Little by little, the U-M basketball team is getting the monkey off its back.
Thanks to the arrival of Coach John Beilein, and players who believe in his system, Michigan has defeated Big Ten rival Michigan State six of the last eight times.
Sunday’s (Feb. 23) 79-70 win over MSU (22-6, 11-4) gives Michigan (19-7, 11-3) a sweep of the season series and a half-game lead in the conference standings. With just four regular-season games remaining, No. 20 (AP) Michigan should at least receive a high seed in the Big Ten tournament and a berth in the NCAA’s big dance. The Wolverines, who have a No. 16 rating in the RPI, should receive a bump from the convincing win over the Spartans.
NCAA slows U-M
It wasn’t long ago that Michigan couldn’t buy a victory over Michigan State.
From 1998 (after the firing of Steve Fisher) though 2010, the Spartans defeated the Wolverines 18 of 22 times. Sure, you can blame NCAA probation and the coaching disasters of Brian Ellerbe and Tommy Amaker. The credit goes to Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who has positioned Michigan State among the elite of college basketball.
Izzo, who has been the Spartan coach since 1995, has one national title, six final fours, seven Big Ten titles and four national coach of the year honors.
Loss of Hardaway, Burke
But Michigan hired veteran coach John Beilein, and although the process was slow in the early going, the Wolverines broke through last season with a march all the way to the title game. And this season, despite the loss of Tim Hardaway and Trey Burke to the NBA, they find themselves all alone in first place in the Big Ten standings with just four league games remaining.
In the last few games, Michigan has depended on Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson for the bulk of the scoring.
And Stauskas has been mired in a slump, unable to to get decent jump shots, or lanes to the basket. Beilein has been scratching his head trying to untrack his leading scorer, encouraging Stauskas simply to shoot more.
“His switch is that he’s looking for a perfect play all the time, and shooters got to shoot it,” Coach Beilein said. “He’s a tremendous shooter, and he’s turning down shots off the dribble lately because he’s maybe looking for something else. We want him to shoot the ball.”
Stauskas, LeVert, Robinson
Stauskas also opened the floor with his deft passing. Along with his 25 points Sunday, he also contributed five assists, most leading to dunks or lay-ins.
LeVert, who never met a shot he didn’t like, scored 23 points and added an important six of eight from the line, while Robinson added a team-high five rebounds to his 15 points.
Stauskas really warmed up in the second half, scoring 21 points after intermission when the Wolverines seemed a step quicker than the Spartans.
Michigan also played nearly mistake-free basketball, committing only three turnovers compared to 13 for the Spartans.
”It’s been a strange year and it doesn’t get any stranger than to go to your rival and shoot 54 percent, 40 from the three and lose,” Izzo said. “And that’s because I think we’ve become too much of an offensive team and not as good of a defensive team and eventually that gets you.”
Michigan travels to Purdue Wednesday (Feb. 26), while Michigan State hosts Illinois Saturday (Mar. 1).
Big Ten Standings
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Joel Greer