After one of the uglier losses of the season, Michigan picked up a much-needed victory, blowing out the Northwestern Wildcats on the road, 68-51.
The Wolverines played fast, moved the ball well, and used a big second half run to secure their second Quad 1 victory of the season (with Maryland moving into the Top 30 in the NET rankings, their win over Maryland on Jan. 1 technically counts as a Quad 1 win now).
Beating good teams on the road is the fastest way to improve your stock when it comes to March Madness. Michigan still has a lot of work to do to get in the tournament picture, but maybe last night’s performance is the springboard they needed to kick start a winning streak.
Here are some takeaways from the victory.
Huge second half run for the Wolverines, who moved the ball really well
The Wolverines started out the second half extremely well, going on an 18-2 run over a six-minute stretch jumping out to a 44-31 lead. Dickinson (19 points) and Joey Baker (14 points) combined to score 13 points in that run. Kobe Bufkin also played his butt off in the second half, and with 15 points and a career-high 12 rebounds in the game, he recorded his first collegiate double-double.
The Wolverines never looked back after that run, as they started to find a flow offensively, got some stops and moved the ball incredibly well. They did a great job finding the open man all game; per the ESPN2 broadcast, their first 15 baskets all came off assists. They finished the game with 21 assists on 24 made baskets.
The play of the Wolverines in that second half was encouraging — that’s the kind of basketball we know this team is talented enough to play.
What’s frustrating about this team is these great stretches don’t come often enough.
Michigan takes advantage of Northwestern’s dead legs
Michigan definitely played well enough to win, but you could say this was a schedule loss for Northwestern. After playing a COVID make-up game earlier this week, this was their fifth game in nine days and the Wildcats looked pretty beat in the second half.
Phil Martelli told the media on Wednesday they needed to get more fast break points, as the Wolverines only had 10 in their last four games. While they didn’t have any in that first half, they were able to get out and run more in the second, tallying six fast break points.
Props to Michigan for playing fast and moving the ball to tire out a team that must’ve been physically exhausted from the start.
A solid outing from Hunter Dickinson
Michigan was able to take advantage of its size, staying patient on the perimeter before feeding Dickinson at just the right time.
On this possession, Dickinson did a great job recognizing his size mismatch, with Chase Audige trying to front him. He directed McDaniel to throw the ball to Bufkin on the wing for a better entry pass before a pass fake gave him just enough space to slam it home.
Dickinson had eight points in that first half and stayed dominant in the second half, scoring 11 more points and looking like the dominant big man he was all last season.
When Dickinson is playing well and the Wolverines are moving the ball well, this team is pretty hard to stop.
Solid defense from a group of mostly bench players
In the first half, we saw a lineup from the Wolverines we haven’t seen all season; Kobe Bufkin ran point alongside Jace Howard, Joey Baker, Tarris Reed Jr. and Youssef Khayat, who got his first minutes in just over a month after dealing with various injuries and illnesses.
That unit played some pretty solid defense. They started out in a 3/4 court press and managed to switch with all five positions. They were even able to force Northwestern into a few tough shots, and that group only allowed a few points
It was nice to see Khayat get some minutes after being on the bench most of this season. I wish there was more scoring in that group, but they looked pretty solid for a stretch in this one.
A slow start for both teams
A combination of solid defense and poor offensive execution made for a low scoring affair in that first half, with Michigan leading 26-25. Both teams combined to make just 31.5% of their shots in the opening 20 minutes.
It was yet another disappointing start for the Wolverines. While they did come out with a slight lead, you would have hoped they would have came out with more energy and taken advantage of the fact Northwestern just played on Tuesday.
Luckily they were able to pull away in the second half, but starting slow again after similar starts in the Minnesota win and the Penn State loss is concerning.
The Wolverines return home on Sunday to take on Ohio State, a game that would be a Quad 1 win. They stay home next week for matchups with Nebraska (Feb. 8) and Indiana (Feb. 11).