Dienhart: Michigan should be 'confident, cocky'

INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan comes at foes in waves. Ready or not, here come the Wolverines. And, god bless if you aren’t ready, because you’ll be run off the floor, up the ramp and out the door. The start of today’s game with Ohio State was a perfect example. There was …

A Nik Stauskas three-pointer.

A Glenn Robinson III three-pointer.

A Caris LeVert three-pointer.

Two GR3 jumpers.

A Jordan Morgan slam.

Just like that, it was 15-2 with only 4:25 off the clock.

Thad Matta hadn’t even broken a sweat and his offensively challenged team already was in a deep hole.

And on it went … all afternoon in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. Sure, Michigan had to hold on late, but  it shot 53.2 percent, including 52.2 percent from deep, en route a 72-69 decision and advancing to the Big Ten Tourney championship game on Sunday.

By the way, this is the Wolverines’ first trip to the title tilt since they won the inaugural event in 1998 behind the MVP performance of the late Robert “Tractor” Traylor. That title has since been vacated.

This is a confident Michigan team—maybe even a bit cocky. (Check out Stauskas strutting after he drains a three-pointer, often making a hand or face gesture.) But so what? Michigan should be confident. It should be cocky. It has earned that right.

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“The ball is really bouncing our way,” said John Beilein.”

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe, but Michigan is good, brother. REALLY good. It may even be good enough to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney if it wins the whole shebang here in Indy.

Michigan is king of the Big Ten, wearing the crown after winning the regular-season title by three games. And the Wolverines clinched the outright title—the program’s first since 1986 when Roy Tarpley, Antoine Joubert and Gary Grant were wearing out opponents—with almost a week left in the season. This in what many billed as the “best conference in America.”

Michigan did all of this without Trey Burke, the 2013 Big Ten Player of the Year. Sharp-shooting wing Tim Hardaway Jr. also departed early for the NBA. On top of that attrition, the Wolverines got only eight measly games from emerging big man and 2012-13 stud Mitch McGary, whose game uniform has become slacks and a sport coat because of a bad back.

Regardless, Michigan pressed on and surprised by sitting on the conference throne, going 15-3 in the regular season. It will take a 25-7 overall mark into Sunday. No one saw this back in November.

Today’s game was yet another thriller in what has been a heart-stopping Big Ten tourney. These teams met once this season with Michigan taking a 70-60 win in Columbus. The Wolverines’ second victory over their fierce rival didn’t come any easier.

Despite the aforementioned shooting numbers, Michigan could not put away Ohio State. Stauskas did his part, scoring a team-high 18 points. LeVert added 17, while Robinson had 11.

Ohio State played from behind almost the entire game, trailing by as many as 16 points in the first half when it fell behind 32-16. But the relentless Buckeyes persisted, outscoring Michigan 21-9 from that point on to close the Wolverines’ lead to 41-37 at the break.

Ohio State is used to battling. It has all season in what has been a wild ride for the Buckeyes. They opened with a 15-0 mark, rising as high as No. 3 in the nation. OSU then lost five of six. That was followed by six wins in seven games. The Buckeyes then lost two in a row. And they rode a three-game winning streak into this tilt with Michigan.

The defense has been top-notch all year, the best in the Big Ten. Look it up. But the offense has had its issues, especially in the half court. And the shooting has been spotty. But on this day, Ohio State’s offensive game was on–fed by its defense, of course.

The Buckeyes shot 48.2 percent and hit 7-of-19 from three-point range (36.8). OSU outscored Michigan in the paint (32-18) and had 16 fast-break points. The Buckeyes’ bench even outscored Michigan’s, 21-10.

Ohio State kept pressing in the second half and finally erased all of that massive Michigan lead when Shannon Scott made an alley-oop pass to Sam Thompson for an electric dunk with 7:58 left that raised the roof on the joint to give the Buckeyes a 61-60 lead. OSU led by as many as three with 4:12 left. But that’s when Michigan surged back—showing why it was the Big Ten’s best team all season.

The difference in the game was the shooting from long range, as Michigan had 12 treys and Ohio State had just seven, with Aaron Craft attempting one last desperation three-point bomb to tie the game in the dying seconds … only to see the ball slide out of his hands and drift to the floor.

Michigan wins! Which, honestly, is nothing new.

“We weren’t thinking about winning the Big Ten championship,” said Stauskas. “We were thinking of beating Ohio State.”

Now, Michigan can focus on winning the title.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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B1Gfan MI on 3/15/2014 @ 9:13pm EST Said:

The B1G Championship has already been won. However, breaking up the monotony of a late Winter Sunday afternoon, we can enjoy the “theatrics” of tommy izzo. We hope the Blue come through again, as I’m sure they will be prepared. The topper will be the “sideshow” on the MSC sideline . Pictures are worth a thousand words….