3/09/2017 – Michigan 75, Illinois 55 – 21-11, 10-8 Big Ten
3/10/2017 – Michigan 74, Purdue 70 (OT) – 22-11, 10-8 Big Ten
3/11/2017 – Michigan 84, Minnesota 77 – 23-11, 10-8 Big Ten
3/12/2017 – Michigan 71, Wisconsin 56 – 24-11, 10-8 Big Ten, BTT Champs
Over the course of thousands of years of human history since the invention of writing, many people have written—or chiseled or typed or uh is there a calligraphy verb—unwise things. Incorrect things. Silly, stupid, terribly wrong things. Some of these were supported by the best available evidence available at the time. Some of these had rather a lot of backing.
Nonetheless, diseases are not cured by bleeding out-of-balance humours from the body. No matter what NBA players may tell you, the earth is not flat. And virtually everything written about the Michigan basketball team during the first five weeks of 2017 should be taken to the largest conveniently-located landfill or event horizon and disposed of, never to be revisited. For example, take this festering twit from the depths of the internet reacting to Michigan's trip to East Lansing:
gonna be hard for Irvin to erase this from the top line of his Michigan legacy
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) January 29, 2017
That was either in late January (by ordinal time) or the Cretaceous (by subjective time). There was rather a lot of data backing that up, as Michigan trundled towards the NIT with a defense that at one point had sunk as low as #184 in the country on Kenpom.
Even by then, though, things were fitting into place. That was their fourth straight game of decent to good defense, and Irvin quietly spearheaded it. Future lottery pick Miles Bridges scuffled to 15 points on 17 shots and chipped in couple of turnovers en route to a 94 ORTG. In the return game things would only get worse for him, with 5 turnovers sinking his game ORTG even lower.
Michigan is fighting in the post and closing out like crazy and every single guy on the team has bought in. Only Irvin had to do that while simultaneously coming to grips with his role on the team, and how it wasn't what he wanted it to be. Walton's gotten the headlines and the hosannahs, but in a way it's much harder to fade into the background gracefully than become the lip-curled alpha dog. In that hamblasting of Michigan State at Crisler he had three points on 8% usage. Zak Irvin's learned something about humility this year. Hopefully so have festering twits from the internet*.
*[Spoiler: they have not.]
Irvin is an emblem of a Michigan renaissance unmatched since the Aneurysm of Leadership. Since The White Collar Incident, Michigan is 13-5 and one of the top ten teams in the country.
Also emblems: Derrick Walton, about whom the Trey Burke whispers are getting louder. Duncan Robinson, the world's unlikeliest candidate for defensive stopper and also a gentleman who would have gotten Michigan to overtime against Northwestern if not for Julia Louis-Drefyus's heavenly intervention. DJ Wilson, who can apparently play center now and guard 1-5 and go bucket for bucket with Purdue bigs. Mo Wagner, who firebombed Isaac Haas off the floor and has developed a stick-and-move hedge game that turns late clock in to very late clock. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who nobody even notices anymore because he's just as efficient as everyone else. Maverick Morgan, whose sick burn made Walton so angry he turned into the Hulk.
That's everyone with a usage above "limited roles" and a guy who plays for Illinois.
The improvement is comprehensive and near-unprecedented, and it stretches back half the season now. This isn't a fluke. It hasn't been inconsistent. Michigan has won a bunch of blowouts during that stretch and aside from that inexplicable OSU game all their losses were on narrow, on the road, against tournament teams. They had a plane crash; they arrived at the Big Ten tournament barely over an hour before their scheduled start time; Illinois was more shell-shocked than Michigan was, trailing by 11 by the first break.
I can't explain it. I feel like Robert Hooke looking through a microscope and finding out life was impossibly smaller and bigger than it seemed, simultaneously. I feel like I've just watched a month long Rocky training montage that has turned this Poindexter of a team into... well, still that but a murder hobo version of it. We were given many pieces of evidence and this team has improbably, wonderfully overturned them all.
Mind the gap. Three point launch margin over the course of the tourney: +10, +6, +10, +8. An increasingly tired Michigan outfit wasn't as efficient on theirs as they usually are, and it's no surprise to find out that a Beilein team takes a lot of threes.
But the three avoidance is real, and it's spectacular: Wisconsin's first shot in the championship game was a late-clock long two forced by an aggressive MAAR closeout. This is a beautiful place to force an off the dribble shot from:
Once again, barely more than a quarter of an opponent's FGAs were from behind the arc. Michigan moved up a spot in 3PA prevention after the BTT. They're still 308th in 3PA% allowed.
