Player Development At Ludicrous Speed, Part One
Moe Wagner considers how to shred his defender to bits. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
John Beilein's acumen at player development is, by now, unimpeachable. He has turned Michigan into one of the top producers of NBA talent in the country without the steady stream of high school All-Americans who end up at the likes of Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky. After last weekend, Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson—a late import to the 2015 class and an oft-injured three-star wing*—are firmly on the NBA radar after two and three years on campus, respectively. Following the Louisville game, Beilein reminded us just how far those two have come in only a year's time:
Moritz, he averaged two points a game last year. He’s 19 years old. You got to watch this guy. D.J. averaged the same. There’s a process that people go through to develop their teams, and [the Big Ten] had a lot of good seniors last year who graduated and a lot of guys waiting in the wings. It may have not showed in November, December. It’s showing in March.
The year-to-year progression is remarkable; so is the seemingly game-to-game progression. Here's Beilein after the Purdue victory at Crisler less than a month ago:
[Wagner] is learning that fine line between shooting a three and driving it. I can’t wait to work with him more on selling his shot fake before he does, sometimes he just rips and goes. He’s almost like a forward or a guard in how he plays. But he had a really good post move inside. He and DJ have to bottle this thing up, that they can shoot from the outside, but to help teams win, they’re going to play professionally if they have a post-up game. They’re not going to just be these 6’10” shooters. They’re going to need to grow in that physical part of it. He’s got a good mix of that. If we can put that third part in, that he can shoot, he can drive, and he can effectively post up and hold position, he could become very special.
We saw a whole lot more than a pair of 6'10" shooters last weekend. That shot fake Beilein wanted to see Wagner utilize? He busted it out on arguably the biggest possession of the year:
Wagner also obliterated Louisville from the high post. His career-high 26-point output against the Cardinals couldn't have looked more different from his previous best, the 24-point performance in that aforementioned Purdue game. The latter featured Wagner raining in threes off pick-and-pops with a couple post buckets standing out as notable exceptions. The former saw him working with his back to the basket against smaller defenders and using that three-point threat to take bigs off the dribble; he only attempted (and made) one three-pointer.
*[HT to Maize.Blue Wagner for posting a thread of the current team's commitment posts.]
[Hit THE JUMP for DJ's development and the late-season surge from MAAR and Irvin.]
This is not me. I wish it was.
Whoever sent me this POTATO!!!! Much appreciated.... pic.twitter.com/fVaqRvvgTn
— Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41) March 15, 2017
It turns out to be a wildly successful marketing stunt for a company that will send you image or message-emblazoned potatoes. This company is inexplicably not based in Ohio. The best thing to come out of this is the Wall Street Journal giving the headshot treatment to Dirk's tuber:
Twitter did not find this nearly as amazing as I did, but rest assured this is incredibly entertaining.
Oregon: good matchup? The WaPo's Neil Greenberg seems to think so. He's using extremely small sample sizes, but given Chris Boucher's absence that's less unfortunate than it usually is. Transition is a major Oregon focus and Michigan's stepped up their stinginess:
In transition, Michigan has allowed opponents to score 39.1 percent of the time in the tournament, an improvement over their regular-season performance (46.3 percent) and a potential stumbling block for Oregon, who has scored almost two-thirds of the time in transition (63.6 percent) against their first two opponents. No other remaining tournament team has had better results on the break. Take that element away from Oregon, and it’s a big blow.
This item won't surprise you but will shock your January self:
The Ducks also won’t get as many open looks as they have through the first two rounds. Oregon has taken 24 of 32 (75 percent) catch-and-shoot opportunities unguarded, per Synergy Sports, scoring 1.08 points per shot. Michigan, however, has allowed just six of 22 (27 percent) catch-and-shoot attempts without a defender close by.
Oregon is was already a bit three-heavy with Boucher in the lineup and figure to be more so without him even if that hasn't shown up in the three games since his departure, and Michigan is very good at preventing threes from being launched.
