Thursday, January 3, 2013
Rapid Reaction: Michigan 94, N'western 66
By Eamonn Brennan
Some quick thoughts on Michigan's wire-to-wire 94-66 drubbing of Northwestern Thursday night:
Overview: Northwestern never had a chance. Any version of this Wildcats team -- even one at full strength, with injured stars Reggie Hearn and Drew Crawford or long-since-suspended JerShon Cobb -- would have had a brutally difficult task keeping this Michigan team from scoring at will Thursday night. But that's not the current Northwestern team. Missing all those players, with an undersized backcourt and little besides Alex Olah in the paint, the Wildcats were obviously overmatched. Michigan opened up a huge early lead and never looked back -- oozing confidence all the way through.
Turning Point: The opening tip. That sounds like a joke, but it really isn't: Michigan went up 10-0 by the 16:48 mark -- Trey Burke had seven of those points, including two ankle-breaking moves (one that led to an open 3, one that left poor Dave Sobolewski in the dust) -- and genuinely never looked remotely like losing control of the game from there. The lead was 33-13 at the 10-minute mark, and 51-30 at halftime. In recent seasons, at something like full strength, Northwestern has been at best a foil and at worst a tough out for the Wolverines in Welsh-Ryan. That wasn't the case Thursday night.
Key Player: Trey Burke. Michigan had a handful of impressive performances. Tim Hardaway, Jr. returned from injury on point from the perimeter. Nik Stauskas shot well (as usual) and put the ball on the deck enough to keep defenders honest. Mitch McGary finished with eight boards, and showcased a little open-floor defensive work with an early steal and fast-break dunk. But Burke was the one worth the price of admission. He was in control of the game the entire time -- see the aforementioned opening burst, or his 15-point, 6-for-10 first half performance -- but more than anything it was the way he handled the game. Nothing was rushed, nothing was difficult, and nothing was beyond his control. The Wildcats were unable to put up much of a fight, but I don't care: Burke makes it all look way too easy.
Key Stat: In the first half, the Wolverines finished 21-of-36 from the field and 8-of-13 from from beyond the arc. And then it was over. Good luck defending that.
Miscellaneous: Welsh-Ryan Arena has a pretty great little basketball ambiance; its size makes it intimate, and its age helps it feel vaguely old school. But that purple court is every bit as bad as it looks on TV. (My Twitter replies seemed torn on whether it was drawn with colored pencils or markers. Your mileage may vary.) ... Northwestern had a rough night at the office -- the highlight was definitely when the school introduced football coach Pat Fitzgerald, fresh off a 10-win season, as the "best college football coach in the country," which made visions of a displeased Nick Saban dance in my head -- but freshman center Alex Olah was a bright spot. For a guy who only the most hardcore recruitniks had heard of before he signed with NU, Olah looks like much less of a project than he should be. His ball control could be better, but he has a fledgling hook shot over both shoulders, and he moves well (and intelligently) without the ball. He's a keeper.