In Soviet Smiths Album, DJ hangs you. In the championship game Mark Donnal was limited to a few brief cameos and avoided a trillion only because he picked up a personal foul; Mo Wagner also played just 24 minutes. Michigan papered over the gap with DJ Wilson at the 5, and this worked brilliantly.
He was able to effectively front Happ most of the time and use his length to bother him when he did get a catch; Happ ended up shooting 6 of 16 from the floor with 3 TOs. With Irvin capable of checking the perimeter-oriented Hayes and Wagner having a rough day on offense, Michigan simply chose to ride with their small lineup in crunch time.
Short turnover Beilein time. So Michigan's two-point shooting was scorching over the course of the four days: 68%, 54%. 68%, 68%. All the more impressive since there were periods in the second half of all four games where Michigan looked too exhausted to run their offense and settled for some heroball.
Minnesota in particular was diced into a fine mist by the Michigan offense. Discombobulated by the lack of Reggie Lynch on the interior—the nation's leading shotblocker had zero as he tried to check Wagner on the perimter—the Gophers fell prey to a half-dozen back cuts in the first ten minutes and fell behind so badly that Michigan's dead-legs period in the second half only got them back to a tie, and from there Walton took over.
That's Michigan's offense going to work when the three point shooting was iffy.
One note of praise for referees. The championship game was downright perfect. I was a little irritated from time to time when Michigan didn't get a particular call but since they were letting various minor bumps go on both ends I soon settled down into a mode where—get this—I was not surprised when fouls happened or what direction they went.
The golden age of offense. Big Ten players who played at least 40% of the time and had a usage rate of at least 16%, ranked by ORTG:
- Duncan Robinson, 126
- Derrick Walton, 125
- James Blackmon, IU, 123
- DJ Wilson, 123
- Juwan Morgan, IU, 122
- Vincent Edwards, PU, 119
- Mo Wagner, 118
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, 116
- Bronson Koenig, UW, 116
- Trevor Thompson, OSU, 115
Only Zak Irvin(103) has the requisite minutes to qualify and is not on this list. This the second-best offense Beilein's ever had at Michigan, slotting in a hair behind the Stauskas/Levert-led Elite 8 team.
A bit on the draw. More on Michigan's first and (potential) second round opponents later in the week. At first blush this is a rough one. Oklahoma State is the #1 offense in the country and a team that, like Michigan, had a mid-season turnaround that has seen them thump a lot of teams and lose narrowly when they do in fact lose. If I had to pick one stat I do not want to see an opponent bring to a matchup with Michigan it's a bucket of OREBs, and Okie State is 6th nationally in that department.
On the other hand, their defense is miserable, like Michigan-before-Maverick miserable, and the only thing they're actually good at in that department is forcing turnovers. This could be a game where Duncan Robinson is 7/11 from 3, that sort of thing.
It should be good for neutrals. Thrill quotient type calculations that prioritize high scoring, close games have Michigan-Okie State as the best game of the first round.
A hypothetical second round matchup against (almost certainly Louisville) is not ideal, but at least the pod also features Kentucky so the crowd in Indy is likely to be relatively split. This version of UL has the usual jumping jacks in the middle that give them a ton of OREBs and swat/alter a ton of shots. Their shooting is only middling; they hang their hat on D and on the glass.
Seeding complaints are real. Maybe not for Michigan, but you know you screwed up as a committee when you've done this:
10-seed Wichita St. opened as a 6.5-point favorite over 7-seed Dayton. On what planet is that fair to the Flyers as a reward for a good yr?
— Mike James (@ivybball) March 13, 2017
That line is the best available guess from people with many dollars riding on accurate projections and just about matches Kenpom's 7-point projected margin. That corresponds to a 75% shot at a Wichita win. Congrats, Dayton. Here's a 25% shot at a first round game as a 7 seed.
I don't think Wichita should have been given a two like a world that seeds exclusively by Kenpom would, but does anyone blink if the Shockers are a 6? No. The team testing out the theory that Wichita State is actually good despite a loss to
3-9 19-14 Michigan State would be one of the last at-larges in the field and thus just happy to be here.
Don't even get me started on the Big Ten. The committee talked a big game about finally modernizing their approach, and that was all balderdash.
