FINAL: Michigan 78, Illinois 68
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Mark Donnal career-high 26 points, career-high 9 rebounds. Caris LeVert 22 points, 10 assists.
Kendrick Nunn 23 points. Jalen Coleman-Lands 13 points. Malcolm Hill season-low 9 points.
Michigan 68, Illinois 55; 5:13 left 2H
Second half scoring update: Michigan 34, Illinois 18. Mark Donnal update: career-high 22 points.
Michigan 59, Illinois 48; 10:52 left 2H
Michigan leads the second half 25-11. Michigan is 9-for-16 FG in the second half, including 5-for-7 from three. Illinois is 5-for-17 in the 2H, including 1-for-7 from three.
Michigan 43, Illinois 39; 16:53 left 2H
Michigan starts the second half on a 9-2 run. Stop me if you've seen tthis movie before. Mark Donnal has a career high 15 today. Illinois can't stop him.
HALF: Illinois 37, Michigan 34
Nice response by the Illini to finish the half on an 8-2 run. Jalen Coleman-Lands (11 points) hit two big threes.
- Kendrick Nunn (13 points) playing at an All-Big Ten level
- Illini FG%: 50 percent
- Illini 3FG: 6-for-13
- Michigan turnovers: 10 (6 Illini steals)
- Michigan 3FG: 3-for-10
- Illinois points off turnovers: 14
- Illini 8 assists on 14 FGs
- Three or four offensive fouls
- Nunn 2 fouls
- Mav Morgan 2
- Eight team turnovers
- Duncan Robinson 1-for-4 3FG
- Michigan 7 second-chance points
- Mark Donnal 8 points on Michael Finke
- Hill 3 points on 1-for-6 FG
- Finke 2 points on 0-for-2 FG
- Caris LeVert (14 points, 5 assists) is the best player on the court
Michigan 31, Illinois 29; 2:37 left 1H
Just like that Michigan has the lead. This offense is good, and Caris LeVert (14 points) is a pro. Michigan is on a 9-0 run and has made 7 of their last 8 shots.
Illinois 29, Michigan 22; 4:28 left 1H
Kendrick Nunn is playing at such a high level. He's carried the Illini early (13 points). Hill and JCL are starting to help too.
The Illini have shut down the Michigan perimeter game (1-6 three) but Mark Donnal (8 points) is tearing up Michael Finke in a two-man game with Caris LeVert.
Michigan has made its last four FGs but has nine turnovers this half.
Michigan 14, Illinois 14; 8:27 left 1H
If you told me both Malcolm Hill and Michael Finke would go scoreless for the first 11:37 and Illinois would be tied, I'd take it.The two are a combined 0-for-6.
Michigan 12, Illinois 11; 12:24 left 1H
Illinois brought their defensive intensity early, but Michigan is still ahead. The first two Michigan possessions each took up the full 30 seconds and resulted in two turnovers. They're closing hard on Duncan Robinson and making life difficult for Walton and LeVert, who has 9 points.
The Illini have four turnovers on their first six possessions, and Mav Morgan had two: an offensive foul and a three seconds call. Kendrick nunn has 5 points and three rebounds. Jaylon Tate has four.
Sleepy crowd for this matinee game. There will still be 10,000+ here but students are on break and some ticket holders are at work so there won't be as much energy.
10 minutes to tipoff
Illinois starters: Jaylon Tate, Jalen Coleman-Lands, Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill and Michael Finke.
That is the first time this season the Illini have had the same starters in three straight games. Michael Finke and Malcolm Hill said that recent consistent has allowed team to start to understand their roles in the rotation better.
30 minutes to tipoff
Why is this a 2 p.m. tipoff (same as last year, by the way)? Because ESPN said so. Most of Illinois' revenue comes from the Big Ten Network's TV deal -- way more than ticket revenue -- so it does what ESPN says. With many off work during the holidays, ESPN fills today with college basketball games before the next few days are dominated by college football.
The Big Ten will be interesting this season. A lot of good teams, but who are the great ones? When Denzel Valentine is healthy, Michigan State is elite. When they don't have him, they're mid-tier -- as evidenced by Iowa's blowout win last night over Sparty. Purdue is just OK at point guard, but they're my pick to win the conference. They have the best post rotation in the country and they're full of tough, big wings on the perimeter. Maryland is the most talented team but that team is still jelling.
I think Indiana, Michigan and Iowa are all NCAA Tournament teams.
There are a bunch of bubble teams. Ohio State has talent but it's young. Wisconsin isn't your typical Wisconsin team. No Bo Ryan and it probably won't finish top-4 for the first time in more than a decade and a half. Injuries have really hurt Illinois, who enters B1G play needing 10 or 11 wins to make the tournament, and Northwestern, who enters B1G play probably needing to go 9-9 to make its first NCAA Tournament.
