Michigan 80, Northwestern 60

Michigan 80, Northwestern 60 Comment Count

Alex Cook January 13th, 2019 at 10:00 PM

With a home win over a struggling Northwestern team—one without Vic Law, perhaps its best player—Michigan set the record for the best start in program history at 17-0. The Wolverines scored over 1.4 points per possession in an outstanding first half, and were on cruise control for the rest of the game. Zavier Simpson was the headliner tonight for Michigan, scoring a career-high 24 points in response to Northwestern’s intentional indifference.

For the second straight game, Michigan got off to a fast start. The Wolverines opened with a 10-0 run: Ignas Brazdeikis put back a miss, Jon Teske hit two mid-range shots, a nice baseline play got Iggy another bucket, and Zavier Simpson banked in a contested sky hook. Northwestern got back into the game, as Ryan Taylor got a four point play and the Wildcat offense woke up a little bit. Northwestern eventually closed the gap to 2 with about 11 minutes in the half, but were unable to ever take a lead in this game, as Michigan kept up the scoring pace.

Michigan led 21-18 when Iggy found Isaiah Livers for a three; on the next possession, an awkward two-man game between Poole and Livers ended with Poole hitting an isolation three, and the lead was back up to 9. Dererk Pardon and Ryan Taylor each scored in double figures in the first half for Northwestern and kept within striking distance for a while, but those threes were the beginning of what was an extended 29-10 Michigan run to close the half — and effectively end the game.

Teske was phenomenal in the first half, scoring a few early baskets and playing aggressive defense on the other end of the floor. It was Teske who turned the game into a rout: within the span of about two and a half minutes towards the end of the half, Michigan’s center scored 11 points. He hit a three in response to an off-balance Taylor triple; sealed Barret Benson for good post position and a layup, then hit back-to-back open pick-and-pop threes set up by Eli Brooks. Charles Matthews and Simpson each scored easily after steals, and Michigan was up 22 at the break.

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Michigan’s offense—which was unstoppable in the first half, as the Wolverines shot 14-17 on twos—went cold to start the second. Iggy scored on the opening possession after Teske sealed the help on a layup attempt, but Michigan only managed to score four points over eight minutes. For a while, Matthews was Michigan’s only source of offense — he made a euro-step layup, scored off an offensive rebound, and rejected a side ball-screen to dunk over Miller Kopp for an and-one. Everyone else was quiet though, and Northwestern trimmed Michigan’s lead to 13.

Simpson helped slam the door shut. Northwestern elected to defend him with Pete Nance, a bench big who was thrust into a starting role with the absence of Law, and had Nance play in the paint while Simpson was spotting up on the perimeter and sink under Simpson ball screens — clearly daring him to shoot. Simpson scored 12 points and made two threes in the first half, but Northwestern didn’t change its defense. Late in the game, Simpson made four straight jumpers: a three after getting the ball back following a steal, a late-clock mid-range step back, an open corner three, and an audacious step-back three off a screen. He took a heat check and missed, but he’d earned it.

Michigan scored 1.25 points per possession over the entire game, and they held Northwestern to under a point per possession — despite a standout performance from Pardon, who scored an efficient 20 points. The absence of the top wing on a Northwestern team that was already without a point guard led to predictably disjointed offense. With how well Michigan's offense was playing (Simpson and Teske in particular), the Wildcats didn't have a chance.

The Wolverines have the week off before traveling to Wisconsin for a big matchup with the Badgers on Saturday. Michigan’s still one of two undefeated teams in the country, and Michigan and Michigan State have already jumped out to an early lead in the conference race (with Maryland lurking).

[Box score after the JUMP]

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Michigan 79, Illinois 69

Michigan 79, Illinois 69 Comment Count

Alex Cook January 10th, 2019 at 11:51 PM

The Wolverines continued their undefeated campaign with a road win over a feisty but mediocre Illinois squad. Despite a halftime lead, it was an uneasy first half: the Wolverines were bothered at times by the Illini’s pressure defense and had 11 turnovers, and Illinois’s speedy freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu poured in 19 points. While the Wolverines weren’t ever able to pull away from the Illini, they stopped turning it over, shut down Dosunmu, and wound up winning.

Michigan dominated to start the game. The Wolverines scored on three straight possessions to open an 8-0 lead and played excellent defense, but Illinois ran a set for an alley-oop layup to Dosunmu to get on the board. Michigan maintained a ten-point lead when Illinois went on a run midway through the half. That run featured Illinois—who forces the 13th most turnovers of any team in college basketball—turning up the pressure on the perimeter and forcing Michigan into mistakes.

As they settled in, Illinois was able to dictate the pace and style of play — there were 75 possessions, the most of any Michigan game this season. Dosunmu pushed the pace well in the latter parts of the first half, turning missed shots or steals into transition opportunities where he could get all the way to the rim. Illinois was only able to cut the deficit to three for one possession before Zavier Simpson found Jon Teske from a double for an elbow jumper. There was a sequence of ugly basketball before Charles Matthews scored again on an offensive rebound, then Simpson found Tekse from another double for a dunk.

Despite succumbing to Illinois’s frenetic, sloppy aesthetic, the Wolverines managed to hold onto a decent lead for most of the half. Jordan Poole scored seven points within a minute — making two free throws after getting fouled in the post, hitting an open wing three after a near turnover by Simpson, and then two more free throws after a Brad Underwood technical. Illinois came back again because of Dosunmu — he knocked down an open corner three and banked in another three over Teske on a switch for the last two Illini possessions of the half. Michigan still led, 39-34.

The tenor of the game didn’t change after halftime. Dosunmu hoisted a terrible three, then chased down Simpson for his second emphatic transition block on Michigan’s point guard. Simpson, who had 8 assists to just 2 turnovers, took over from there: he worked the pick-and-pop for a Jon Teske three, beat the Illini down the floor for a layup, forced an offensive foul from Trent Frazier, and ran a pick-and-roll to get Teske an easy and-one. Michigan’s tight, six-man rotation each had bright spots (and each scored at least nine points), but Simpson and Teske—who had 4 blocks and affected several more shots—were particularly outstanding.

With under 14 minutes left in the game, a key sequence briefly got Illinois back into the game: a long outlet pass from Teske wound up in a failed Poole-to-Iggy alley-oop, and Da’Monte Williams quickly hit a three to trim the deficit to five. Iggy responded with a tough bucket on Kipper Nichols; Simpson picked Trent Frazier’s pocket for an easy two; Simpson found Teske on the short roll, who found Matthews cutting for a dunk. Michigan’s lead was back to 11, and while Illinois never let the Wolverines pull away, they weren’t able to threaten Michigan from there.

There were some highlights down the stretch — Teske flattened Simpson’s defender on a screen and Simpson dribbled into a three; Isaiah Livers blocked a three, got a long outlet from Teske, and threw down a dunk. There was a lot of intentional fouling, as Illinois extended the game and inflated the score. There was a double technical after Iggy and Dosunmu got into it after a whistle late. Illinois made it sporadically uncomfortable and Michigan wasn’t able to turn it into a rout, but it was a game that went as expected (Kenpom projected a 10-point win) and the Wolverines are 16-0.

[Box score after the JUMP]

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