They're 5'9" with big hair and one of them doesn't have a work visa. Welp, they've been found. Both DJ Wilson and Mo Wagner are major risers on Chad Ford's NBA draft board:
Moritz Wagner, F/C, So., Michigan
No one did more to help his draft stock over the weekend than Wagner. His career-best performance against Louisville -- 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting -- showed why he was been quickly moving up our Top 100 over the past month. Wagner is a fluid athlete at 6-foot-11 who can score off the bounce and on the block. He also has 3-point range.
When he's engaged and not in foul trouble, he can take over a game. The fact that he did it against a bunch of NBA-caliber athletes on Louisville impressed scouts. He sat at No. 40 on our Top 100 before the tournament and moves up to No. 21 in our latest rankings. That's a huge leap for any player, but if you watched his draft stock all month, it isn't just based on one game. It's just scouts getting more and more comfortable with the idea that he has all the skills he needs to be a good NBA player someday.
D.J. Wilson, F, Jr., Michigan
Wilson showed off all the strengths of his game against both Oklahoma State and Louisville. He's a terrific and versatile athlete who can stretch the floor, finish at the rim and block shots. He can even handle the ball and bring it up the floor.
However, his lack of toughness continues to bother some scouts who want to see him initiate and handle contact better. He grabbed only two boards against Louisville and at times seemed bothered by the physicality. Still, athletic 6-foot-10 guys who can shoot 3s and protect the rim don't come along every day and Wilson has made a strong case to be a first-round pick after hovering in the 30s in our Top 100 all season.
FWIW, I was talking to Sam Webb a month or two ago and at the time his impression was that the NBA was interested in both guys but that they were both likely a year away. Let's hope that's still the case, because I'm guessing Teske and Davis are going to need another year of grooming before they're ready. Also I really want to see weaponized versions of Wilson and Wagner.
If one or both does end up going this will be another situation where Beilein's astounding player development—despite almost no access to one-and-done types Michigan was 12th in NBA players produced entering the season—outpaces his recruiting. Nobody was expecting Trey Burke or Nik Stauskas to be two-and-out, and I don't think anyone thought Wilson or Wagner would have any chance of going to the league this year after the pair averaged two points a game in 2015-16.
Remember when Bernard Robinson sticking at the end of a roster for a year or two was notable to Michigan basketball fans? Slightly different situation these days.
Part of that development. Congrats to friend-of-blog Andrew Kahn for landing a WSJ byline. It's a look into some player development tools Michigan (and others) are using. Wagner has a bad day against Ohio State and Beilein set to work on his shot:
...Beilein set out to fix Wagner’s problems using one of basketball’s hottest new diagnostic tools: a machine that measures the arc of a shot as it reaches the hoop. ... [tool vendor] Noah’s data says the ideal shot comes in at about 45 degrees.
Wagner’s practice session showed that he was shooting the ball far too high, coming in at around 53 degrees. Beilein knew they had no chance of going in and pressed Wagner to adjust by flattening his shot.
“By the time we were done, he was draining threes all over the place at 45 (degrees), 46, 47,” Beilein said. Wagner, a 41 percent three-point shooter for the season, shook his slump and nailed 8 of 17 (47%) from deep the next four games.
Beilein is still adapting and taking advantage of new tools being created even though he's "no spring chicken," which not every coaching in his 60s does. You can safely assume that Michigan is on the cutting edge with this stuff. The results are proof enough.
Two points. The Big Ten did pretty well in the first weekend of the tournament, sending three teams to the Sweet 16 and Shutting Up All The Haters, except not really. Mark Titus:
As soon as the buzzer sounded on no. 7 seed Michigan’s 73–69 victory over no. 2 seed Louisville on Sunday afternoon, the talk of the internet became whether the Big Ten, which was complete trash from November through early March, had been underrated all season. ... [The Big Ten got three S16 teams and the ACC was bad.] ... Clearly this had to mean something, right?
