Kenpom said Michigan would win by 10, and lo and behold Michigan won by 10. Matthews hit all of his shots (except the free throws) and Wagner scored in double digits for the first time since his ankle injury, driving the lane against an overmatched opponent.
I’m telling you that up front in case you watched the first 12 minutes and decided to go build that dresser for your mother in law or something.
I can’t blame you if you did, since the first quarter of this game was some of the ugliest basketball all year. Michigan came out looking not at all ready for the constant pressure a Brad Underwood team puts on opponents, turning the ball over 12 times—one third of their first half possessions. Even more lost than Michigan’s backcourt were the referees, who were calling everything and nothing, including eight rather tacky offensive fouls (six on Michigan). Charles Matthews picked up two such early whistles and spent most of the half on the bench. Illinois quickly went on a 9-2 run to take a 17-9 lead, helped by two big corner threes by freshman Mark Smith.
Beilein countered with a Poole-Livers lineup, wherein Isaiah Livers starting dunking everything in sight. Michigan finally retook the lead on a quick upcourt pass from Zavier Simpson to Jordan Poole set up outside the arc. The poor lone Illinois defender can be forgiven for thinking this would be an immediate shot—I mean, it’s Poole—but nah:
Jaaron Simmons took over point after an Illinois timeout and the Illini climbed back to a 34-31 halftime lead that felt as flimsy as a mail order dresser held together by three cam screws in a quarter inch of particle board.
As play resumed, that lead disappeared in seconds as Michigan settled into the team they’d been since mid-December. The Illini couldn’t prevent Matthews from burning their perimeter defenders, and once Charles sat with a third foul, Poole offered a pair of threes to put the Wolverines up by double digits, with MAAR and Wagner closing it out as they do.
as he do. [Marc-Grégor Campredon]
Zavier Simpson started and played 32 minutes, including all 20 minutes of the second half. Despite the early turnovers—he’d finish with five—he continued to demonstrate the #1 job is his, setting up Michigan’s best offensive possessions with some superb outlet passes—the resulting 10 points off fast breaks made up the Kenpom-predicted difference between these two teams. Brooks and Simmons finished with three turnovers and two assists in 8 minutes. Even Z’s missed open corner three was a rim-out that felt good off the release. Given how bad the start of this game was, it’s good to walk away with that confidence still intact.
This Illinois team could be dangerous in a year or two. Like his Oklahoma State team remembered from last year’s tournament, Underwood’s offense is good at making your centers look the wrong way before a lethal backdoor cut. When the fakes and motion didn’t work, Michigan was able to win a battle of athleticism with just about every lineup.
Whatever you went into this game believing you can probably find something from it to support that claim. I mostly believe what Ace tells me, so my eyes tell me Charles Matthews is still Michigan’s best player, Teske is a major improvement from last year as a backup to Mo, Wagner is slowly coming back to form, Livers and Poole are starting to become bigger contributors, MAAR is who he is, Simpson is fine, and this Michigan team is rounding into the kind that no #1 or #2 seed wants to face but has to thanks to bad RPI gaming.
Oh, and cam screws are awful and furniture that relies on them should be shot into the sun.
[Hit THE JUMP for the box score and an amazing photo series by MG of the dunk.]
Some more shots of the game from Marc-Grégor Campredon:
Oh and the dunk. One.