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).