Michigan showed both inexperience and poise in their first two conference matchups. Against Wisconsin they seemed to be completely lacking in the ability to stop the Badgers offense. When they played Illinois they wore their opponent down over the course of the game and eventually took the fight out of the Illini.
However i was able to see some hopeful things out of that particular game. The first was that Zack Novak is one of the most resilient players in the nation, hitting three pointers with multiple hands in his face and playing uneffected by the struggles of Manny Harris and then injured Deshawn Sims.
Everybody knew Illinois was going to be a big test for this team, they were a good team but some people were unsure how good they were. They had lost to a top ten Clemson team and beaten a top ten Purdue team a few days earlier in overtime on the road. Michigan however was not impressed, they came out and decided to throw the kitchen sink at them with the three point shot which kept it close as the Illini shot 58% from the field during the first half yet led by a single point.
In the second half, the 1-3-1 defense that Coach Beilein is famous for took over and forced turnovers and bad contested shots. On top of that there were a few moments during that game where i saw Michigan playing a very solid man to man defense, especially on in bounds plays, they were forcing Illinois to scramble to find open men and when screens were set, someone was always around to help pick up the slack.
I was glad to see Deshawn Sims playing like a man again, after fighting through the Wisconsin game with a bad toe, and Zack Novak is a warrior out there after getting hit by a moving screen from Alex Legion that ended up forcing a turnover for a fast break to Manny Harris as Novak's eyebrow bled. Fortunately he came back which shows not only how resilient the Wolverines are, but also how they play with so much of a sense of purpose that silly things like bleeding eyebrows can't hold them down. Hopefully the maize and blue machine will continue their rolling through the big ten schedule with games against Iowa and Indiana this upcoming week, before going to Champaign for the rematch of today's game and the hosting of the Ohio State Buckeyes on January 17.