Saturday's opening game between the 8th seeded Illini and the 9th seeded Wolverines was very one-sided as Michigan was able to run away with the game early in the first half thanks to a 23-4 run. The Wolverines will move on to face the Wisconsin Badgers in the next round of the Tournament, a game in which they must win if they want to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Michigan opened up the game hot while Illinois opened up the game cold. Poor shooting by the Illini, including two air balls in the first five minutes, gave Michigan an opportunity to capitalize and take a 14-2 lead. But back came Illinois behind the inspired play of Jaylon Tate and Leron Black off the bench. Tate helped set the freshman Black up for some easy buckets, and a Malcolm Hill three-pointer gave Illinois its first lead of the game at 15-14.
After Illinois extended its lead to 2 at 19-17, it had nothing left in its tank for the rest of the first half. Leron Black, who had been playing great to that point, picked up a technical foul, and Michigan grabbed hold of all the momentum. The Wolverines closed the first half on a 23-4 run behind a couple of three pointers and slam dunk by Aubrey Dawkins. For the rest of the game, Michigan held onto its 20 point margin and ended up with a 73-55 victory.
What We Learned
Poor Shooting for the Fighting Illini took the Team out of Tournament Contention
For the Fighting Illini, the slim chance it had to make the NCAA Tournament has now disappeared. An 18 point loss to the Wolverines was certainly not what Groce's squad was hoping for, and as a result, the Illini will likely find themselves in their second straight NIT.
The problem for Illinois was terrible shooting. The Fighting Illini shot just 1-13 from three point range, and just 37% from the field. This is not what you would expect from the team that leads the Big Ten in shooting from the free throw line. The fact that Illinois is so good from the charity stripe but so bad from the field begs the question as to whether or not Illinois is getting good looks. The obvious answer to that question is no. Whether it was Illinois' bad offensive flow or Michigan's bad defense, Illinois had nothing going for them on the offensive end, and the team will certainly need to make strides in that regard in the off season.
Moving Forward, Freshmen Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman Will Shine for Michigan
In the absence of Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr., the two guards for Michigan have really shown grit and ability late in the season. Dawkins and Abdur-Rahkman had 18 and 15 on the game respectively. Keep in mind that this was the first Big Ten Tournament game for the two freshman, and instead of giving up on a season that looks to be lost to the NIT, they fought their way into the next round to face the Wisconsin Badgers.
John Beilein always seems to find a way to take under-valued freshman and turn them into stars (look at Nik Stauskus, Trey Burke, and Mitch McGary). These two have played particularly well down the stretch and will certainly add a dynamic aspect to this Michigan Wolverines squad next year as sophomores. The play of these two has been very similar to the play of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn freshman year. The two guards for Illinois stepped up their games late last year and delivered down the stretch for a struggling Illini team. Look for Dawkins and Abdur-Rahkman to make significant strides their sophomore years.
Michigan Will Need a lot of Help to Make the NCAA Tournament
Despite the impressive win over the Fighting Illini, the Michigan Wolverines will likely find themselves in the NIT this year. Michigan has had to battle its way through countless injuries this year, including the most crucial one of Caris LeVert. Michigan will move on to face Wisconsin in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, and even an upset win over the Badgers probably won't be enough to get the Wolverines into the NCAA Tournament. Michigan will likely need to get an automatic bid to go dancing, but it is March, and stranger things have happened.
Michigan will move on to face Wisconsin in the next round of the Big Ten Tournament. Wisconsin is the first overall seed in the Tournament and has a very good chance of winning the conference tourney. This Michigan Wolverine team has showed toughness all year long, and the last time these two teams met in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Wolverines forced overtime before the Badgers were barely able to outlast it. Expect a battle in the second round tomorrow.
Illinois will more than likely find itself in the NIT this season, where it will hope to end its season on somewhat of a good note. The Fighting Illini will likely miss the NCAA Tournament for now the second year in a row, and John Groce will try to make the necessary improvements in the off season in order to get his team back into the Big Dance.