Once again, everybody who thought the Selection Committee had gotten off their RPI addiction looks like a fool.
— Jeff (BPredict) (@BPredict) March 12, 2017
When the committee chair is Mark Hollis I don't know why anyone expected better except for blind optimism.
Well, poop. They've been found. Chad Ford didn't have anyone from Michigan on his draft radar this season, but that's changed. He's got a list of the top guys to watch in the NCAA tournament; Wilson and Wagner check in towards the tail end of the list:
25. D.J. Wilson
Wilson is an athletic forward who can both stretch the floor and protect the rim. He has a rare combination of explosiveness and skill. His inconsistency and soft play (despite his size he doesn't really like contact in the paint) concern NBA scouts.
He's on the first-round bubble, but a big NCAA tournament could change things for him. He was outstanding in the Big 10 tourney for Michigan with 26 points, eight boards and three blocks against Purdue and 17 points, six boards, three assists and two steals against Wisconsin to lead Michigan to the title.
26. Moritz Wagner
Wagner might be the biggest sleeper on this list. The native of Germany brings many of the things that Lauri Markkanen brings to the table and is just six months older, such as size, agility, a terrific 3-point stroke and a high basketball IQ.
Like Markkannen, he isn't a great rebounder or shot blocker, but you don't find many players with his size and skill set in the draft.
He's still got both in the 30-50 range—ie, the second round—and FWIW, I've heard that both are planning to return next year. I wouldn't count on year four from either.
Michigan's a seven seed in Indianapolis for the first round of the NCAA tournament, drawing 10-seed Oklahoma State. Okie State is a lot like Michigan: they're the #1 offense in the country on Kenpom... and the #133 defense. They're either really hot or not so hot depending on how you look at it:
- Okie State has won 10 of their last 14, but...
- They've lost their last three.
They're #23 overall on Kenpom.
Should Michigan advance they're highly likely to take on #2 Louisville, which is basically the same kind of team Louisville usually is: high pressure defense, big trees who block stuff on the inside, buckets of OREBs. Kenpom has them #6 in the country, so they're not an unfair draw for a 2. Unfortunate, perhaps.
Good news: it's a Friday/Sunday session.
Champs. [Paul Sherman]
Michigan's team plane skidded off the runway on Wednesday. The Wolverines flew to Washington DC on Thursday morning. They essentially walked off the plane and right onto the court before crushing Illinois, then went through top-seeded Purdue and four-seed Minnesota to reach the final. Today, they handed Wisconsin their biggest loss* of the season to become the lowest-seeded Big Ten team to win the conference tournament.
No matter what happens in the NCAA Tournament, this week will go down as one of the most incredible in Michigan basketball history, as much due to their play as the trying travel circumstances. Nothing reflects Michigan's incredible late-season transformation more than today's victory. With the offense not firing on all cylinders, the defense shut down Wisconsin's often-overwhelming interior attack.
DJ Wilson was a force on both ends of the floor. [Sherman]
Derrick Walton had another exemplary performance, posting 22 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and two steals. Zak Irvin played a remarkable two-way game, scoring 15 on 6-for-9 shooting, pulling down seven boards, dishing out five assists, and playing tremendous defense both on the perimeter and in the paint.
The difference, however, was DJ Wilson. Not only did Wilson drop 17 points on a wide array of finishes, but he shut down star Wisconsin center Ethan Happ after John Beilein moved him to center at halftime. Happ went 4-for-8 with 8 points in the first half; he shot only 2-for-8 after the break, and three of his four of his second-half offensive rebounds came on one possession. With that adjustment and great all-around defense, the Wolverines cruised in the second half.
Michigan now awaits their NCAA seed, which will be revealed momentarily. What an unbelievable run.
*The 71-56 final score is identical to North Carolina's win over Wisconsin in November
Plane? Busted. Shots? Busted. Tourney bracket? Busted. Here's to John Beilein's fourth banner.
Aaaand you can't have one without the other...
One more roadblock. [Patrick Barron]
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#24 Michigan (23-11, 10-8 B1G) vs
#17 Wisconsin (25-8, 12-6)
A Full-ish Arena, Maybe?
|WHEN||3 pm ET, Sunday|
Wisconsin -1 (KenPom)
Wisconsin -1 (Vegas)
PBP: Jim Nantz
Analysts: Bill Raftery & Grant Hill
Right: Zak Irvin's 18 points helped Michigan even the season series at the Crisler Center. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
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It's going pretty well.
