Thursday was supposed to be the first big test for Michigan.
A team with five freshmen in the rotation was supposed to struggle in Big Ten play — even the Fab Five never won a conference championship — so the league opener at Northwestern was a game that could be a problem.
Give the kids an A-plus.
Michigan (14-0, 1-0 Big Ten) scored the first 10 points of the game and never looked back, routing the shorthanded Wildcats 94-66 with all five starters scoring in double figures.
“We wanted to come out and make a statement right out of the gate in Big Ten play,” junior Jordan Morgan, one of the team’s seasoned veterans, said on WWJ Newsradio 950’s postgame show. “We had a couple extra days to get ready for this game, so we were even more prepared than normal.”
Reggie Hearn, the Wildcats’ leading scorer, was one of several players on the sidelines with injuries. Michigan knew that and was happy to take advantage.
“Northwestern was missing Hearn and (Drew) Crawford, but they did the best they could,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., who was returning from an ankle injury. “We wanted to keep executing and keep moving on offense. We knew we were going to make mistakes, but we didn’t want to hang our heads. We just wanted to keep going and make the next play.”
The juniors both played well — Hardaway scored 21 and Morgan had a 12-point, 13-rebound performance — but they got plenty of help from the younger players. Freshmen Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III each had 10 points, and Caris LeVert added six more off the bench.
The star, though? Once again, it was Trey Burke. Burke, with 23 points, including 13 in the first five minutes of the game, continued to make his case as the nation’s best point guard.
The Wolverines led 33-13 early, then started the second half with another run to put the game away.
“It’s really important to come out like that at the beginning of the game and the beginning of the second half, especially against that team,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “They’ve got the kind of shooters who can knock down four straight 3-pointers and turn around a game in a hurry.
“We worked hard to make sure that didn’t happen, and we played at a very high level.”
The Wolverines had their usual hot shooting night, averaging 1.44 points per shot, but they also dominated the offensive glass. Led by Morgan and freshman Mitch McGary, Michigan grabbed 38 percent of its own misses.
When a team is shooting well and rebounding a large number of its misses, it’s not surprising when it threatens to score 100 points.
“Northwestern plays a lot of zone, and with Jordan and Mitch, we were able to get a couple players underneath them,” Beilein said. “Jordan’s always been a great offensive rebounder, and it seems like Mitch gets every ball he touches, so that kept a lot of plays alive.”
The Wolverines know they aren’t going to flirt with 30-point wins very often in the Big Ten, especially on the road. But if they keep up the level that they showed Thursday, and through the 13-game non-conference schedule, they are going to be in the title hunt right up until the season finale against Indiana.