1. Welcome to Ann Arbor, Aubrey Dawkins!
Is it a coincidence that Aubrey Dawkins, who is from Palo Alto and the son of Stanford basketball coach Johnny Dawkins, had his breakout performance on the same day Michigan introduced Jim Harbaugh, the former Stanford football coach, as its new football coach? Yes, well, unless you're a true believer in "The Harbaugh Effect."
Nonetheless, Dawkins could not have picked a more perfect time to shine.
Dawkins, who had scored only 15 points and made 2-of-11 three-pointers before yesterday, sparked a Michigan team that looked listless against Illinois. The Wolverines trailed the Fighting Illini by double digits near the midway point of the second half and needed a boost or else they'd lose for the fifth time in six games. But, with 12:56 left, Dawkins drilled a three from the right wing. Two minutes later, he made another from the left wing. Three minutes later, he made another from the same spot. Two minutes after that, he buried one from the left corner. Just like that, Michigan had cut Illinois' 13-point lead to three with six minutes left in regulation. It was a whole new ball game.
But Dawkins wasn't done. Michigan took Illinois to overtime but still needed one last push before it could complete the comeback. With two minutes left in the extra frame, the Wolverines held a one-point lead, looking to separate themselves from Illinois. That's when Dawkins used a Mark Donnal screen and received a one-handed pass from Spike Albrecht before launching a three from the left wing, clearly his favorite spot on the floor yesterday. Bang. Dawkins knocked down his sixth straight three-pointer, five after halftime, to give Michigan a four-point lead it would never relinquish.
Dawkins finished with a game-high 20 points thanks to his 6-of-7 shooting from behind the line. He was the star of the game, and, if it wasn't for his hot shooting, Michigan very likely would have opened the Big Ten season with an 0-1 record rather than a 1-0 record. Dawkins can be a vital piece off the bench if he can remain a threat from three.
2. This team doesn't quit in the second half.
This wasn't the first time Michigan's used a second-half run to get back into the game, and it likely won't be the last. When Michigan challenged Villanova in the Progressive Legends Classic, the Wolverines fell behind Villanova, 33-20, early in the second half. But Michigan then reeled off a 23-5 run in about nine minutes to take a five-point lead. Though Michigan ultimately fell victim to NJIT's upset bid, the Wolverines trailed NJIT, 53-46, with about eight minutes remaining. Two minutes later, Michigan led by two points due to three straight triples. And then, yesterday, the Wolverines turned a 13-point deficit with 11 minutes left into an eight-point overtime win. Sure, you could try to mention Michigan's 27-point beating from Arizona as evidence that Michigan has quit before, but I believe that second-half rout was more about Arizona capitalizing on its mismatches than Michigan not trying. So, even though the Wolverines have had their struggles, it's a good sign that they still believe in themselves to get the job done.
3. Did Michigan's offense finally flip the switch?
In the each edition of this column for the past few weeks, I seem to devote a section to how Michigan's offense is broken. For awhile yesterday, it seemed I'd do the same again here. After the first 45 possessions, the Wolverines had only 35 points, averaging 0.778 points per possession. They were on pace for their fourth game under 0.8 points per possession in five tries because, yet again, they were stone cold from the outside, making only two of their first 15 threes. But, then, Michigan exploded for 38 points in the final 23 possessions of regulation and overtime, which is an astounding 1.652 point per possession. This was the result of a three-point barrage -- U-M made eight of its final 13 triples -- and Michigan finally connecting with Ricky Doyle after his screens. Though seeing the Wolverines run the pick and roll effectively for a change was a nice development, Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, and Derrick Walton, Jr. -- combined 4-of-17 from three -- still need to be more consistent from outside before Michigan's offense is fixed.
4. This was a critical win for Michigan.
I've already discussed how, if Michigan wants to make the NCAA Tournament, a 9-9 Big Ten record may not be enough to earn an invite. So, if the Wolverines wanted to dance in March, it was imperative that they beat Illinois at home in what was considered a tossup. And the Wolverines did in dramatic fashion. Not only does this give Michigan a second top-50 win and third top-100 win to improve its resume, it may inject the Wolverines with some much-needed confidence before they travel to West Lafayette and Happy Valley for two very winnable games. If Michigan can win both of those, this could have been what Michigan needed to turn around the season.
5. Jim Harbaugh should be introduced to the crowd at halftime of every home game from here on out.
I wasn't able to watch the game live because I was returning home from a family vacation, but, when I watched it on my DVR, it was clear how much more electric the Crisler Center crowd was for this game than any other home game this season. Knowing Harbaugh would be introduced to the public for the first time at halftime, Michigan fans packed the Crisler Center to the brim despite it being the most expensive ticket in college basketball this week. They were ecstatic because they were able to get a peek at Harbaugh, but that enthusiasm and energy carried over into the second half when Michigan commenced its comeback. The crowd breathed life into the Wolverines as they rallied back to overcome a 13-point deficit and win in overtime. It was a critical element of Michigan's comeback, and something Michigan needs at each home game.
Maybe Michigan should have Harbaugh do this at halftime for the rest of the year: