The Beauty and the Beast: Breaking Down Michigan's Big Ten Identity Issues

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The Beauty and the Beast: Breaking Down Michigan's Big Ten Identity Issues
USA TODAY Sports

A tear in Michigan star Trey Burke's jersey forced him to switch from No. 3 to No. 12 early on Thursday night at Minnesota. 

It would have been a symbolic occurrence had the jersey swap taken place five days sooner in Columbus, Ohio. On this night, the beautiful game that Burke orchestrates was back in a much-needed 83-75 win over Minnesota at The Barn. 

This is what we had come to expect from the Michigan team that started 16-0: Burke with nine assists and one turnover; Tim Hardaway Jr. scoring 21 points on an efficient 7-of-8 shooting; Michigan making 50 percent of its threes (10-of-20) and 58 percent of its twos (18-of-31). 

The most efficient offense in the country is looking like it. 

But before we move on and think all is well for John Beilein's club, let's not forget that muddy mess in Columbus over the weekend. The Buckeyes unveiled some flaws. 

Notably, you take away Burke's penetration and play-making, as Aaron Craft was able to do, and this offense can be stopped. Burke had a forgettable line against Ohio State (15 points on 4-of-13 shooting, four assists, four turnovers), and his team shot 6-of-20 from three. When tested, they chucked without much thought. 

The spread-and-kick attack that Beilein has built this season is reminiscent of Missouri last season. Frank Haith put four perimeter players around one big man and the result was, like Michigan, the most efficient offense in the country. 

The undoing of Missouri in the NCAA tournament—a first-round exit to Norfolk State—would be its defense, and the concerns are there for Michigan. 

In the KenPom.com era (since 2003), no team has won the national title finishing outside of the top 20 in defensive efficiency. Heading into Thursday night, Michigan ranked 45th. 

Improving that defense throughout the year could be the key to a run in March, although signs point to progress. Minnesota became the first Big Ten opponent to hang more than 70 points on the Wolverines. There's also the fact that they rank second in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. 

We still have a lot to learn about this team, which played only its fourth true road game. This night, however, was about getting Michigan back to sharing the ball and running offense that's easy on the eyes. 

And No. 12 was up for the challenge. 

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