Nebraska took the floor at Madison Square Garden and looked like a team ready to play for its postseason future. The Huskers made 4 of their first 5 shots and had a 9-4 lead at the first media timeout.
The Wolverines went to their huddle, made adjustments and locked in. Nebraska made just 1 of its next 20 shot attempts from the floor and only made 12 more shots in the rest of the game. An early 9-5 deficit gradually morphed into a 33-15 Michigan lead late in the first half and the Wolverines never looked back.
While the Wolverines’ effort to beat Iowa without the 3-point shot was admirable, Friday’s victory was a reminder of how dangerous they can be when those perimeter shots actually fall. Michigan made 11-of-23 3-point attempts en route to 1.19 points per possession against the team that held it to its worst offensive performance of the season in Lincoln.
Michigan put a smooth 1.19 points per possession on the No. 2 ranked defense in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers had so much success with their switching small ball lineup against Michigan in the first meeting and to see the Wolverines just pick it apart this time around speaks to how much this team has grown over the last month.
There was no confusion or frustration and the ball didn’t stick. Instead, Michigan picked its spots to attack and its best players made plays to score. It sounds simple, but that is offense: Get to the right spots, move the ball, make the shot.
Nebraska didn’t record an assist in the first half which speaks to how effective Michigan’s defense was. The Wolverines forced the Huskers into isolation mode and held up very well. Nebraska did a good job of getting to the free throw line, but no baskets were easy and Michigan’s ability to help and recover in the ball screen game really stood out. Charles Matthews and Zavier Simpson deserve a lot of credit for their point of attack on the ball defense as they made life uncomfortable by James Palmer Jr. and Glynn Watson all afternoon.
Next up is a coveted rematch with Michigan State. The Wolverines’ win in East Lansing jumpstarted the season back in January, but the Spartans will undoubtedly be hungry for revenge.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner played his worst game of the season at Nebraska, but played one of his best in the rematch. He hit early threes to stretch the defense, but more importantly he consistently attacked the basket off the bounce or in the post. He finished with 20 points on 9-of-16 (2-4 3pt) shooting with 13 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal in 33 minutes. Wagner was dominant on offense and had several impressive moments defensive moments for good measure. It was the sort of performance that everyone expected from Wagner this season and he seems to love doing it on the biggest stage.
- Zavier Simpson: It is crazy to think that there was a point in time this season when it felt like everyone was looking for any reason for Simpson not to be Michigan’s point guard. Eli Brooks was inserted into the starting lineup, Jaaron Simmons was always there and Simpson had his fair share of struggles at different points early in the season. Now, this is his team. Sure there are other scorers and personalities, but Simpson’s mentality seems to have had a huge impact on this group. He sets the tone, locks down opposing point guards and gets the offense in gear. Simpson had 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, 6 assists and two steals. Glynn Watson scored 10 points on 12 shot attempts and turned the ball over twice. I love how effective and aggressive Simpson has been driving to the basket and he joked that he held up the hand (pictured above) to Beilein because the head coach used to swear that those scoop shots would never work for him.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman had 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting and made all five of his long distance attempts. He’s been a streaky shooter this year, but he now made at least 5 3-pointers in three different games. He was very effective attacking ball screen switches and when that jumper is falling he is tough to stop.
- Duncan Robinson: Michigan is a different team when Robinson makes threes. Robinson rode out a very tough slump during January, but since Michigan’s loss at Northwestern he’s been locked in. His defense and rebounding continues to impress, but it is the threat of multiple 3-point makes that makes this Wolverine offense so dangerous.
- Charles Matthews: Matthews battled foul trouble and didn’t make a basket, but I thought he played very well defensively. He had a pair of blocks and never forced the issue offensively. Yesterday he had to carry Michigan for long stretches, but this was the rare low usage game for Matthews.
- Isaiah Livers: Livers came off the bench in the second half and had a quiet night, only attempting one 3-pointer in 10 minutes. That isn’t always his fault as the bigger issue is just that Duncan Robinson was playing so well.
- Jon Teske: Teske only played six minutes, but he blocked a pair of shots, made a free throw and grabbed two rebounds. Whenever he checked into the game, Nebraska would go with their big lineup, but Teske’s length continues to make things difficult around the basket.
- Jordan Poole: Madison Square Garden has not been kind to Poole and his jump shot. He was 1-of-9 today and never was able to settle into a groove on offense.
- Ibi Watson: Watson got the call in the first half with Matthews sidelined by two fouls and Poole struggling. He secured a couple of important offensive rebounds and and got to the free throw line in 7 minutes.