Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Michigan-Western Michigan: It's Good To Be The King


#3 Michigan (8-0) 73, Western Michigan 41 (6-2)

As a freshman in 2007, I went to every single home game during what was John Beilein's first season in Ann Arbor. Michigan went 10-22 that year, including a December loss against Central Michigan at home. That CMU team finished the 2007-08 season with a 14-17 record. It was one of many stultifying losses in a season marked by transition, not unlike the 3-9 2008 football season. 

Fast forward through four entire seasons, and here we are. You might as well be Philip J. Fry, emerging from millennium of cryogenic sleep to find himself in the brave new world that is the 31st century. 

This isn't the Michigan basketball of yesteryear, when turning it over 23 teams against a mediocre Michigan directional school was met with nothing more than resignation. 

Even as Michigan struggled through most of the first half, they held an 8-point lead about 14 minutes into the game. Even when Michigan was sloppy with the ball or when the shots didn't fall, there was never a sense that this MAC team existed in the same plane of competence as Michigan, as was the case with CMU back in 2007. 

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With THJ shooting just 2-for-7 from the field and Nik Stauskas failing to connect from beyond the arc through over 15 minutes of first half play, Michigan looked to its trusty point guard to navigate it through the mildly choppy waters of the early stages. Burke was on in the first half this time around, unlike the past couple games when Michigan only needed him to facilitate the offense; Burke was 4-for-5 with 10 points and two steals through 16 minutes of play, powering Michigan to a 27-15 lead late in the half. 

After some sloppy play bogged Michigan down early on, the Wolverines settled down and continued to feast on Western's own carelessness throughout most of the half. The Broncos accrued 12 turnovers by the 3:56 mark, five of them Michigan steals (a pair from Burke and Morgan each and one from Stauskas). 

Michigan bled the shot clock on its next possession. Burke meandered around on the right side, and with only three seconds left on the shot clock, tossed it to newly minted contributor Caris LeVert at the top of the key. He rose, fired, and sank a trey to put Michigan up 15. 

On its next possession, Stauskas finally hit his first three of the game to put Michigan up 16. It probably says something that I'm using the word "finally" to describe a sequence during which a freshman hits a three in the first half of a game. 

For Michigan's next trick, THJ penetrated in the lane and found an open Mitch McGary at the basket for an open layup. 

I defy you to find a sequence of possessions such as the aforementioned trio in the entire body of work that was the 2007-08 season. I'm willing to guess that Michigan was not able to pull off an unbroken stretch of cold-blooded competence very many times way back then, against a Michigan directional school or not. 

Despite a relatively forgettable first half, Trey Burke and defense carried Michigan to a 35-21 halftime lead. 

Halftime Stats
--Michigan (1.04 PPP) 

--WMU (0.66 PPP)
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By the 7-minute mark of the second half, Michigan had built up a 27-point lead, 61-34. The Broncos were shooting 31.6% from the field at this point, with Darius Paul the only double-digit scorer (and even he was just 3-for-11 from the field). 

Unlike the Bradley game, there was no hanging around for Michigan's overmatched opponent. It was a masterful half in which Michigan completely suffocated a WMU offense that was already pretty bad in the first half, and the offensive end was a 20-minute Michigan bicep flex. 

Up 70-36 late, Michigan was able to roll out a lineup of Vogrich-Albrecht-LeVert-McLimans-Horford for the home stretch (Corey Person and Eso Akunne came in at around the 2-minute mark).

Michigan blew up the 22-point spread in what ended up being a smashing 32-point victory. In case you just roused yourself from a 5-year nap, no, it is decidedly not 2007. In a vacuum, a win like this is as memorable as a random face on the subway. But, with the memory of 2007 in mind, wins like these are prominent points of divergence, counterpoints to a once fundamental incompetence. 

It is a brave new world indeed.

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