No. 1 Michigan 68, Northwestern 46: Nail Clippers

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolverines took care of business at Crisler tonight, moving to 20-1 with a 22-point victory against the Northwestern Wildcats. Next up: a trip to Assembly Hall in Bloomington, where Michigan has not won since Jan. 7, 2009.

The Wildcats came into town with the intention of doing what Purdue did at Michigan: hit some threes early and then just sort of hang around until the second half. Luckily, Northwestern hit a couple of outside shots early, taking a 7-5 lead after a Reggie Hearn three from well behind the three-point line.

Hearn engaged in the mannerisms of the underdog: hitting the early three, clapping, slapping hands with teammates running back down the floor, saying things like "let's get a stop!" This is also known as "my entire high school basketball career," and from experience, I can say that this sort of reaction is borne out of hopelessness more than it is optimism.

Michigan then began in its attempts to bury Northwestern as early in the game as possible. The Wolverines jumped out to a 23-11 lead by the 11:00 minute mark, having missed just one shot to this point. Glenn Robinson III already racked up two rim-shaking dunks and Nik Stauskas effortlessly buried a pair of threes, from the right wing and corner.

Defensively, minus a Tre Demps layup, Michigan didn't give up anything save a barrage of outside shots, which is fine. Michigan forced the 'Cats into two shot clock violations in 11:16 of play. Early on, Jon Horford turned into Gandalf and did not let Alex Olah pass, blocking his shot once and forcing an awkward miss another time.

The speed and skill with which Michigan played during these supernova was almost like that of an NBA team, which I suppose makes sense. On one secondary break, Burke zinged a pass to GRIII in the left corner. He could've taken the shot, but passed it to Hardaway on the wing, and THJ passed it out to a wide open Stauskas on the right wing. Not to mix metaphors, but it was like watching an elite infield turned a double play.

Things were going so well that on one possession late in the half, the announcers praised Stauskas's defense after he locked down Tre Demps like he had become a Canadian version of The Glove.*

Adding to the nothing can do wrong pile: on one loose ball situation, Mitch McGary saved a ball at the baseline by flinging it behind his back, looking almost as if it was a perfectly well-intentioned pass. Of course, the ball shortly found its way to Nik Stauskas, who nailed a three. This is how basketball works.

It wasn't quite as prolific a half as its counterpart on Jan. 3, but Michigan went into the half up 36-21, with a team eFG% of 72%.

*Not just a shooter!

Halftime Stats

Michigan PPP: 1.53

  • Burke: 4/6, 10 pts, 6 assists
  • Stauskas: 3/4, 9 pts
  • GRIII: 4/4, 8 pts

Northwestern PPP: 1.0

  • Hearn: 2/6, 3 rebounds, 5 points
  • SOBOCOP: 2/4, 3 rebounds, 5 points
  • Marcotullio: 2/2, 5 pts
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Michigan picked up just its second foul of the game in the first minute of the second half, which is fairly amazing even when you consider the ridiculousness of home court advantage in college basketball.

Northwestern came out firing in the second half, cutting Michigan's lead to nine and forcing a Beilein timeout. Michigan continued to sort of derp its way through much of the first 10 minutes of the second frame, missing shots around the basket and cooling off the field in general (dropping from their halftime marks from the field overall and from three, both just north of 60%), missing all three of its treys and falling to around 50% from the field.

Meanwhile, Northwestern never got closer than nine, missing an array of shots around the basket that would've have made Michigan fans sweat for a little bit if they had been made. As I mentioned in the preview, NU needed Olah to awaken from the slumber he has apparently fallen into since Big Ten play started, and he actually amassed 10 points just past the 13:00 mark of the second half.

Unfortunately for the 'Cats, Hearn, SOBOCOP and Swopshire were shooting a combined 35% from the field with five or six minutes to go, essentially wasting a nice performance from Olah. It is perhaps a bit much to ask Northwestern to hang with a team as talented as Michigan, especially after Michigan had sort of blown this game open in the first half (or at least started to). What makes it more frustrating for NU is that despite all of that, they were down only nine with several golden opportunities to chip away even further.

After spending eight or nine minutes daydreaming about chicken broccoli bake or something, the Wolverines realized they had a game to finish, and finish they did. Michigan went to work attacking the rim, and proceeded to unleash a barrage of free throws, layups and dunks for about 10 minutes of play. According to the ESPN play-by-play, Michigan didn't hit its first true jumper until a GRIII corner three at the 6:39 mark. Simply put, they were cold early on in the half, and appropriately adjusted, bringing their game closer to the bucket.

Following the aforementioned three and then a THJ layup, Michigan was up 21. It wasn't pretty for the first six or seven minutes of the second half, but once again the Wolverines overcame a stretch of not playing exceptionally well to win by quite a bit.

Regardless, this was a pretty solid performance without Jordan Morgan's services and with Saturday's showdown in the back of everyone's mind. It's the perfect game for a coach: a comfortable win, with a big game on the horizon, that still provided several teaching moments for practice.

"It is what it is," Beilein said after the game. Those five words could probably have taken the place of the entirety of this post. Michigan took care of business; it is what it is.

Indiana on Saturday, however, will likely be a different story.
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