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Last night, Michigan had the opportunity to defend its #1 ranking for the first time in two decades against Northwestern. Though it was competitive for segments, the Wolverines were able to avoid overlooking a tricky Wildcat team, won by a final score of 68-46, and moved to a record of 20-1 (7-1) and stayed unbeaten at home. Of course, this was an important win to help boost their NCAA Tournament resume and chances for another Big Ten Championship, but it also set-up the showdown with Indiana on Saturday in Assembly Hall. Michigan's game against Indiana will now be the highest ranked match-up between two teams in Assembly Hall ever, something that's pretty noteworthy. But for the moment, let's break down some of the things that happened in the Northwestern game.
In the preview, two parts of the game were specifically targeted as keys to the game; the post game and Trey Burke's ability to get to the lane. Along with this, all three of the "Players To Watch" had an important role in this one. Of course, Burke was outstanding. He not only ended the night with 18 points and 8 assists, but he also did some major damage on the defensive side. He was essentially able to shut down Dave Sobolewski and create plays for himself and his teammates. Northwestern tried to adjust to stop Burke through things like the 1-3-1 and zone schemes, but Burke was either able to navigate around them or throw the ball out to a wide open teammate on the wing. This is something that was highlighted in the preview and it came through last night. If Burke isn't in the lead for Player of the Year at this point, something is wrong with their voting system.
Michigan's big men also had a solid night. Jon Horford earned the starting spot to replace an injured Jordan Morgan and he showed why he has consistently received so much attention. His defense was solid. He got after the ball, blocked shots, fought for rebounds, and really disrupted the post play of Northwestern. Granted, the Wildcats don't have the best post game, but Horford showed that he may be the best low post defender on the team. With Michigan's upcoming opponents (Indiana, OSU, MSU) this could be key. McGary had a decent night as well, but got caught off-guard defensively a few times that really made him pay. He did have some nice offensive possessions and fought for some tough rebounds, but he still needs to get more consistently defensively, especially in the low post game, and continue to improve at finishing at the basket. Bielfeldt only ended up playing 3 minutes, but he did have a nice rebound worth noting.
Hardaway had an off night. He only went 3-10 shooting and only ended the night with 7 points and 2 rebounds. His defense was still solid and he really gave Reggie Hearn some problems, but if Michigan is hoping to beat Indiana on Saturday, they are probably going to need more from Hardaway. GR3 also had an odd night. He still came away with 13 points and went 6-7 for the night, but he kind of came and went as the game evolved. For a player who netted 34 minutes, he almost seemed to drift into the background at times. Nothing worth complaining about and he was incredibly effective when he did get the ball, but something worth noting. One thing also worth mentioning is the fact that he looked incredibly aggressive at the beginning of the game, especially on the offensive side, which is great to see.
Of course, there was also some great moments from Stauskas including his "I'm Back" quote after nailing a 3 pt shot (went 3-5 on the night). He did get burned badly on a few defensive possessions, but he is continuing to look improved on that end and came away with 11 points and 2 assists on the night. Spike and LeVert had alright nights, but neither came away with any large contributions on the stats sheet. LeVert did have a great drive to the basket late in the game that got him to the free throw line. He missed one of the free throws, but it seemed oddly similar to the way Hardaway attacks the basket. If LeVert can get that going, the sky's the limit for him.
Overall, it was a nice win for Michigan entering the showdown with Indiana for 1st place in the Big Ten on Saturday. Out of everything, the most impressive thing last night was the defensive play of the team. There were certainly times where they got beat, such as on the pick and roll, but they were swarming the ball handler and really disrupting ball movement. Northwestern was trying to slow down the game, but Michigan's defense was also able to force them into several shot clock violations. This is not something that will likely happen against uptempo teams like Indiana, but it does show that Michigan can play tough defense when it needs to do so. The #1 Wolverines still need to get some things in line before going on the road against Indiana, but there's no reason to think they don't at least have a decent shot to win and move alone into 1st place in the Big Ten.
Michigan takes the court tonight against Northwestern and looks to show why theyre the top team in the country.
Basketball Analyst For BTPowerhouse & Wolverine 247 - Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tbeindit
Thanks Tom. These are great to read.
Like I said in the pre-game thread...beat the brakes off them. They don't have the fire power to stay with. UM is too versatile. Indiana is a different story.
"Those Who Stay...Will be Champions"
I agree Thomas, I thought Michgan's D was very very good last night. At times it was absolutely smothering.
Thanks! And no problem, I enjoy writing them. Looking forward to a great game on Saturday
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