A smile crept across John Beilein's face as he pantomimed Trey Burke turning and flipping the ball underhand with "just the right spin" to Tim Hardaway Jr., who buried one of his five three-pointers (that part, unfortunately, not pantomimed by Beilein).
Michigan hit the century mark for the first time since 2007 in a 100-62 beatdown of Slippery Rock in the season opener, and it was Beilein's stars who led the way. Hardaway played one of his most complete games as a Wolverine, scoring 25 points on 8-10 shooting (5-5 from three) and adding ten rebounds, three assists, and a steal. Burke overcame a shaky first half to pour in 21 points of his own (9-17 FGs) and dish out eight assists; after turning the ball over four times in the first half, he had just one in the second stanza and finished on a 6-7 shooting tear.
Burke wasn't the only Wolverine to struggle out of the gate, as Michigan trailed 15-14 just over six minutes into the game before back-to-back threes by Burke and Hardaway—naturally—began to break the game open. They wouldn't completely pull away until a 10-0 run in the opening minutes of the second half, which featured eight points from Hardaway, including an emphatic one-handed dunk off a feed from Glenn Robinson III and back-to-back threes sandwiched around a missed free throw.
While the freshmen weren't filling the tin like they did in exhibition play—combining for 28 points, 11 of those coming in the game's final four minutes—they found ways to contribute. Robinson scored ten points on 5-7 shooting and picked up his rebounding efforts, pulling in eight total (six defensive) in 32 minutes. Mitch McGary pulled down nine rebounds—five offensive, though three came on one possession when he couldn't lay the ball in—in just 12 minutes while chipping in nine points; he also had three fouls, the big reason why he didn't play more. Nik Stauskas only attempted two field goals, hitting one, but got to the line to shoot a pair twice with some aggressive drives to the basket. Spike Albrecht was just 1-5 from the field, but he handed out two assists and didn't turn the ball over.
After missing the exhibition season with a knee injury, Jon Horford played better than the stats would indicate in eight key minutes after McGary and Jordan Morgan both found themselves in early foul trouble. On his first possession of the game, he rebounded a Morgan miss, hit the putback, and drew a foul, then drew a charge on the very next play. Later in the first half, he deftly slipped a pass to a cutting Robinson for an easy layup. While Horford was still limited—not by injury, but by his gas tank after missing the last two weeks—he appeared to have all of his pre-injury athleticism.
The depth is there for this team in a way that it hasn't been under John Beilein. Last year, there was no Horford to step in for Morgan, and certainly no McGary to add a second big man to the lineup. When Burke was off, like he was in the first half, there wasn't an Albrecht there to give him a chance to sit down and regroup, like he did nine minutes into tonight's game. And to have Robinson as a third scoring option, well, let's just call that an upgrade, and that's no slight to Zack Novak or Stu Douglass.
But tonight, the story was Hardaway and Burke. The two had a synergy tonight, Burke knowing just where to give it to Hardaway, Hardaway knowing just where and when to attack, that could take this team from good to great. And yes, at least tonight, there was even just the right spin on the ball.