One week ago, the sky was falling for Michigan. The team looked lost against both Michigan State and Indiana, couldn't make a shot, and defense appeared completely optional. Fast forward one week, and Michigan fans are smiling and feeling a lot better about their team than the week prior. There's a lot to delve into that happened last week, so let's start with Minnesota.
For a team that is now 0-13 in the Big Ten, it's extremely unfortunate that the Golden Gophers haven't snagged a league win yet. Nine of their 13 Big Ten losses have come by single digits, some of these games coming against some of the better competition in the Big Ten and the entire country. Michigan was fully aware of Minnesota's potential, having played extremely poorly in their first matchup against the Golden Gophers in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines started off slow, but a barrage of 3-pointers at the end of the first half gave Michigan a 42-28 lead going into the break. It was a lead they wouldn't relinquish, stretching it out to 19 at one point. One major area for concern was how Michigan had gut out the victory: With 7:30 left, a Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman 3-pointer saw Michigan on top 70-57, but Minnesota went on a 15-4 run to close the gap to 74-72 with 100 seconds left. MAAR saved the day, finishing a tough layup with the foul from Carlos Morris. Derrick Walton Jr. and MAAR iced the free throws down the stretch, and Michigan escaped the Barn 82-74.
On Wednesday, the MVP went to Walton. He was brilliant offensively, finishing with 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. His 3-point shooting was on display, his rebounding continues to be arguably his biggest strength, and he had his alpha game Michigan needed when Zak Irvin was hot garbage.
The junior from Fishers, Indiana shot 1-8 and looked out of sorts the whole game. Duncan Robinson picked up the slack for Irvin and had 14 points and nine crucial rebounds, the first time in a while the redshirt sophomore looked comfortable in Big Ten play. Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle combined for 14 points, but one rebound each continues to be a major concern for the Wolverines going forward.
A major concern, in fact, because Michigan had one of the best rebounding teams in the entire country next on the schedule. Purdue's frontline looks more like an NBA team, with 6'7" Vince Edwards starting alongside 6'9" Caleb Swanigan and 7'0" A.J. Hammons with 7'2" human tree Isaac Haas coming off the bench.
Michigan gets outrebounding by teams who start centers smaller than Purdue's power forward, but the Wolverines somehow managed to string together 39 rebounds to Purdue's 35. Even better news? That wasn't the only statistical category Michigan was superior to Purdue.
After most Big Ten pundits believed Michigan's win over Maryland was a fluke, including a manager on this site, the Wolverines were able to outlast Purdue 61-56 in front of a raucous Crisler Center on Saturday afternoon.
The Wolverines started off slow yet again, as a Ryan Cline 3-pointer pushed Purdue's lead to 23-13 ten minutes into the game. The introduction of Caris LeVert shortly followed, and while the all Big Ten caliber player did very little on Saturday besides for five rebounds, his presence on the court rejuvenated other Wolverines.
Purdue took a 31-27 lead into the break, but two Zak Irvin 3-pointers forced Purdue into a timeout with the game tied at 37. The final 17 minutes were ugly, as the two teams struggled mightily to find their scoring touch. With three minutes left, A.J. Hammons knocked down a jumper just inside the 3-point line to give Purdue a 56-50 lead. It was the last point they would score.
Irvin drained a tough 3, Walton had an acrobatic layup plus the foul, and Irvin came down the next possession to drain a mid-range jumper to give Michigan the 57-56 lead. Purdue ended the game with a Caleb Swanigan jumper, an ill-advised Ryan Cline 3-pointer and a desperation Vince Edwards 3-point attempt as Michigan held on to victory, 61-56.
For Michigan, it's a major victory that brings them to 19-7 overall and 9-4 in the Big Ten. Instead of trying to figure out how many games they could conceivably lose to make the NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines now have five Big Ten games plus the Big Ten Tournament to stake their claim for higher seeding. Right now, their resume is somewhere between the 7 and 10 line, but the next few weeks are crucial to improve that position.
Saturday's effort is extremely commendable because Michigan honestly played pretty horridly offensively. Irvin was the only player in double figures, but he finished 8-19 for 22 points and forced shots at times. As brilliant as Walton was on Wednesday, the first 37 minutes he was equally as bad. 1-10 is an awful stat line, but the one was an enormous layup that brought Michigan to within one point.
Michigan's rotating wing tandem struggled mightily, as Aubrey Dawkins and Duncan Robinson combined for 3-8 on eight points in 38 minutes. For Robinson especially, Michigan needs to run sets to get their best 3-point shooter open, as Robinson was guarded very well by Purdue and could only get one three point attempt off.
Overall, Michigan has to be ecstatic about the position they're in right now. Both Walton and Irvin each had great games respectively this past week, and if they can get both of them going at the same time, this team could be extremely dangerous. I loved Beilein finding 11 minutes for LeVert, but it's clear that he will be rusty for the next week or so while finding his offensive rhythm. He did have two or three brilliant passes that resulted in a Mark Donnal layup and other missed shots, a sign his high basketball IQ hasn't gone anywhere.
Life in the Big Ten, however, doesn't get any easier. Tuesday's game in Columbus against Ohio State should not be taken lightly at all. Michigan's biggest rival on the hardwood is definitely Michigan State, but the Wolverines and Buckeyes despise each other regardless of sport. Ohio State has had a lackluster season to this point despite their victory over Kentucky, and at 8-5 in the Big Ten and 16-10 overall, time is running out for the Buckeyes to stake a claim for the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan ends the week traveling to College Park to play a pissed off group of Maryland Terrapins. Maryland was just embarrassed on their home floor against a scorching hot Wisconsin team (more on that tomorrow), and will look to bounce back after losing their squeaky clean unbeaten home streak in the Big Ten. Diamond Stone, Robert Carter and Jake Layman all gave Michigan fits in their first matchup, and the Wolverines will have to play a great game to steal the victory.
But that's Sunday. For now, Michigan is sitting pretty. The win over Minnesota was a must and beating Purdue is nothing but a confidence booster. Getting LeVert back will be monumental down the stretch here, especially if Michigan can really pad their resume even more. As the saying goes, it's great to be a Michigan Wolverine.