On a Different Level

Michigan showed why it's one of the top teams in the country Sunday. And Illinois demonstrated how dependent it is on the 3-point shot.

CHAMPAIGN - With teams ranked in the top five falling left and right this week, Michigan stands to claim the No. 1 spot when polls are released Monday.

And rightfully so, as Illinois' coach John Groce testified to following the Illini's 60-74 loss to the Wolverines Sunday.

"I think they're really good, obviously," Groce said. "They've got a lot of weapons."

Everything starts with Trey Burke, the sophomore star point guard who many consider one of the best players in the country. He's something a lot of teams don't have -- an efficient scorer who can create his own shot and open lanes up for others to score as well.

He had a game-high 19 points and five assists and five rebounds.

The Illini's game plan included switching on screens, which often times forced post players like Nnanna Egwu to guard Burke.

"Just trying to stay in front of him, trying to force him to take tough twos, tough shots," Egwu said. "Don't let him get by you, just try to contain him."

Michigan may be based around Burke, but he's not a one-man show. The Wolverines got 14 points from freshman Nik Stauskas, who was active without the ball and worked to get open for easy baskets. Tim Hardaway Jr., a junior who had the look of a steady leader, scored 12 points on only nine shots. Forward Glenn Robinson was equally efficient, adding 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

When starting forward Jordan Morgan went out early with an ankle injury, lesser-used reserves Mitch McGary and Jon Horford combined for 13 points.

The parts are comprised of talent, experience, depth, efficiency and consistency.

The sum of those parts equals excellence, which is a good label for this Michigan team and the way it's currently playing.

On the opposite end, the game offered a good case study of the Illini.

Illinois didn't play badly, as Groce said he liked his team's heart and mindset throughout the contest. And there were positives takeaways, too. Illinois out-rebounded Michigan and forced 12 turnovers. With Morgan out, the points from the big men of each team was essentially a wash, 25-19 in the Wolverines favor.

The Illini also played the 3-point line well on the defensive end, holding Michigan to 5-of-15 shooting, well below the Wolverines season average (41 percent).

With that noted, what the game boiled down to was shots. Michigan hit more shots than Illinois.

The Illini went 6-for-26 from downtown, while Michigan re-focused it's attack on breaking into the paint, both with dribble penetration and passing.

Michigan found ways around a lack of 3s with an unselfish offensive system, a well-timed set of plays that led to high percentage looks. A testament to the system, the Wolverines scored 32 points in the paint in the second half and finished the game with 53 percent shooting.

"We pride ourselves on having a togetherness, that we're trying to have really quality shots that we can hit," Wolverines coach John Beilein said.

Said Groce: "You've got to throw a couple in. We're in here all diagnosing this and that and looking and at the stat sheet. I thought we had some good looks today. I did. I thought we executed really well for the first 30 minutes, and we got what we wanted and we didn't make enough of them."

Illinois, meanwhile, had no answer when the long-range shots weren't going in.

There was no help from the bench. Joe Bertrand, Tyler Griffey and Myke Henry combined for 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting. There were no run-outs or open looks in transition as the Illini managed only four fast break points. And the team took only nine free throws, giving itself little chance to get to the line as 40 percent of the shots taken were from the 3-point line.

What the game provided was a look at a good team versus an elite team. Michigan has multiple ways to score baskets while Illinois is a make-or-break squad hinging on what happens on shots taken a long way from the basket. .

On nights the Illini shoot well, anything is possible. But in the Big Ten, without a star like Burke or a roster that provides for more than one or three scoring solutions, it's hard to keep up.

Beilein, who has coached many teams founded on 3-point shooting, offered a good summary of the situation facing Illinois following the game.

"My teams (in the past) have hit some incredible dry spells," Beilein said. "It can be difficult. You try and tell your guys maybe not to settle for 3s. At the same time, that's maybe why you're so good. So they'll shoot their way out of it eventually. It's a lot of hard work and everybody just hanging in there and believing in each other."

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