It was a must-win game for Michigan, who still faces an uphill battle to earn a share of the Big Ten title. Nebraska entered Thursday night as easily the weakest opponent left on the Wolverines’ schedule, but that has not always translated to easy wins for the Maize and Blue. To complicate matters, just moments before tip it was announced that Charles Matthews — on his de facto Senior Day — would be sitting out, making a shallow rotation even lighter.
One might think all of these ingredients would lead to a frustrating and potentially disappointing evening, but the Wolverines had something else in mind. Instead, Michigan played its most complete game in maybe four months, dominating on both ends of the floor (in the same game!). The competition was lesser, but everything looked good on Thursday in Ann Arbor.
Michigan will probably not shoot 54.5 percent from three ever again this season, but it sure was fun to watch during the home finale. Ignas Brazdeikis was 4-for-5 from deep, on his way to 20 total points. He was actually second in scoring to Jon Teske, whose 22 points came with a 3-for-3 mark from behind the arc. Both were causing problems all night for the Cornhuskers and almost outscored them on their own.
Stepping in for Matthews was Isaiah Livers, who has played a ton of minutes as the sixth man already this season. He posted a double-double and added solid defense. While it might be tough for him to completely replace Matthews, Livers has been quite valuable this season.
The one disappointment was Jordan Poole, who, after taking thousands of bad shots from three recently, looked completely different on Thursday. Odds are the coaching staff sat him down and told him to be smarter with the ball, including feeding big men with mismatches down low. As a result, Poole never really seemed to get into the game and was self-neutralized. Hopefully he can find something between these two extremes.
Nebraska is no Michigan State on offense, but it was encouraging to see Michigan go from 1.23 PPP allowed to 0.78 PPP, its best mark since early January. The Cornhuskers looked completely lost for most of the game, and their top scorer on the year was held to just seven points.
The Wolverines absolutely need to play this way for the rest of the season. Everyone, including the freshmen, seemed locked in on defense, and only forcing seven turnovers acceptable if every shot is a contested look. Holding an opponent to a 35.8 percent eFG is not repeatable every game, but the methodology behind the process holds true.
Better late than never
Michigan was in control of the game basically from the first five minutes, but even in a closer contest head coach John Beilein might have been forced to give some valuable minutes to a few of his freshmen. Fortunately, he was able to use them in a lower risk situation thanks to the lopsided nature of the contest.
Colin Castleton made a lot of noise with his 11 points and versatility in the paint. His defense is a dropoff from Teske, but his overall game is not bad as a backup center. Who impressed me most, though, was David DeJulius. Though he only had a couple points in 16 minutes, he has the look of another strong-willed Michigan point guard. He might not even be asked to play the one position this season, but he has the tenacity to eat up a few minutes when needed.