'White collar' Michigan defense struggles in 85-69 loss to Illinois

'White collar' Michigan defense struggles in 85-69 loss to Illinois
  1. 'White collar' Michigan defense struggles in 85-69 loss to Illinois
    Six from Illinois (64% shooting) score in double figures; Wilson cans 19 for…
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Free Press sports writer Mark Snyder breaks down what went wrong for the Wolverines in the 85-69 loss Wednesday in Champaign, Ill. Video by Mark Snyder/DFP

Six from Illinois (64% shooting) score in double figures; Wilson cans 19 for U-M

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Michigan came to Illinois looking at a similar team in record, talent level and expectations.

The Wolverines left dispirited and devastated after being blown out of the State Farm Center Wednesday by Illinois, 85-69, reaching a new low in this rapidly descending season.

It looked awfully familiar with an opponent hitting open jumpers and bombing three-pointers. Yet this was worse than anything U-M (11-6, 1-3 Big Ten) had endured in its three competitive Big Ten games to open the season.


This was Illinois attacking early and never letting up, shooting 62.5% in the first half and then improving to 66.7% in the second half for the second-best opponent shooting game all season.

It was the Illini hitting eight of their first 10 three-pointers and blowing the game open, leading by 13 at halftime and a name-your-score 20-point edge for much of the second half.

"Really even a tough game for this coach to understand," U-M coach John Beilein said. "Obviously, Illinois played very well and shot the ball very well again and we didn't guard very well. That's the story of the game."

Recently, it's the story of every game in the Big Ten.

The opponents' three-point shooting percentage in the four Big Ten games: 58% for Iowa, 42% for Penn State, 67% for Maryland and now 64% for Illinois.

Michigan forward Moritz Wagner (13) and Illinois guard Te'Jon Lucas (3) eye a loose ball during the second half of U-M's 85-69 loss Wednesday in Champaign, Ill. (Photo: Rick Danzl, AP)

"The ball is real small and the basket's really big when you're playing Michigan right now," Beilein said, adding that he's never had a defensive team with these problems.

It's a helpless feeling for Beilein at this point. He insisted yet again it's not the defensive scheme that's the problem, but instead the players' slow processing and adjustments.

U-M point guard Derrick Walton Jr. said he expects it will turn around and Michigan has "the potential to be a great defensive team despite the numbers. Within the team, we still have great concentration on that side of the ball. As quick as we can excuse the mistakes, I think that will be all the difference for us."

Yet Wednesday only made that appear even more unlikely.

Walton's ball bounce after the whistle with 3 1/2 minutes to go in the first half drew a technical foul and ignited the Illini (12-5, 2-2). The game that was tied at 34 when he went to the bench became a 13-point halftime deficit, a margin that Michigan never got below nine the rest of the way.

That's where the game fell apart for the Wolverines. But, given their defense, it probably wouldn't have mattered.

Even though Illinois' Jalen Coleman-Lands dropped 4 of 5 three-pointers, looking like so many other guards against the Wolverines, the damage came down low.

Four Illinois big men reached double figures, led by Maverick Morgan's 16, and it was essentially a parade of hook shots and baseline jumpers.

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Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) loses the ball after being fouled by Illinois forward Leron Black (12) during the first half Wednesday in Champaign, Ill.  Rick Danzl, AP Fullscreen Michigan guard Derrick Walton Jr. (10) goes up between Illinois guard Jalen Coleman-Lands (5) and Illinois forward Kipper Nichols (2) during the first half Wednesday in Champaign, Ill.  Rick Danzl, AP Fullscreen Illinois center Maverick Morgan (22) shoots over Michigan forward Moritz Wagner (13) during the first half Wednesday in Champaign, Ill.  Rick Danzl, AP Fullscreen Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12) pressures Illinois guard Te'Jon Lucas (3) during the first half Wednesday in Champaign, Ill.  Rick Danzl, AP Fullscreen Michigan forward D.J. Wilson (5) defends Illinois guard Jalen Coleman-Lands (5) during the 1st half Wednesday in Champaign, Ill.  Mike Granse USA TODAY Sports Fullscreen Michigan guard Zak Irvin (21) defends Illinois guard Malcolm Hill (21) during the 1st half Wednesday in Champaign, Ill.  Mike Granse USA TODAY Sports Fullscreen Illinois forward Leron Black (12) shoots defended by Michigan forward D.J. Wilson (5) during the 1st half Wednesday in Champaign, Ill.  Mike Granse USA TODAY Sports Fullscreen

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There were big men barely on the scouting report tearing them up -- Kipper Nichols entered the game having played only 16 minutes all season, making two shots and yet had 13 points on 6 of 9 shooting on Wednesday -- and others like Leron Black, who had 10.

"Everything that they were doing out there we saw on film," said U-M forward D.J. Wilson, who scored 19 but couldn't help contain at the other end. "They hit a lot of short rolls, a lot of 15-footers. Maverick in general. He was 8-for-9 from the field and it felt like he didn't miss one of those. We scouted it, we watched a lot of film, th…

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