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What We Learned: Michigan Wolverines vs. Illinois Fighting Illini

Michigan defeated Illinois 78-68 in the first game of the Big Ten season for both teams, using play from Caris LeVert and Mark Donnal to take the victory.

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday afternoon, Michigan defeated Illinois by a final score of 78-68. While Caris LeVert had an outstanding game to be expected with 22 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds, Mark Donnal was the enormous surprise finishing with 26 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in 28 minutes off the bench. Michigan's victory helped to answer some questions, but also provided a few more. We'll discuss them here:

Michigan's big man rotation is going to be one gigantic "Heat Check" all season

On Wednesday, Coach John Beilein elected to stay with the hot hand in playing Donnal for the majority of the minutes, a move that immensely paid off. The game's starter, Ricky Doyle, has been playing solidly productive minutes, shooting 63% for the season. A third big man, Moritz Wagner, had 19 points in 16 minutes against Charlotte and has had 3 other games with at least 7 points. The final big man, D.J. Wilson, arguably the most intriguing player, had 12 points in 6 garbage time minutes against Youngstown State, including 2 3-pointers. Essentially, Beilein is going to stay with the most productive player and hoping he can lean on them for the duration of the game.

Caris LeVert is quietly one of the best players in the entire country

LeVert is smooth, has an excellent feel for the game and always seems to get his teammates involved. As listed above, his statistics from today's game were pretty unbelievable, and the numbers have been consistent, as LeVert has at least 13 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in his last four games, and only has one game in which he didn't score double digits. At 6'7", he is able to shoot over taller defenders, was phenomenal at driving to his left against Illinois, and continues to find open shooters.

The 3-point shot could turn this Michigan team from good to elite

With anyone but Ricky Doyle on the floor, Michigan has 5 solid 3-point shooters at one time. This was evident against Illinois, as LeVert, Donnal, Duncan Robinson, Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Aubrey Dawkins all hit 3's in the second half. With LeVert and Walton both essentially serving as point guards, shooters like Robinson can spot up and look for open shots. It wasn't as crucial today with Donnal playing unbelievably well down low, but if Michigan can continue to hit 10+ 3's a game, they become one of the best offenses in the entire country.


It's only one Big Ten game, but Michigan sits at 11-3 on the season with a very winnable game on Saturday against Penn State. The big man rotation continues to be a mystery, but having the starting 5, a backup big, Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman seems to be a consistent rotation overall. The Wolverines would love to establish Duncan Robinson a little more (3-7 against Illinois), and need to try not to start as sluggish as they did against the Illini. But overall, a win on the road in the Big Ten is a massive start to the season, and Michigan hopefully can keep rolling.