For the third straight season, Michigan will raise at least one banner in the Crisler Center. The Wolverines beat Minnesota, 66-56, on Saturday evening to secure a share of their second Big Ten Championship in three years. Michigan can clinch an outright title with a victory over Illinois or Indiana this week.
Minnesota didn’t play poorly, but the Wolverines made the plays that championship-caliber teams make. The plays that have allowed Michigan, the youngest team in the Big Ten, to win close game after close game this conference season.
Nik Stauskas looked every bit like the conference player of the year – an honor he should be in prime position to secure with one more good week of basketball. He tallied 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting and handed out four assists, Glenn Robinson III threw down a handful of highlight alley-oop slams and Caris LeVert continued his strong play with 13 points and five assists.
With just over four minutes to play and Michigan leading by just two points, Morgan hurled himself into the middle of five Minnesota players. He managed to secure a tie up and extend the Wolverine possession. There wasn’t another Wolverine in sight.
On the ensuing extra possession it was Morgan again with help from his diminutive backup point guard. Morgan and Albrecht battled five Gopher defenders and somehow came up with two points. Morgan kept the ball alive before Albrecht managed to tap it to himself and then tap it back to Morgan for a layup.
The Gophers were never able to cut the lead back under four points and Albrecht and Morgan combined one more time to provide the dagger when another Morgan offensive board led to a deep three from Spike Albrecht.
Morgan and Albrecht were Michigan’s No. 5 and 6 scorers on the night, but contributions like theirs are why the Wolverines are Big Ten Champions.
Michigan got off to a cold start offensively again – 3-of-14 from the field and 1-of-9 from three-point range – but eventually settled down. Michigan was 21-of-36 (8-of-14 3pt) from that point onward – an effective field goal percentage of 69%. The Wolverines might miss open shots for six or seven minutes at a time – for some reason this always seems to be the start of the game – but eventually the offense starts to click.
When Michigan’s offense is clicking – getting stops, pushing the ball, throwing alley-oops and knocking down drive-and-kick threes – there’s not much that anyone can do to stop it. After the first 10 minutes of the game, Michigan was really the only team that could stop Michigan. The Wolverines picked up some silly turnovers trying a bit too hard to push the pace.
Michigan’s defense picked up the slack in the first half when the offense started slowly. The Wolverines put forth their third-best defensive performance of the Big Ten season and shut down the Gophers in the first 20 minutes. The Wolverines held Minnesota to .95 points per trip for the game and were significantly more active than we’ve seen in recent weeks. The Gophers turned the ball over on 19% of their possessions, and Michigan had numerous deflections that almost led to turnovers. Most importantly, the Wolverines were dominant on the defensive glass – rebounding 82% of Minnesota’s misses.
Michigan is 14-3 since Mitch McGary was sidelined indefinitely and seems to keep getting better. The high-powered Wolverine offense travels to Illinois next for a stern test against what looks like the best defense in the Big Ten – right now. The Illini have held four straight opponents below 50 points and .90 points per possession, winning their last three games.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas scored 21 points on 7-of-13 (5-of-8) three-point shooting and the performance felt fairly routine. Minnesota did a decent job of taking away Stauskas at the rim, but he countered with his mid-range jumper. What Minnesota didn’t do was take away catch-and-shoot opportunities for Stauskas. LeVert (3) and Robinson (2) assisted all five of Stauskas’s made threes after collapsing the Gopher defense.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan had an awful time catching the ball for most of the game (and had to deal with several passes in tough spots), but he came through when it counted. Morgan grabbed 10 rebounds and his two offensive rebounds in the final five minutes were two of the biggest plays of the game. For the second straight game, Morgan won decisive 50-50 balls that secured a victory. After the ups and downs of Morgan’s career, he has the opportunity to go out on top of the Big Ten .
- Spike Albrecht: I was going to write about how Albrecht was doing everything other than hit his patented long threes – then he iced the game with said three. Albrecht had made just 1 of his last 11 threes before he knocked down the dagger on Saturday night. This was the second game in a row that Beilein rode with Albrecht and he came through down the stretch.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert knocked down two 17-foot jumpers – the shot that I wrote is his weak spot – which was a nice sign of progress. He didn’t have his three-point shot (1-of-5), but he was very aggressive with his handle. LeVert’s off-the-dribble ability led to five assists (to one turnover) in another strong performance. I loved his 1-4 isolation set dribble-drive and dish to Albrecht for the game winner. That’s the first time we’ve seen something like that and it’s a nice alternative to the high ball screen look that Michigan always uses.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson is steadily gaining confidence and continued to trend in the right direction with another big performance. He had his usual highlight alley oops, but he also knocked down another 17-footer and had a great offensive rebound and put-back late in the game that only he could get to.
- Derrick Walton: I didn’t think Walton necessarily had a poor game – 8 points on 3-of-5 (2-4 3pt) shooting in 18 minutes – but he didn’t do a great job of creating (0 assists) and Spike Albrecht was fantastic, so Beilein rode with his experienced backup. It was good to see Walton knock down a couple triples, but I really liked his hustle to corral a 50-50 ball and then spot up for the midrange jumper. Michigan doesn’t need Walton to dominate the game and you can bet that his number will be called again in the future.
- Jon Horford: Horford just seems a step slow defensively. He was late recovering from a ball screen hedge and also got beat on a box out in eight minutes of playing time.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin was 0-of-3 from long distance and didn’t find many other ways to contribute in nine minutes of playing time.