Penn State is probably the toughest of the bottom-tier teams, but they Minnesota, Nebraska and Rutgers are longshots.
40 minutes to tipoff
ESPN analyst Dan Dakich is having a long talk with his son, Andrew -- a Michigan walk-on -- on the sideline as the two teams warm up. Dakich has played in four games, is averaging 8.3 mpg and 1.0 ppg.
I must admit, I'm a huge fan of John Beilein. I think he's one of the best X's and O's coaches in the country. He's run his system successfully for decades and has made Michigan into one of the Big Ten's premier basketball programs again. He's also a great identifier of talent and fit: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas. His staff has also landed some blue-chip guys in the past: Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr.
His latest great find is Duncan Robinson. The sophomore transfer is averaging 12.5 ppg and shooting a gaudy 59.5 percent from three. He has made 47 threes in 13 games, compared to seven two-point makes.
Who is Robinson? A Division III transfer from Williams College. Beilein received a tip from a former colleague to come watch Robinson, a 6-foot-8 sharpshooter who couldn't be stopped by double- and triple-teams at D-III. The thought was he could be a walk-on. Beilein saw him and offered a scholarship. It's paid off.
Robinson is a perfect complement to LeVert and Walton -- great penetrators and distributors -- and a perfect fit in Beilein's offense. With his height, three-point accuracy and quick release, he has a chance at the NBA.
60 minutes to tipoff
Following news of Khalid Lewis coming down with the mumps, there's been a lot of "bubonic plague" jokes the last 24 hours. Seriously, what could be next for Illinois?
The bummer is that Lewis was playing his best basketball with Illinois. Over the past seven games, Lewis has 26 assists to just six turnovers. He also has played improved defense. He's still not great there -- he has great hands but is overaggressive at times -- but he's improved. He had logged 22-plus minutes in the last four games and had solidifed the point guard spot, a necessity with Jaylon Tate struggling.
Michigan has dealt with injuries the last two seasons too. Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr -- the Wolverines best three players -- all missed extensive time last year as Michigan missed the NCAA Tournament. LeVert is back on track as an All-Big Ten player (averaging 17.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.9 apg) and 1.1 spg) and likely NBA lottery pick. Walton missed three games but is playing really well (10.4 ppg, 4.3 apg, 52.8% 3FG). Irvin is struggling though (8.6 ppg, 20.0% 3FG).
Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman -- two guys who crushed Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament -- are both playing small roles, averaging 18 mpg each.
80 minutes to tipoff
D.J. Williams and Aaron Jordan are the first Illini on the court. With the rotation shorter, it's a big day for the freshmen.
WIth Lewis likely out, what will the Illini rotation look like? Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, Michael Finke and Jalen Coleman-Lands are all good bets to start and log 30 minutes (if JCL plays defense). Jaylon Tate hasn't played more than 20 minutes the last four games, despite starting. He'll likely have to top that mark today.
But the backup point guard likely is Hill. Groce has wanted to rest Hill more. He felt he rode him too hard earlier. But this is a huge game. I'd play Hill 37-40 minutes.
Jordan has struggle to get minute lately. He's 2 for his last 13 from three and has struggled on defense at times. Williams is improving. He's starting to realize his path to the court is energy, defense and rebounding. But he still has stretches of freshman moments, forcing action.
Mike Thorne Jr. is talking to a few fans on the sideline. He has a practice jersey on and a wrap on his injured left knee. It's been a month since his surgery to remove a torn meniscus. But he's still "out indefinitely" according to Groce.
100 minutes to tipoff
Jeremy Werner, Illini Inquirer publisher, here courtside at the State Farm Center as we prepare for Illinois' Big Ten opener, a matinee (2 p.m.) tipoff against Michigan (10-3).
The Illini women are on the court right now wrapping up practice. Matt Bollant's team (7-4) has lost three in a row and start Big Ten play against No. 6 Maryland 2 p.m. tomorrow here at SFC.
The Illini men (8-5) ride a five-game win streak into today's tipoff, but Illinois has no top-100 wins. Michigan has won 8 of 9 and has two top-100 wins. They've lost their three games against top-30 teams, all by at least 14 teams.
Michigan is not a juggernaut. They have weaknesses on the post and with depth at point guard due to Spike Albrecht's injury. But they can flat-out score and shoot. The Wolveries are 18th in the country in offensive efficency, fourth in effective field goal percentage, fifth in turnover rate, 10th in 3FG% and eighth in 2FG%.
Illinois is pretty good offensively too. But they're even MORE short-handed today. Khalid Lewis was in isolation the past few days due to a case of the mumps, a highly contagious illness.
So the Illini are without their, in my opinion, two top point guards (Abrams and Lewis) and two best rebounders (Mike Thorne Jr. and Leron Black).