Of course not. You know what Michigan beating Louisville and Wisconsin beating Villanova proved? That Michigan outplayed Louisville and that Wisconsin outplayed Villanova. How come everyone who gets so wrapped up in conference-pride bullshit always seems to move the goalposts with these arguments?
Neither side of any conference superiority argument generally marshals anything resembling a coherent argument. It is talk-radio fodder.
While a few tournament games don't establish that the Big Ten was at the level it was a few years ago, neither was it "trash." They entered the NCAA tourney fifth out of six power conferences on Kenpom, all of two points behind the second-place ACC. That's roughly the difference between #20 Michigan and #24 Butler, or #37 Northwestern and #44 Illinois State—ie, barely any difference at all. The first two rounds should at least be sufficient to demonstrate that the Big Ten is in the same range as any other power conference (with the possible exception of the Big 12).
This weekend did matter in the computer rankings, sliding the Big Ten up to fourth, and it should influence our perception of the league this year. The real answer, though, is that the Big Ten was just slightly down. Titus seems to be projecting his feelings about Ohio State, which was so trash that many Michigan fans gave up on their season after losing to the Buckeyes*, to the wider league.
Nice. 2017 PF Isaiah Livers won Mr. Basketball. He's a 6'8" stretch four with game and hair fairly reminiscent of DJ Wilson.
Wilson has a couple of inches of both height and hair on Livers, but hopefully he's able to step into the rotation next year.
Star-crossed Ricky Doyle. Remember how he was ill or injured seemingly perpetually? This has not abated, at all.
Ricky Doyle, a Bishop Verot Catholic High School alum, was forced to sit out this season after transferring from the University of Michigan due to NCAA rules, as well as a tumor.
“I just kept having these stomach pains for a long time and I just kind of pushed them off,” he said. “One day, I just had to go to the hospital and it turns out that my appendix has been burst for two months…they found a tumor about the size of a softball and they had to cut 6 inches of my colon out.”
The tumor was non cancerous, Doyle said, and his body formed it naturally around the burst appendix to prevent poison from seeping out and killing him.
Doctors believe the medicine Doyle is on for his sleep apnea dulled the pain to the point where he didn’t realize how severe the tumor was.
Writing on the wall. There's a ton of football stuff that we'll get to in a week or two as part of a spring preview, but one roster note: Sam Webb replies to people asking about a lack of Shelton Johnson coverage that "he is not a part of [Scout's] defensive line preview." I would not expect him on the roster this spring.
Etc.: A lot of people say the tournament saps the importance of the college season. I don't buy that, because I like Big Ten championship banners. For an example of a season that truly doesn't matter, I give you the NBA.
Every Michigan 3 against Oklahoma State. Holdin' The Rope on the Louisville game. Five key plays from said game. We are #3 in Will Leitch's rootability rankings, because of "cattywampus." Leitch on the Brad Underwood hire. TTB talks to Kevin Koger. Jim Harbaugh promotes colon awareness.
Thursday, March 17, 2017
Michigan 1, Penn State 4
UM 0 PSU 1 PPG 10:50 Assists: Biro & Autio
Folkes passes to Biro, who takes the pass and skates behind the net. Cecconi, who’s currently in the slot, makes a smart move: he checks for anyone cutting in backside before turning to pick up the skater behind the net.
As Biro emerges on Cecconi’s side of the net, he finds himself close to having the puck knocked away. Meanwhile, Folkes sees Biro in trouble and skates behind the net to get into position for a pass back. That’s when things really go sideways for Michigan. Biro slams on the brakes and spins back; Folkes continues skating and slips past Cecconi, turning so that his logo is facing the goaltender and ready for a quick wrister should the puck come out.
