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Michigan makes a case as a title contender by beating NC State

Nov 27, 2012, 9:48 PM EDT

NIT Season Tip-Off - Michigan v Kansas State Getty Images

Nik Stauskas had 20 points and Trey Burke had 18 points and 11 assists while committing no turnovers as No. 3 Michigan knocked off No. 18 NC State 79-72.

The Wolverines were in complete control for much of this game, jumping out to a 14 point first half lead and pushing that total to 15 midway through the second half. The Wolfpack did make a run in the second half, however, showing much more fight than they did in a blowout loss to Oklahoma State earlier in the season, but in the end it was fruitless.

And the issues for the Wolfpack had nothing to do with the offensive end of the floor.

Michigan got whatever they wanted until the final five minutes of the game, and so much of the credit for that falls squarely in the lap of Trey Burke. In the first half, we all got a chance to see Trey the Distributor. He finished the first 20 minutes without a single point or turnover but with nine assists, which led to 22 Michigan points. Burke got into the paint at will, and when he did, the defense collapsed on him and he found open shooters.

But in the second half, when Michigan needed Burke to take over, we saw Trey the Scorer. He went for 18 points in the final 20 minutes, chipping in another pair of assists, hitting free throws down the stretch to seal the win and, once again, doing it all without committing a turnover.

It was everything you want to see from a point guard, but it’s only part of the reason that I feel comfortable saying that Michigan looks like a team that has a legitimate argument for being the best team in the country.

Tim Hardaway Jr. isn’t yet a knockdown three-point threat (he was 1-9 from beyond the arc in this game, and is now 6-25 from distance on the season against teams not named Slippery Rock. But he is an improved scorer that, up until tonight, had proven that he can be a better decision maker with the ball. As much as he struggled tonight, he wasn’t necessarily taking bad shots; he was just missing the open ones.

Stauskas played the best game of his freshman season on Tuesday, and while Glenn Robinson III had a bit of a quite night, those two are the difference makers for this team. When Michigan has their best lineup on the floor, those two play the three and the four spots. They can do everything that a guy like Zak Novak could do, but instead of being an unathletic, 6-foot-4 guard, they are lanky, athletic and 6-foot-6. They are also in another world from a talent perspective.

Essentially, John Beilein traded out role players that hustled their way into the Big Ten with a pair of wings that could play at any school in the country, accept and thrive in their role, and may end up being NBA draft picks when it’s all said and done.

Throw in the fact that Beilein’s patented 1-3-1 zone now has Hardaway, GR III and Stauskas at the top, and you’re looking at a team that, through the season’s first three weeks, looks like it is just as good as advertised. Maybe better.

So while this was a different NC State team that the one that lost to Oklahoma State and nearly lost to UNC-Asheville, it didn’t matter on Tuesday.

This was Michigan’s chance to make a statement, and they took advantage of that opportunity.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.