Michigan basketball torched SMU 76-54, to stand as victors of the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden. Much like Marquette the night before, the Mustangs never stood a chance.
Not too often do teams at this juncture of the season put together complete games, but the Wolverines doubted each and every early-season trouble with a booming win over a quality opponent from a well-respected conference.
They checked off every statistical box, out-played the Mustangs, and stood humble after the final buzzer, knowing there were more games to win and things to clean up.
But not many things.
Michigan shot 53 percent from the floor, 42 percent from downtown, 82 percent from the charity stripe. They compiled 16 assists and four turnovers, ripping six steals and tallying four blocks.
The Wolverines did it all. An early gut punch avalanched into a nearly 20-point halftime lead. Despite a cute pair of three-pointers by SMU to open up the second half, the Wolverines snarled, putting the game out of reach.
“It’s too early to even think about that,” head coach John Beilein said in reply to a question regarding good teams and great ones. He quickly dismissed the question, falling back on coach speak and practicing. It’s coach speak, but he’s correct in his assessment. Just as great teams lose early, it all comes to a head in March.
But deep down Beilein knows how dominant this group looks. There’s a caveat to his whole fear of calling this current team great. It’s because his 2012-13 team took out Pitt and Kansas State to win the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York City, pushing out to an early 5-0 start to the season. That squad would lose to Louisville in the National Championship Game.
That’s why Beilein focuses on tomorrow.
“Everything is so valuable,” he said. “We’ve got three shots and one of those is the non-conference games. You can’t lose the ones you shouldn’t lose and you’ve got to get enough neutral wins and away wins. So this is four [wins].”
But from the bottom to the top, through their point guard Derrick Walton Jr. and big scorer Zak Irvin, Michigan has played solid basketball. Those two combined for 11 assists and one turnover.
“For us, we always talk about, ‘don’t let the ball stick,’” Irvin said. “And I think that showed tonight…if we don’t have something immediately, we just like to get the ball around.”
The Wolverines, who didn’t crack the AP Preseason Top 25, and emerged as a whisper in the Big Ten, have to keep piling wins to get back to that national recognition. A road trip to South Carolina, home dates with Virginia Tech and Texas, and a trip to Los Angeles to face UCLA should take care of Michigan’s strength of schedule.
But as of Friday, the Wolverines have showed no signs of stopping and have rare moments of vulnerability. To win in New York gives a team like Michigan confidence to maybe swirl together some of the magic of 2012-13.
“Feels great,” Irvin said. “We’re champions in the Garden.”