It does. Biro backhands a perfect pass to Folkes, who just has to snap it on net. Nagelvoort is thinking that Biro is going to try to wrap it around on the other side, and even though De Jong is there he comes off the post a bit. That opens up enough space for Folkes to bury it. The play’s pretty much doomed the minute Cecconi overplays Biro and doesn’t come away with the puck. Even so, give Penn State credit for executing a really impressive switch, pass, and shot. This is far from Michigan’s worst defensive breakdown of the season and PSU made the goal look effortless.
[After THE JUMP: It’s a tournament, so the bounces were going to be weird. Also, some thoughts on Red’s future.]
1 hour 29 minutes
We Couldn’t Have One Without the Other
This podcast is presented by the Bo Store, UGP & Moe's. Rishi and Ryan have been here since the beginning—shopping with them supports us and supports good dudes who are deeply involved in the Ann Arbor community. It was recorded at the Residence Inn Ann Arbor Downtown—you should probably book your next stay in Ann Arbor there to offset all the free stuff we took.
Speaking of offsetting costs, here’re the people who bought us the set we use to record way more of these than we used to: Homesure Lending, Ann Arbor Elder Law, the the University of Michigan Alumni Association, Deo Bookkeeping, Michigan Law Grad, Defensive Drivers Group, and Peak Wealth Management.
You don’t have to visit them now, but remember to come back to our podcast to get a link when you need them!
1. Tales from Indy Part I: Okie State
starts against 1:00
The best 7-10 game in college basketball history? We’re saying that. Michigan’s three-point shooting was matched by the legit #1 offense in basketball. New developments include DJ Wilson: impact shot-blocker.
2. Tales from Indy Part II: L’llv’lle.
starts at 23:05
AKA the OTHER 40-minute heart attack. The Cardinal survey available poisons and choose the tall bottle with an import sticker—that too is the wrong poison. Was it that or a Pitino long con, because that pump fake drive was there all year. M’s six-man rotation is Don Brown-like in its multiplefromthesamepersonnelness yes that’s a word you want me to prove it fine now it’s a tag on mgoblog.
3. Ace and Brian’s Excellent Gimmicky Top 5 Adventure
starts at 46:22
Now a gimmicky top 5 so grand (whoa), so magnificent, and so vast, it spans 7,000 years (no way!) Brace yourself for a most triumphant Top 5 premise, as two bloggers jump in a time machine that can go back to mid-January, encounter their other, pre-Maverick selves, and unveil the future. Starring: Zak Irvin, Mo Bamba, Beilein players with lip curls, Red, and an odd casting choice for Jules Winfield in the Pulp Fiction remake.
4. The Tournament So Far, plus Oregon Preview and Beyond
starts at 1:06:56
When a 5-seed isn’t chalk in the first round, you’ve seeded badly. Appalling calls, especially those that took the air out of the end of some great games. However the insane seeding did lead to some radical 2nd round games. Bathroom Bill sinks Duke deliciously.
Oregon is without their DJ Wilson—that might mean a lot. As for Kansas, they’re super athletic, and coached only just enough not to step on each other, i.e. not the guys you want to face after a quick turnaround.
- “Opening Theme”—Pulp Fiction
- “Flight of the Valkyries”—Wilhelm Richard “Moe Buckets” Wagner
- “Inside OUt”—SPOON
- “Across 110th Street”
THE USUAL LINKS
3/17/2017 – Michigan 92, Oklahoma State 91 – 25-11, NCAA second round
3/19/2017 – Michigan 73, Louisville 69 – 26-11, Sweet 16
Michigan's NCAA tournament weekend was a lot like what I imagine it's like to enter Earth orbit.
You are strapped to a rocket. In the English language, "rocket" is shorthand for "tube that barely contains fuel." When lit, that fuel explodes; the rocket shunts the exploding bits out its rear to create the kind of incredible, bowel-threatening acceleration that allows one to escape the surly bonds of earth.
I'll be damned if there's a better metaphor for playing Jawun Evans and Oklahoma State. To watch this Oklahoma State team is to be continually surprised that Evans does not literally have flames coming out of his ass, propelling him inevitably towards death or glory at the rim.
