1. Michigan wrapped up the Big Ten title in dominant fashion on Tuesday, handing Illinois their largest loss ever at their home
spaceship arena. Having clinched the title, do the Wolverines keep the pressure up against the Hoosiers on Saturday night?
Considering that it will be senior night (hi, Jordan Morgan) and most of Michigan's team remembers the heartbreaking regular season capper last season, I can't imagine that Michigan rests on its laurels after already clinching the Big Ten title outright. Add in the fact that Indiana is the only Big Ten team that Michigan hasn't beaten this season and the stakes are still pretty high for the Wolverines.
2. Nik Stauskas has been the breakthrough story for the Wolverines this season, and the Canadian has inspired "U-S-A" chants at every opposing B1G arena this year. But the first time Michigan played IU, the Hoosiers were effective in neutralizing Stauskas and defeated the Wolverines in Assembly Hall back on Super Bowl Sunday. What does Stauskas need to go to have a good game against us Saturday?
That is a good question in light of recent events. It seemed at the time that Indiana developed the blueprint for how to neutralize Stauskas, and both Iowa and Wisconsin replicated that success to an extent. As teams worked to deny Stauskas the ball with smaller guards it pushed more of the offensive load to Caris LeVert and others, and it made it harder for Stauskas to generate good shots for himself off pick and rolls.
However, that was short lived as Michigan spent the week after the Wisconsin game tweaking its offense to take advantage of the over-aggressive backcourt defense that teams used to stymie Stauskas. More backcuts and a better effort to get Glenn Robinson III involved in the offense on the baseline made things harder on teams that tried to replicate the success of Indiana. Stauskas has three games of 20+ points in the last four and has made a strong late push for Big Ten player of the year. If he can keep his hot shooting streak going and Michigan can get him some space to work, he could make that four of five.
The big question going into this game is whether Noah Vonleh will be available for Indiana. His versatility on defense allowed Indiana to switch on every screen by putting Vonleh on Glenn Robinson III on the outside and Will Sheehey on either Jordan Morgan or Jon Horford. Without Vonleh, Indiana likely won't have the same ability to play with its defensive matchups. Considering that John Beilein has already seen that defense and has had plenty of time to come up with a counter attack, Indiana needs its best players on the floor to withstand the counterpunch.
3. Despite not having Mitch McGary for all of Big Ten play, the Wolverines were still able to win 14 games and the conference title. Which players have stepped it up in his absence, and who will need to come up big during the NCAA Tournament to fill his shoes?
Michigan winning the Big Ten took a team effort and every player in the rotation had to carve out a role and come up with at least one big game. But to paper over the loss of McGary, Michigan turned to its two most experienced players on the team: Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. Morgan was a starter for almost three years before ceding time to McGary late last season. Horford has had an up and down career his first couple years on campus as injuries and foul trouble kept him from making a big impact.
When McGary went down Michigan turned to these two to supply 40 minutes of solid play at the center position, and they have delivered on that very well. Both have offensive ratings over 120 and if you add their per game averages you get a double-double in points and rebounds from Michigan's center position. The Wolverines are such a perimeter-centric offense that the need for a true post threat isn't there. This plays into Morgan and Horford's hand as they both work well on the pick and roll, are smart passers when it comes to igniting the break, and both finish well around the rim. McGary brings a lot more chaos and athleticism to both ends of the floor and can generate a lot of extra looks for an offense, but it was always unrealistic to expect those two to approximate that production. What they have accomplished in terms of points, rebounds, and efficiency is enough, and it is a big reason Michigan has had the success it has.
4. In a conference filled with fiery younger coaches, John Beilein is decidedly old-school, and this year may be his best coaching job yet at UM. How has Beilein gotten his players to buy into his system?
Beilein has gotten is players to buy into his system by adjusting that system to best fit the players he has. The Michigan offense of the last couple years has been a bit of a departure from the system that Beilein had success with through his career, and it is because as he added athletic point guards capable of beating people off the bounce he was able to do different things. Michigan has been able to feature a lot more pick and roll in its offense while still retaining some of the concepts of Beilein's older style offense.
This year is a great example of these adjustments. Beilein lost his backcourt to the NBA including the national player of the year and Michigan's point guard. Without Trey Burke around to initiate the offense from the PG position, Beilein had to adjust things to find other ways to get the offense moving in the halfcourt. He did this by relying on Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert as taller SG/SF types that could work off high screens and force defenses to react, opening up shots for other players. And when teams overplayed those backcourt players in an effort to jam the offense up, Beilein pulled out some of his old tricks with backcuts and off-ball screens to take advantage of the aggressive defense.
John Beilein is nothing if not adaptable, and Michigan's success this year is proof of that as much as it is proof of Michigan's talent level.
5. Last year, Michigan made the national title game. How far do you see the Wolverines going in the tournament this season?
So much depends on matchups and luck that it is hard to say. I think Michigan has a team capable of making a deep run, however, the defensive issues could come back to haunt the Wolverines down the line. My expectation is for Michigan to make it to the second week of the tournament. If that happens, I'll be happy.
6. Spike Albrecht earned a following after last year's national title game, when he drained three after three in the first half then later gave a shout out to Kate Upton over Twitter. Are there any other good anecdotes about Wolverine players that the public should be aware of?
A few off the top of my head. Nik Stauskas doesn't like hockey (but likes Justin Bieber). Caris LeVert and his younger brother found their father dead in the living room on Easter Morning when LeVert was a sophomore in high school. Mitch McGary rode a unicycle to deliver papers as a kid.
7. Trey Burke has continued to make a name for himself as the rookie point guard for the Utah Jazz this season. Do you think Burke has potential to be the floor general for the Jazz for the next decade or longer?
After watching Trey Burke lead Michigan for two years I don't really believe there is anything Trey Burke can't do on the basketball court. He was the best Michigan player of my lifetime (yes, I'm old enough to have watched the Fab Five when I was a kid and I'm still saying that) and was one of a select few college basketball players that could take complete control of a game. I think he will have a long, successful career in the NBA.
8. This is the first season that the Big Ten has sponsored hockey. How has the new conference been going this season, and does the 12th-ranked Michigan hockey team have enough to take home their first NCAA title since 1998?
I care about hockey even less than Nik Stauskas does. I hear Michigan is pretty good, but past that I have no valuable analysis.
9. I went to the Big House for the Michigan-IU football points fest back in October. In a B1G scheduling quirk, IU returns to Ann Arbor for another game in 2014. For Hoosier fans that make the trip up next season, where are the best bars or places to hang out in town? I went to Ashley's after last year's game and enjoyed it.
Great choice going to Ashley's. That was always one of my favorite bars on campus, and it remains one of the best beer selections I've ever seen. There is a lot of stuff to do on Main St., from nice restaurants to pubs and sports bars. If you are looking for more of a college atmosphere, you have to go to The Brown Jug on South University Ave. Finally, if you're still around late after a late night out at the bar, head to Fleetwood Diner for some of the best greasy diner food you'll ever eat.
10. Prediction for Saturday's game - Who do you have winning?
I think Michigan gets the win. There is no way Yogi Ferrell goes 7/8 from three again, and without that superhuman effort in the first game from him I think Michigan would have found a way to win that game. I'm excited to see just how well Beilein adjusts the offense and what tricks Tom Crean has in store. After the first game Beilein told the press that he hadn't ever seen that defense gameplan before and it caught him off guard. John Beilein is not the kind of basketball coach you want to challenge to a battle of wits, so if he can find ways to exploit what Indiana did and the Hoosiers don't have anything new to throw at Michigan, the Wolverines could win big.