Free Press sports writers Nick Baumgardner and Orion Sang dissect Michigan’s 76-57 win over Purdue, Dec. 1, 2018 at Crisler Center.
Orion Sang and Nick Baumgardner, Detroit Free Press
John Beilein woke up Saturday morning and threw away the remnants of his November calendar with a parting thought.
“Pretty good month,” Beilein smiled.
Michigan basketball’s November success carried into December on Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor. For the second time this week, a top-10 offense entered the Crisler Center. And for the second time this week, Michigan barely broke a sweat.
With a 76-57 thumping of Purdue, Beilein’s club is the Big Ten’s lone remaining unbeaten at 8-0. No one has come within 17 points of this team. Michigan has played three ranked opponents already, one on the road, and scored three wins by an average margin of 21 points.
Beilein is the epitome of a planner, probably even a worrier. His mind constantly focuses on what the immediate future has in store and what possible pitfalls he’ll have to work his way around during the course of a five-month season.
Asked Saturday if he’s having a hard time right now finding those trouble spots, he quickly shot that notion down.
“Oh, I’m finding things,” he said. “Same way as always. It’s ‘what can we do better?’ “
Knowing Beilein, there’s little doubt this is true.
But the number of things this team isn’t good at right now can probably be counted on one hand. A small hand. Possibly half-closed.
Michigan’s level of punishing, balanced efficiency through the first month of the season has only been matched by a handful of teams nationally. Duke has more lottery talent than anyone. Gonzaga beat Duke. Kansas is really good. So is Virginia.
But, so far, Michigan is absolutely on that dance floor.
Saturday’s win over Purdue was basically an extension of the pounding Michigan handed North Carolina on Wednesday. Which was an extension of the pounding the Wolverines handed Villanova on the road earlier this season and every other pounding in between.
Michigan’s defense refused to allow Purdue — who ranked No. 6 nationally in offensive efficiency prior to tipoff — to breathe and ultimately morphed into another display of why this team looks as good as it does.
“They can beat you in the 90s and they can beat you in the 60s,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said afterward. “And I think they can do it against quality people.”
This is, potentially, the difference between this Michigan club and the other elite groups Beilein has had over the years. Painter remarked how far Beilein’s teams have come with regard to overall evolution. He was here in 2013 and 2014 when Michigan’s Final Four and Elite Eight teams entered every game with the mindset of racing an opponent to 80. Last year’s club was the best defensive group of the Beilein era, though it took a few months for the offense to catch up.
This team is basically good at everything.
Jordan Poole hit all five 3-pointers he took Saturday. Center Jon Teske, who might become the cover star of strength coach Jon Sanderson’s next book, put up 30-plus minutes for the second time this week — flushing two alley-oop slams at the rim while going 2-for-2 from long range on his way to 17 points and eight boards.
Zavier Simpson got into the lane whenever he wanted. Charles Matthews continued his maturation from talented athlete trying to be a basketball player to basketball player who also happens to be a talented athlete.
Michigan hit 13 3-pointers, going 9 of 15 in the first half alone. The Wolverines held Purdue to its worst shooting day of the year (35.5 percent) and did it all without fouling, as the Wolverines were whistled for just nine violations all game.
There’s not a lot to pick at here.
“We’ll have to win the in face of adversity, win in the face of foul trouble, win in the face of when people just can’t make a shot,” Beilein said afterward, almost eagerly awaiting what it might be like when his team finally faces a bump in the road here. “(We have to do those things) before we find out if we’re really good.”
Beilein has been doing this long enough to know how long the year is. He also knows college basketball teams can look like unbeatable on a Monday before looking like a YMCA group on a Thursday. Michigan will go through its share of difficult moments this season to be sure.
It’s not always going to be this easy.
But it might be for a while.
The Wolverines will visit Northwestern on Tuesday night before finishing non-conference play with home games against a sluggish South Carolina team, Western Michigan, Air Force and Binghamton. Michigan re-opens Big Ten play Jan. 3 against Penn State before hosting Indiana Jan. 6. Neither is a pushover. Northwestern isn’t either, the Wildcats are off to a 6-2 start.
The Big Ten overall looks better than most believed it would when the season began.
But one month in, Michigan looks like the clear favorite.
Roy Williams left Ann Arbor on Wednesday claiming he’d never been more frustrated in his 31 years as a coach. Painter walked out Saturday with a bit of a shrug, knowing his team — which has better ball ahead of it — ran into a chainsaw with a jump shot.
Beilein, meanwhile, will go on with business as usual. Dissecting everything with a magnifying glass, doing all in his power to shield his team from seeing all this praise.
Even if it’s impossible to ignore.
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.