternoon, posting 21 points, 8 assists, 5 steals, and 4 rebounds.
Two Bigs on the Court? Throughout the season, coach Beilein has received some criticism for under-utilizing Michigan’s post players. With 3 legitimate post-men in Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary and Jon Horford, Beilein rarely showed any lineups featuring two of them on the court at the same time. However, this afternoon, against a Spartan team that historically uses two post-oriented players on the court 100% of the time, Beilein finally decided to match them. This lineup decision may have been coming with or without the matchup against the Spartans, as Michigan’s defense, particularly their rebounding, has struggled of late. This alignment was used for close to 65% of the game, and it worked perfectly, as Jordan Morgan matched up well at the power-forward position guarding the lengthy Adrian Payne, who was a matchup nightmare for Glenn Robinson III.
Caris Pushing for a Starting Spot: Nik Stauskas suffered an elbow to the face, right above his left eye, early in the game and did not return. Therefore, Caris Levert spent much of the game at shooting guard, making up for Staukas’s lost offense with brilliant man-to-man defense. He may find himself starting soon if Michigan continues to emphasize defense moving forward.
Big Picture: Michigan badly needed this victory to re-legitimize themselves as national title contenders. Furthermore, we saw a Michigan team that looked like they were playing with an extra edge that will be necessary to advance far in March. The Wolverines showed that correcting their defensive woes are a top priority and that their mental toughness can no longer be questioned. The Spartans threw every punch at Michigan and they responded, defending their home court in an almost personal way. The Wolverines put to bed any questions of whether they can compete on an elite level and they turned a corner as a team, right as the calendar flipped to March. Next matchup is Wednesday at Purdue.