By Seth Schlechter
Michigan steamrolls Iowa and Minnesota before falling to rival in B1G Title Game
Prior to taking the floor each game, the Michigan Wolverines huddle at the end of the tunnel for a last-second pregame pep talk. One by one, each player takes a turn saying what he will contribute to the team that day.
Walk-ons such as C.J. Baird and Luke Wilson stressed bringing energy to the bench. They’d be bringing that same energy to the floor this weekend, as both played the closing minutes of Michigan’s first two wins of the B1G Tournament at the United Center in Chicago.
Blowout wins that allow little-used players to see the floor are usually reserved for tune-up games in November and December, not conference tournament games in March. But the Wolverines coasted to victories over Iowa and Minnesota by an average of 24 points.
Luke Wilson, a walk-on from Boulder, Colorado, talked about his mindset coming in to the B1G Tournament.
“I have to stay locked in and really make sure I know what’s going on the whole time because I really want to communicate with the players as much as I can and help out as much as I can,” he said.
Michigan’s key to victory on its way to a title game berth? Simple: 3-point defense. The Wolverines held their opponents to 11 percent from beyond the arc. By contrast, Michigan shot 36 percent and made 10 three-pointers in both games.
This stingy 3-point defense is no coincidence.
Assistant coach Luke Yaklich, who oversees Michigan’s defense, spoke about the team’s success after beating Minnesota.
That’s part of our philosophy defensively and our guys really executed well today,” he said. “Understanding the scouting report and understanding who the main guys were to make sure we limited attempts is important. It’s what we’ve tried to pride ourselves on all year long.”
Jon Teske, Michigan’s starting center and anchor of the defense realizes how important defending the 3-point line is.
“We have a goal of limiting teams to five threes or less each game,” Teske said “We had to close out on their hot hands and run them off the line and that’s what we did.”
It’s safe to say the Wolverines accomplished their goal holding Iowa and Minnesota to a combined three successful 3-point field goals.
With its win against Minnesota, the Michigan Wolverines extended their conference record for most consecutive wins in the B1G tournament to 10. Ohio State held the previous record of eight.
This streak started against Illinois in 2016, a game in which the Wolverines almost didn’t even play.
As the team traveled to Washington D.C. for the 2016 B1G Tournament, high winds forced an aborted take-off and the plane skidding off the runway. While no one was severely injured, some players felt emotionally shaken and coach John Beilein, gave his players the decision whether or not they wanted to fly the next day. The team decided make the trip and hasn’t lost a game in the B1G Tournament since, prior to the championship game loss to Michigan State this week.
Wolverines fall to Spartans, again
One of college basketball’s best rivalries seemed awfully one-sided this season as Michigan State defeated Michigan for the third time in as many tries, this time in the B1G Tournament Championship.
A furious second half comeback led by Cassius Winston, with 11 points and 7 assists in the second half, saw the Spartans overcome an eight-point halftime deficit to defeat the Wolverines 65-60 in Chicago.
Freshman Phenom Ignas Brazdeikis carried the load for the Wolverines early in the first half scoring the team’s first nine points of the game and finished with a team high 19 points. Despite earning all-tournament honors, he realized his team’s flaws postgame.
Michigan held the lead for nearly 27 minutes of game play. After forward Isaiah Livers drained a three pointer, the Wolverines led by five with just 2:29 to play. This was Michigan’s last basket of the game as the Wolverines surrendered a 10-0 run to the Spartans to close out the game.
In the first two matchups against Michigan State, the Wolverines struggled defending ball screens and seemed to over help on them in the third meeting. This allowed for open 3-point looks for the Spartans, and Matt McQuaid took advantage, sinking seven 3 pointers in the win.
Trailing by three with just under 10 seconds to play, Michigan in-bounded the ball knowing Michigan State would most likely be fouling. The Spartans had just fouled the Wolverines mere seconds earlier. Another foul could take some time off the clock and wouldn’t result in free throws for the Wolverines. As Jordan Poole advanced the ball up court, he took an off-balanced shot hoping to draw a foul and three free throws. While Cassius Winston made contact with Poole, no foul was called and the shot came up miserably short, effectively ending the game.
“I think they had two fouls to give, so he thought maybe he could draw a foul,” said Coach John Beilein, post-game about the odd sequence.
While losing the championship game was tough for Michigan, senior captain Charles Matthews knows that this is not the end for the Wolverines.
“This one hurts, but we’ve got to forget it now,” he said. “We’ve got to focus on the tournament. We’ve got to keep moving forward. We’ve got to play better.”
Michigan State has had Michigan’s number this season, but this may not be the last two times these talented teams see each other this season.
If both teams take care of business, the Spartans and Wolverines could meet in the Final Four.
So what’s next?
After losing to its bitter rival for the second time in a week, and third time this season, Michigan still left Chicago as the true winner of the matchup. After the confetti fell and the Spartans cut down the nets at the United Center, both Michigan State and Michigan were named two seeds in the NCAA Tournament. The sixth and eighth overall seeds respectively, the Wolverines were awarded arguably a more favorable draw.
The Spartans will play in a region with the tournament’s top seed Duke Blue Devils, while the Wolverines’ region features the fourth seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Tom Izzo, head coach of Michigan State, was unhappy about his team’s seeding postgame and reiterated his belief that the committee does not factor in the result of the B1G Championship when building the bracket.
“Of course not, it’s alone done,” Izzo said. “We’ve been saying it for years. I don’t think they do. I’m sure the committee will say they do.”
The bracket is released to the public shortly after the final buzzer of the B1G Championship on the CBS Selection Show.
As for Michigan, their draw seems eerily familiar.
The Wolverines will play in the West for the second consecutive season, as well as play the Montana Grizzlies in their first-round matchup. Last season, the Grizzlies jumped out to an early 10-point lead over Michigan before losing the game 61-47. The 2018 win over Montana was the start of Michigan’s run to the title game.