Big Ten Tournament: Michigan survives late Illinois rally

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Michigan was humming offensively in the first half. The Wolverines used 30 possessions, scoring 1.26 points per possession on a combination of stellar long-range shooting (46 percent from three) and efficiency within the arc (58 percent). By the start of the second half, Illinois coach John Groce decided to implement a 2-3 zone, and UM’s offense sputtered: during a nine-minute stretch, until three minutes remained in the game, Michigan made just two buckets. Despite the Illini’s stout defense, and Michigan’s inability to score, John Beilein’s squad was able to survive, 64-63, allowing the top-seeded Big Ten team — the first time Michigan has ever attained the top seed — to advance.

The game’s two key plays involved pick and rolls. The first was a Michigan P&R: using Michigan’s what turned out to be UM’s final offensive possession, Nik Stauskas drove right and hit Jordan Morgan for the big’s second make of the contest. The second was the game’s final play, a Tracy Abrams drive into a wide-open yet short-armed floater (when Groce later watches film of the game, we can’t help but wonder whether he’ll bemoan this this Rayvonte Rice fast-break miss).

The win, however, masks what has to be a concern for the Wolverines: their inability to defend in Big Ten play. UM is allowing teams to score 1.06 PPP, the conference’s third worst defensive efficiency rating (which, coincidentally, was Illinois’ PPP in the loss). A popular metric in recent years to predetermine Final Four success is where a team’s PPP and OPPP ranks in Ken Pomeroy’s database. Regarding Michigan, they are offensively solid (ranked third in DI), but their defense nearly slides out of the top 100, and according to some intrepid research, the last Final Four team with a defense as porous as Michigan’s was the Marquette ’03 squad (which featured Dwyane Wade).

Marcus Paige, Joel Berry lead No. 9 North Carolina past No. 2 Maryland

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.

Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.

Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.

In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.

As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.

(More to come from Chapel Hill…)

VIDEO: Melo Trimble drops Nate Britt with a crossover

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North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.

(H/T: The Cauldron)