Every team in the country at the top has a "but" right now. For No. 2 Michigan, it's that this team is obviously great offensively, BUT is John Beilein's squad good enough defensively to be elite?
The latest proof that the answer is leaning toward "yes" took place in a 68-53 win over Purdue on Thursday night.
The Boilermakers gave the Wolverines a bit of a scare early—knocking down seven of their first 11 threes—but it was more the neighbor kid saying "boo" than an actual threat.
Michigan was at home, against the team that came into the game with the 134th most efficient offense, according to KenPom.com, and the outcome was pretty certain.
What we're learning about the Wolverines is that they have a defensive switch they are able to hit when they're ready to pull away.
The Big Lead had an interesting piece on Wednesday examining teams that are best at recording "Shutdown Stretches", which the writer Mark Beshuk defined as holding an opponent scoreless for four-plus minutes. Michigan is the team at the top of this list that you wouldn't expect with 23 shutdown stretches on the season—now 24 after Thursday night.
Two of those stretches came in Michigan's only loss at Ohio State, a game that the Wolverines' defense, not their offense, helped them get back in the game after trailing by 21.
Yet for some reason, Michigan's defense has not stood up over time as one of the best in the country, ranking No. 41 in KenPom.com's defensive efficiency ratings going into Thursday's game. The reason for this is Michigan's opponents shoot a decent percentage and Michigan doesn't force a lot of turnovers.
What the Wolverines do well defensively is they hold opponents to one shot—they grab 74.4-percent of opponents' misses, one of the best marks in the country—and they don't foul often. Only St. Joseph sends its opponents to the line less frequently.
That was the blueprint against Purdue. Even when the Boilermakers were hitting early, it was fool's gold. Eventually, the Wolverines stretched out their defense to take away good looks and the Boilermakers didn't have any answers other than to take contested shots the rest of the way.
They weren't getting to the line—they shot seven free-throws—and they weren't getting many opportunities at second-chance points—they had eight offensive rebounds, which was actually a higher rate than Michigan usually gives up.
Michigan also had one of its patented shutdown stretches, going on a 10-0 run to take the lead and go ahead by nine in the second half.
The Wolverines aren't quite stingy, but their streaky enough defensively that when combined with their offense, they have as close to a complete team as any other in the Big Ten.
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