| The Detroit News
Indiana coach Archie Miller has seen everything the Big Ten has to offer this season.
What he saw from No. 3 Michigan on Saturday was what nearly every other conference team already has witnessed: a well-oiled machine with seemingly no weaknesses.
“They deserve whatever word you want to use. Accolades, praise, they deserve it all,” Miller said after Michigan reeled off its seventh straight win in a 73-57 thumping at Assembly Hall.
“I know within our league, if you do what they’re doing, you’re the real deal.”
The Wolverines have steamrolled Big Ten competition, regardless of the venue. At home, they’re 7-0 with five wins by at least 19 points. On the road, they’re just as dominant with a 6-1 mark and four victories by double figures.
They lead the Big Ten in scoring margin during conference play at plus-12.4 points. They rank in the top five nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They have size, experience, depth and six players capable of scoring 15 points on any given night.
But what sets Michigan apart from the rest, Miller said, is its daunting defense.
“There’s a reason I think Michigan is championship good,” Miller said. “I think a lot of people will talk about their skill level and a lot of people are going to talk about their versatility and their ball movement and how hard they are to guard.
“I think they are one of the most difficult teams to play against on the other end of the floor. I mean, between (Franz) Wagner, (Isaiah) Livers and big Hunter (Dickinson), you’re looking at 6-10 to 6-9 to 7-2. And with Livers’ and Wagner’s ability to switch, things are very difficult across the board.”
Against the Hoosiers, the Wolverines mixed up their defensive looks and extended their pressure at times to disrupt their rhythm. And as the game wore on, things didn’t get any easier. Indiana mustered just 24 points in the second half and had as many turnovers (eight) as made field goals after halftime.
The Wolverines were particularly bothersome around the rim, where the Hoosiers finished 9-for-24 on layups and their big men never got any easy looks. Miller felt that played a big part in his team’s second-lowest scoring output of the season.
“I watched the Iowa game at length the other day and I saw the leading scorer in the country have a very difficult time scoring in that game as well,” Miller said, referencing the job Michigan did against Luka Garza in Thursday’s win.
“It’s tough to score with low post back-to-the-basket moves consistently against that type of size inside. And (Austin) Davis does a good job when they bring him in, too. He’s very underrated.”
Against Michigan’s bigs, Indiana star Trayce Jackson-Davis ran into a wall and could never get going. He entered the game as one of the premier scorers in the Big Ten at 20 points per game. By the end of it, Jackson-Davis turned in one of his worst offensive outings with a season-low 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting.
“The only way to slow someone that powerful and quick down on the block, especially by yourself, is make him go to his other hand,” senior forward Isaiah Livers said. “He can go both ways but he’s better going left, and we stayed true to our scouting report. We wanted him to take tough shots over his left shoulder, so he’d have to use his right hand.
“He had a bad day matched up against Hunter and Austin. We call them a two-headed monster. Going against big Austin and Hunter down there on the block is not easy.”
That’s something other elite big men in the Big Ten can attest to. Purdue’s Trevion Williams (Detroit Henry Ford Academy) shot a season-worst 31.6% from the floor and mustered 14 points on 19 field-goal attempts against the Davis-Dickinson tandem. Garza didn’t fare much better against the duo’s physicality, shooting a season-low 29.4% on 2-pointers (5-for-17) and finishing with 16 points on 19 shots.
“We have habits as (coach Juwan Howard) talks about and we stay as disciplined as possible,” Livers said. “I’m not going to give the secret away. You can watch the film and figure out what we do. We just do it to perfection.
“We’ve got to help out our big guys. We try to stay in gaps as much as possible. The Big Ten is full of perimeter shooting so we’re in, we’re out and it’s one-on-one. We practice that almost every day so big guys like Austin and Hunter are prepared for that.”
Regardless of the problems Michigan presents on both ends of the floor, Miller said it’s noticeable that the Wolverines play with a “great spirit.”
“That’s the one thing that probably you’d have to look at Michigan and look at the way they vibe,” Miller said. “They get after you. They play hard for one another. They have a great bounce to them. You can tell they’re very together and that’s a big part of what they’re doing.”
Couple that with a bevy of perimeter threats, a pair of nightmare wings, a dominant big man and an ability to beat anyone inside and outside on offense or defense, Michigan has all the makings of a team built for March.
“To me, Livers is the most difficult matchup for teams to figure out. Between Wagner and him, that’s a pick your poison sometimes between how you guard those two guys,” Miller said. “Big fella (Dickinson), he’s a problem too now. He’s as good as there’s going to get inside the box.
“To me, they’re complete. As they approach the finish here, they have a great opportunity to go as far as anybody in the country.”