Michigan has pulled themselves off the 8/9 line, moving up to a seven-seed on the Bracket Matrix and as high as a six-seed on some recent updates, including Joe Lunardi's. While they probably can't vault to a five-seed, a win should solidify their standing as a six-seed, which would allow them to avoid a one- or two-seed in the first weekend of the tournament. They shouldn't drop lower than a seven even with a loss.
THE LAST TIME
Michigan avenged a 68-64 defeat at the Kohl Center with a 64-58 victory at Crisler. Zak Irvin snapped out of an ugly slump with 18 points, Moe Wagner dropped 20 points and one thunderslam on Zak Showalter, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had a pivotal four-point play to highlight a 12-point outing. For Wisconsin, Ethan Happ torched Michigan in the first half, then went quiet in the second as the Wolverines adjusted their defense, throwing more double-teams his way.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.
|G||24||Bronson Koenig||Sr.||6'3, 190||74||21||116||Not At All|
Obnoxiously Clutch Wisconsin Guard.
First matchup: 32 mins, 16 pts (2/5 2P, 3/5 3P), 4 reb, 1 ast, 2 to
Second matchup: DNP-injured
|G||3||Zak Showalter||Sr.||6'3, 185||72||14||125||Not At All|
Barely shoots but very efficient when he does, low assist rate, good defender.
First matchup: 28 mins, 6 pts (3/3 2P), 5 reb (1 off), 3 ast, 1 blk
Second matchup: 35 mins, 8 pts (1/4 2P, 1/3 3P), 8 reb (4 off), 1 to
|F||30||Vitto Brown||Sr.||6'8, 235||52||20||99||Kinda|
Good defender and rebounder, streaky shooter, turnover-prone.
First matchup: 26 mins, 13 pts (4/7 2P, 1/4 3P), 3 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl
Second matchup: 18 mins, 0 pts (0/3 2P, 0/2 3P), 3 reb
|F||10||Nigel Hayes||Sr.||6'8, 240||79||25||108||Kinda|
Great in semis, but hasn't been very efficient this year. Still effective in post.
First matchup: 38 mins, 13 pts (3/7 2P, 1/4 3P), 6 reb (3 off), 3 ast, 1 to, 1 stl
Second matchup: 33 mins, 6 pts (3/7 2P), 5 reb (1 off), 1 ast, 2 to, 2 blk, 1 stl
|C||20||Ethan Happ||So.||6'10, 232||68||28||113||Very|
Efficient, high-usage post scorer, passes well, dismal FT%, great defender.
First matchup: 27 mins, 11 pts (5/13 2P), 6 reb (4 off), 3 ast, 3 to, 2 blk, 2 stl
Second matchup: 30 mins, 22 pts (10/13 2P), 6 reb (2 off), 6 ast, 3 to, 1 blk, 2 stl
|G||0||D'Mitrik Trice||Fr.||6'0, 178||46||18||110||No|
Travis' younger brother. Started season hot from 3P, went cold in B1G play.
First matchup: 14 mins, 4 pts (1/1 3P), 3 reb, 1 to, 1 stl
Second matchup: 35 mins, 9 pts (1/9 2P, 1/6 3P), 5 reb, 4 ast, 2 to, 2 stl
|G||11||Jordan Hill||Jr.||6'4, 172||23||10||100||Kinda|
Tiny usage, iffy shot.
First matchup: 13 mins, 5 pts (1/2 2P), 1 reb
Second matchup: 22 mins, 3 pts (1/4 3P), 2 reb (1 off), 1 ast, 1 to, 1 blk
|G||1||Brevin Pritzl||Fr.||6'3, 195||13||15||108||Kinda|
Decent when going to basket, less so when taking outside shot.
First matchup: DNP-CD
Second matchup: DNP-CD
|F||25||Alex Illikainen||So.||6'9, 232||16||12||102||Yeah|
Bit player who mostly stays out of the way.
First matchup: 9 mins, 0 pts (0/2 3P), 2 reb
Second matchup: 4 mins, 0 pts (0/1 2P, 0/1 3P), 1 reb (1 off)
|G||21||Khalil Iverson (out)||So.||6'5, 212||35||16||103||Kinda|
Athletic backup guard will miss game due to death in family.
First matchup: 11 mins, 0 pts, 1 to
Second matchup: 22 mins, 10 pts (5/7 2P), 4 reb (1 off), 1 to, 1 blk
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]