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Michigan matches best start to season with serviceable win over Illinois

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The Wolverines figured out a spastic defense to earn their 16th victory.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past 16 games, Michigan has not stumbled once. The big wins to start the year are the ones that stand out more, but the team we have seen over the past three games might be the most representative of who the Wolverines truly are. Thursday’s victory against Illinois was not a blowout, but also never really in doubt. With plenty of conference games to go — including plenty on the road — this is an outcome Michigan will take every single time.

The story of the game might be the Illini defense which plays a unique style of risk and reward. Despite some early hiccups for the road team, the Maize and Blue still averaged 1.06 points per possession and saw all five starters hit double digits. It was clear who the better team was, and another game ended with a solid, non-flashy victory.

Facilitate the offense

Zavier Simpson is not a typical point guard. The junior sits at fourth in usage rate despite being second in minutes, and he is rarely a first or even second option on offense. His defense speaks for itself, but running the offense is still a main bullet point in his job description.

Against Illinois, Simpson put up his biggest offensive output of the year, notching 16 points and eight assists. His 54 percent eFG was partially affected by a couple of blocked shots, but head coach John Beilein should feel positive about this performance. Perhaps most importantly, the guard’s eight assists came against just two turnovers; Simpson added a pair of steals as well.

Help down low

Big men did not fare too well Michigan’s last time out, but Jon Teske was ready to remedy that. Teske had a rough game against Indiana, logging more fouls than field goals, but against the Illini he hit double digits for the first time in over a month.

Illinois is yet another Big Ten squad with a large presence in the paint, but Teske managed fairly well, logging 13 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks. He was efficient with a 69 percent eFG and had a pretty low usage rate at 13.1 percent. The return of Isaiah Livers left Brandon Johns on the bench and gave Austin Davis just two minutes. Both Teske and Livers looked more than capable of burdening the load.

Filling out the rest

It is not often that one of the MBP trio (*title still pending) does not lead the scoring for Michigan, but a funky Illinois defense caused some issues early on. The Illini rank 14th in turnover percentage but 344th in allowed free throw rate, and both of those stats came to life in the first half on Thursday.

As a result, no Wolverine had a monster game offensively, but the usually suspects did find a way to contribute. Both Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole looked a little off; the former was 0-for-5 from mid-range while the latter was just 1-for-6 behind the arc. Still, Matthews, Poole, and Ignas Brazdekis each posted at least 10 points and kept the offense moving enough to maintain the lead the whole night.