ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It’s certainly a new era for Michigan basketball.
A John Beilein team is destroying teams on the boards. Jordan Morgan is a low-post scorer. Trey Burke is even getting technical fouls for hanging on the rim after two-handed dunks.
It’s a whole different world, and after Saturday’s 80-67 win over Arkansas, the No. 3 Wolverines are 9-0 for the first time since the NCAA championship season of 1988-89.
“Right now, we know that, no matter what kind of run a team makes at us, we can fight them off,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. “We have so much depth and we play as a team that we don’t have any reason to panic. We know we are in good shape against anyone.”
A big part of the change this season has been Morgan, and it was never more obvious than Saturday. Morgan had 12 points and 10 rebounds, including six off the offensive glass.
“Everybody has a role on this team, and mine is to finish inside and get as many rebounds as I can,” he said. “That and defense — that’s pretty much my whole job description.”
Beilein agreed, saying that Morgan gave the Wolverines just what they needed.
“That has to be his M.O.,” he said. “We want a high-energy guy who defends the heck out of someone and grabs rebounds. If he does that, the rest will come for him. When he’s playing like he did today, we’re getting extra possessions, and we’re not giving them up. That’s big.”
Michigan finished with 18 offensive rebounds while the Razorbacks had just 16 defensive rebounds.
“Jordan has been huge for us this season,” Burke said. “Today, he had the double-double, and you see that in the box score, but he’s done so many things all year that have made our team much better. He keeps possessions alive, he’s getting defensive rebounds, but he’s also setting screens and shutting guys down in the post. Most of his game is about energy and the little things that you don’t see in a box score, but it makes us better.”
The Razorbacks beat Michigan last season in Fayetteville, but coach Mike Anderson acknowledged that the inside presence of Morgan and Mitch McGary has changed the Wolverines.
“That team is really tough in the trenches this year,” he said. “They’ve got guys like Burke and Hardaway, who are great players, but now they’ve got blue-collar guys like Morgan and McGary who are keeping possessions alive. I thought our defense was effective — they only shot 47 percent — but part of playing defense is to finish the deal by grabbing the rebound. We didn’t do that tonight.”
Michigan’s rebounding was a big reason they were able to survive a sloppy start to the second half. The Wolverines led by 10 at the break, but the Razorbacks cut the lead to 1 point with 8:48 left. Nik Stauskas and Spike Albrecht hit 3-pointers to make it a seven-point lead, and the Wolverines’ advantage on the glass kept Arkansas from getting back into the game.
“That was a big stretch, because we had Trey on the bench, but Spike hit that 3 and got a big assist,” Beilein said. “In a game with this kind of pace, you need to have people that can come in off the bench and do that.”
Burke didn’t stay on the bench long — he finished with 34 minutes — but the break gave him enough rest for a rare two-handed dunk and an even rarer technical for hanging on the rim.
“It wasn’t a matter of jumping too high,” joked Burke, who has only dunked a handful of times in his two seasons at Michigan. “I was just going too fast. I thought someone was behind me, so I was going about 100 mph, and I thought I better hang on so I didn’t kill myself. It was kind of embarrassing when I realized that no one had been anywhere near me.”
The Razorbacks split the ensuing free throws — just their third and fourth attempts of the game — but the game was long decided.
“I’ll have to look at the film, because they don’t call those very often,” Beilein said. “He must have done something, but I’m not sure what Trey could possibly do up there.”