Michigan on par with program's greats...so far
Unbeaten Wolverines play host to Iowa on Sunday
IOWA CITY — Michigan’s Fab Five didn’t do this. Neither did the Wolverines’ 1989 NCAA championship squad.
No. 2-ranked Michigan is 14-0, just two wins off the school’s best start in 1985-86. That squad didn’t reach the national finals. This year’s version could make a Final Four run like its previously mentioned brethren.
Michigan boasts the league’s best point guard (Trey Burke), the Big Ten’s top 3-point threat (Nik Stauskas) and offensive weapons at every position. Against Northwestern in their Big Ten opener Thursday, the Wolverines sank 13 3-pointers, their third straight game with more than 10 and the sixth time this season. Michigan shot 59.6 percent from the floor, the 10th time it surpassed 50 percent. The Wolverines also were ruthlessly efficient, scoring on their first eight possessions.
“They have four guards out there, and they all can make plays,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “What’s impressed me about them is they’re a very unselfish team. They move the ball, they share the ball. They always have guys in double figures. There’s no selfishness that I can see.”
Iowa (11-3, 0-1 Big Ten) likes to push the ball on offense as well. But Iowa’s best defense against Michigan could be an efficient offense.
“Obviously you have to be careful especially when you’re on their floor to push the tempo to the point where they end up on a run and not us,” McCaffery said. “A lot of times just because you run doesn’t mean you’re going to shoot it quick.
“You’ve got to be able to attack their defense early because their half-court defense is that good. They lock in. They put pressure on the ball, they put pressure on the passing lanes, they fight in the post. They do a good job on ball screens. So it’s a challenge to know when to understand when to go really fast and when to not shoot the ball quick even though we’re pushing it.”
Burke is making his case as a national player of the year candidate. He’s third in the Big Ten in points (18.1) and first in assists (7.2). Stauskas is known for his 3-point prowess (41 triples, 76 attempts), but McCaffery said he’s got a complete skill set. Tim Hardaway Jr. returned Thursday after missing a game with a sprained right ankle and scored 21 points in 31 minutes. Freshmen forwards Glenn Robinson Jr. and Mitch McGary were highly regarded recruits and average 11.9 points and 5.6 points, respectively.
Jordan Morgan, a 6-foot-8 junior post, scored 12 points and grabbed 13 rebounds against Northwestern and has 82 starts in his career. His statistics are down slightly, but his effectiveness has increased alongside fellow post McGary.
The Wolverines average 81.1 points, their margin of victory is 22.1 points a game and they score a national-best 1.24 points per possession. Much of that is based on Burke’s decision-making.
Michigan’s defense also is an asset, McCaffery said.
“They really defend,” McCaffery said. “I really been impressed with how they guard. Obviously they have tremendous weapons offensively. Rarely do you have a point guard that great who shoots 3s that well, fifth year senior who finishing everything around the basket...they have very effective guys coming off the bench.
“It’s a very difficult team to prepare for on both sides, essentially.”
Surprisingly, the Wolverines consider themselves underdogs despite their lofty ranking.
“We always are working that way, like we’re hunting all the time,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “And we don’t want to ever lose that because it’s not a negative to always be working.”