Michigan Basketball: Michigan at Illinois — Wrap-Up
The Stars Align — The Result Becomes Superb — Valhalla Shines
Some days a team cannot do anything wrong, and on other days a slow start becomes accelerated into a total mess. Some days, the knight in shining armor saves the day, and on other days, everyone is a knight. Then some days are nightmares. Every Michigan player should have sweet dreams, for at least a few days.There was not any self-created mess, no periods of anxiety, no goats, and plenty of heroes as Michigan played a tremendous game on the road at Illinois. The game was dominated from cover to cover by the Michigan offense. The combined input of all the hard work, lofty goals, ability to flex against some adversity, and a consistent willingness to bounce back twice as tough from bad games yielded the basketball program one of its greatest, somewhat surprising, prizes ever, an outright Big Ten regular season title. This team was not the prohibitive league favorite.
As networks have so kindly pointed out, Michigan had not won an outright title for well over 20 years, begging the question as to how Michigan would respond to the sudden intensity of purpose.
So, how did this pass?
First, Michigan did not have the best athletic talent in the league: Ohio State, Indiana, and Michigan State could make that claim. Michigan did not have the advantage of size and bulk: about any other team could claim that over the Wolverines. Michigan was never going to be confused with the better defenses in the league. But what Michigan did not have was an extended run of losses that every other team in the league experienced. Hence, the cushion that Michigan now enjoys going into the last regular season game, already having locked up the title, becomes the final factor of the league equation.Michigan does have shooters and a green light to bomb away like the Eighth Army Air Corp in World War II. And last night the famous Norden bombsight was as good as it gets. Michigan made 16 three pointers and a final game total of 16 out of 23. For the pure empiricists in the hinterlands that percentage is near 70% for the game: a simply amazing feat. In the first half alone Michigan shot near 80% on three-pointers: no wonder the Illini appeared to be shell-shocked with only the locker room at half-time providing cover.
Nik Stauskas led the way with the shooting barrage, hitting seven of nine three pointers. But he led the way with a suddenly mature intensity and focus that has not always been present. Successful athletes have an appearance of unflappable, calm intensity; last night the entire team took on this appearance.But last night Michigan’s entire team had intensity and focus that lasted forty minutes. It was like the oldest, biggest kid at an Easter egg hunt: no mercy and better luck next year to the underlings. The Wolverines came out and literally smacked the home team all over the mat in the first few minutes. And as a result the lead soon reached double digits. The smell of blood was obvious and the team did not go into a comfort zone.
Michigan was not on the defensive, the team was not waiting around, opportunities were seized upon, and the result was one of the best games Michigan has played in years.
At the start of this four-game trap run, GBMWolverine mentioned the title would be decided by mental toughness and focus. Last night demonstrated the total truth of that prediction, in the most positive manner.
Granted, Illinois helped the cause of the Wolverines with spurts of bad offense and bad shots. But the Wolverines clogged the middle enough to force the Illini shooters into pull up runners or long three-pointers that would not fall. Several close in shots did not fall. The shooting never improved enough in the second half to force a showdown late in the game.
The Michigan offense, under the Father Flanagan green light, hit the early shots that were missing in recent games. Illinois gave too much room and guarding the line was insufficient when the Michigan guards were hitting good looks one or two feet further back. The corner shots were chased by Illinois; the result was too late.
Individual stats can be looked up, but Stauskas was the hammer and the nail. He had plenty of help as everyone contributed in some manner. Shooting of the nature in this game is contagious. Caris LeVert was on fire, but had to hit the bench with some strange calls. TV Teddy showed up, and once again acted as if he was going to go nose to nose with a big time coach.
One goal is accomplished and it will be interesting to see if Michigan can mount a league tournament run, something that can be seen as good or bad. Things can change, but hold on to this moment.
The beat goes on, yes indeed. And so will the bombs from the arc.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Doc4Blu
Go Blue — Wear Maize!