In one of the more entertaining games of the Big Ten season, the fourth-ranked Michigan Wolverines (24-5, 11-5 B1G) defeated the ninth ranked Michigan State Spartans (22-7, 11-5 B1G) 58-57 to move into a tie for second place in the conference.
In college football, there is always talk of a “Heisman moment” when it comes to the player of the year award, and today was Trey Burke’s. He led the Wolverines with 21 points, four rebounds, eight assists, five steals, and only two turnovers.
In the final seconds of the game tied at 56, Burke stole the ball near mid-court from Spartan guard Keith Appling and took it in for a layup to put the Wolverines up by two. Then, with less than five seconds two go and the Spartans down one, Burke stole the ball from Gary Harris and Michigan State was never able to get a shot off.
Something we all learned today is that Michigan has the ability to grind out games when they have to. Mitch McGary was fantastic today, and a long with Jordan Morgan, played a large role in limited the damage from the Spartan bigs.
Another positive from today’s game was the emergence of freshman Caris LeVert. Nik Stauskas went out early in the game after an elbow from MSU forward Brenden Dawson and had to get stitches. The Wolverines were going to need minutes from LeVert, and he was very productive. His defensive presence on the court was huge for Michigan.
As I mentioned in the game preview, Michigan was going to have to play with physicality, which I stated was a mindset, not an attribute. We saw that today, as the defense created fast break opportunities. Give credit to John Beilein and the coaching staff for having the guys ready to play after the debacle at Penn State. The Wolverines took a ton of charges and chased down after loose balls, which opened up a multitude of things for them today.
I can’t quite say confidently that the Wolverines have righted the ship and are National Title bound, but it’s wins like this that can put a team on a run. They definitely looked after the game as more confident bunch and they were back to having fun playing basketball (see: slapping the floor before MSU took a timeout).
Something worth looking out for is Trey Burke’s leadership going forward. I think today, we saw Burke grow up as a leader. There was a point late in the game coming out of a timeout where Burke huddled his teammates together to talk game plans and you could just the see the fire in his eyes. I would not be surprised if he put the Wolverines on his back going forward Kemba Walker-style and lead his team all the way through the NCAA Tournament. As he goes, so do the Wolverines, and I thought he was fantastic today.
As far as pressure goes, this was a tournament-style game and we saw that Michigan can grind it out if they choose to. We all joke that the Wolverines are a team that lives and dies by the three ball, but they did not make a single one today and still found a way to win.
We are forced to root for the Buckeyes to pull out a win at Indiana on Tuesday in order to keep Michigan’s Big Ten Championship hopes alive, but crazier things have happened this season. Michigan goes on the road to Purdue Wednesday night and need to pull out another victory to get some momentum going into March.
Wednesday’s game in West Lafayette tips at 7pm.