Somewhere out in the world, there's a portal to an alternate dimension where a flap of a butterfly's wings lead to something, which leads to something else, which leads to Minnesota hitting a couple of more shots in their first two conference games. In that dimension that may or may not exist, the Gophers are 2-0 and looking fly after a couple of quality road wins. This is not that dimension.
In our reality, Michigan freshman point guard Trey Burke was all kinds of awesome on his way to 27 points on 8 of 11 shooting. Burke also got to the line for 11 free throw attempts, which was also a major advantage for Michigan in their 61-56 victory over Minnesota on Sunday.
With outside shooters, Tim Hardaway Jr., Evan Smotrycz, and Zack Novak not playing their best games, Burke explained how Michigan's strategy adjusted. "We were having trouble getting open shots from the outside, so we started running the pick-and-roll", Burke said according to the AP report, "Once we saw that they were going to switch, we really embraced it, because it gave me a chance to get to the basket." It was Burke's ability to attack the basket that allowed him to carry the Wolverines for the win.
On the Minnesota side, the scoring was a lot more spread out, so much that not even one player had more than 8 field goal attempts. Rodney Williams and Julian Welch each put up 11 points, with Williams missing a three-pointer in the final minute that would have tied the game. Although the ball landed in his hands as a consequence of improvisation, it should be noted that Williams is below 30% from beyond the arc in his career. He is 5 of 11 this season, though, so maybe he has improved that part of his game. Either way, it didn't show up in this one.
Ralph Sampson III had 10 rebounds and 3 assists for the Gophers, but only put in 6 points on 3 of 5 shooting. I listed Sampson as a potential major contributor for Minnesota not only because of his big game versus Illinois, but because Jordan Morgan is the only man Michigan regularly plays who can defend him. Surpsingly, Morgan scored on more point than Sampson in this one, much thanks to a spiffy drive and dish by Burke, but the real difference was made in the offensive rebound department, where Morgan grabbed 6 compared to just 1 for Sampson.
That offensive rebouding advantage helped Michigan make up for a dreadful shooting day for Hardaway. The superb sophomore was just 1 of his first 13 from the field before he amazingly hit a clutch 17-footer to put Michigan up by three with 42 seconds remaining in the game.
That shot was preceded by a pair of Welch three-pointers to bring the Gophers within a point. Michigan, however, was wise to force the ball out of Welch's hands on the deciding possession, which ended in the missed Williams attempt.
UMHoops.com mentions that this strategy of driving to the basket and dominating the offensive boards is not usually how teams coached by John Belein win games.
Michigan was outshot by Minnesota in this one but the Wolverine offense managed to score 1.05 points per trip thanks to frequent trips to the free throw line and a strong performance on the offensive glass. Minnesota isn’t a great defensive rebounding team but it’s a rare and impressive occurrence when Michigan grabs over 40 percent of its missed shots. Morgan really battled for a few, grabbing six, but five other players also grabbed at least one offensive rebound.
Check out the best Gus Johnson calls from the Minnesota versus Michigan game by clicking here.
The other Big Ten game played on Sunday was not pleasant for me, because it featured my Nittany Lions of Penn State being done in by Northwestern 68-56 in Evanston. I feel good for the Purple Cats, though*. They needed this win to maintain hope of an NCAA Tournament bid, and they played like it (in the second half, at least). It would be nice if Penn State got a road conference victory so early in the Big Ten season, but they still have nine home games to play, so perhaps they can steal one there. It was also nice to see the Nits not get totally blown away after being embarrassed in Ann Arbor the other day.
Anyway, Northwestern won this game, right? Freshman point guard Dave Sobolewski is now officially on stud alert thanks to a career best 20-point game in which he was 7 of 12 from the field. One upping Sobolewski, at least for tonight, was Drew Crawford, who scored 21 points on just 9 field goal attempts. He also passed 1,000 total points for his career, so congrats go out to Mr. Crawford.
Another Northwestern 1,000 point scorer to play in this game was John Shurna, who put up 17 points and 8 rebounds.
Both teams played pretty poorly in the first half of this game, but Penn State held a 26-23 lead at the break thanks to a ridiculous 15 offensive rebounds and in spite of 26% shooting. Northwestern was a little better in that category with 37% shooting, but they only grabbed 3 of their own missed and turned the ball over 8 times.
The second half saw the Purple Cats get their act together and shoot a blistering 71% with much improved defense rebounding led by Luka Mirkovic. The senior big man scored only 4 points, but grabbed 11 rebounds for the game, all on defense.
Penn State saw Tim Frazier attempt only the third most field goals on the team, as Jermaine Marshall continued to assert himself as the second scorer. The other guy jacking up shots was Cammeron Woodyard, who finished 3 of 13 from the field, and should probably be limited to shooting wide open three-pointers and playing good defense in the future. Woodyard was amazingly 1 for 8 on twos.
Despite the deficit in field goal attempts, Frazier still led PSU in scoring with 16 points (Marshall had 14 points and Woodyard had 11). On the glass, junior college transfer guard Matt Glover led the Lions with 8 rebounds (4 on offense), which was more than either of Penn State's regular bigs. Glover grabbing more rebounds than Penn State forwards is turning into a disturbing trend that lends itself to a lack of talent on the interior.
*I know this sounds patronizing, but let me make it clear that I wouldn't be so la dee da about this loss if it had happened in a season in which Penn State's upside was more than two Big Ten wins. Also my football team clinched the playoffs on Sunday, so I'm on cloud nine.