At first, there was a lot of noise but not much action. This is also in keeping with rockets, which have various moments early in the enterprise when it is unclear whether the thing will go up or tip over, explosively.
After ten minutes when the game threatened to teeter over into a dud, the acceleration took, and did not stop until all observers were weak kneed and gripped with pallor, as if the blood had been forced from their heads.
Rockets do not have men in grimy outfits and train engineer hats frantically heaping fuel into a furnace to keep the thing from sputtering out and allowing gravity to reclaim what is rightfully hers. Our metaphorical rocket does. The men in hats are flinging three pointers, desperately attempting to stay ahead of gravity's brutal math. Evans and company are providing a constant drag of 1.58 points a possession. Walton and Irvin and Robinson must pump at least that much into the ever-hungry, blazing heart of the engine.
Amazingly, they do so. At first it seems easy. Walton drifts to one corner and then the other to work screens and grab passes for wide open looks. Robinson comes off a screen and rises up from a comfortable spot. A couple of transition opportunities find guys open in the corners. Things are going well—very well—but so far you can chalk it up to a bunch of open looks and good fortune against the nation's #133 defense.
Two things happen nearly back-to-back that take it into the realm of the spooky. Zak Irvin comes off a screen, takes a dribble, and fires an objectively bad shot, a heavily contested jack that draws the NO NO NO YES reaction not just from all Michigan fans but also the announcers. Almost immediately after this, Walton passes to Robinson, who's two or three feet from the line and getting more than a token contest. Walton yells at Robinson to shoot. He probably shouldn't shoot. Robinson shoots. It goes down, because of course it does. A bit later, Walton ignores DJ Wilson posting up a 5'11" guy to take this:
This goes down. Because of course it does.
As all this is happening, Evans is taking his rocket ass into the lane to claw two points back, like gravity does. Gravity draws you back at a constant 9.8 m/s^2, and you either beat it or you don't. Michigan beat it, in the way movies portray the first stage of rocket liftoff. There is a tremendous amount of noise. The camera shakes impressively. One of the cast members says "ohhhhhhhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiiit." There is a moment of unbearable tension as the G forces ramp up to the maximum humans can tolerate.
Then everything stops. There's a clunk as the first stage departs. You have won! You are alive. You are very high in the air on a fatal trajectory.
You've dropped your first-stage booster and watched it burn up in the atmosphere. (Underwood's stunning, immediate departure for Illinois will do nicely in our analogy.) Now you are up up up very far and have entered the realm of orbital mechanics. I've read just enough science fiction to not understand orbital mechanics at all.
The gist seems to be that certain things are all but impossible despite seeming easy, while other things are damn near free because of... reasons. The image above is something called the "interplanetary transport network," which allows you to visit any point of interest in the solar system—eventually, very eventually—by hopscotching through Lagrange points where all the competing gravities of the system average out to zero. This is virtually free in terms of energy.
These are tiny pinholes in a vast expanse of quicksand. Reaction mass is limited and space is very big.
Louisville basketball has four centers and plays two of them at a time, and if you want to get a shot up it's time to hunt for Lagrange points.
Mo Wagner changed the way most teams defend Michigan with his white-hot first half against Purdue. After halftime the desperate Boilermakers decided they were going to switch every screen no matter what kind of ludicrous matchups resulted. Michigan was initially confused, and then Wagner was forced to the bench with foul trouble for nine minutes of the second half. By the time he returned there were only a few possessions before Michigan's Lloydball clock-drain offense made the switching moot. Painter's move exited the game more or less untested.
That did not prevent it from quickly being replicated, to middling-at-best effect. The constant switching did dull the effectiveness of Michigan's pick and roll. It dared Michigan to post up, which they simply do not do. It's pretty easy to holler about exploiting a post mismatch when you are a fan looking at a 5'11" guy on DJ Wilson. It's evidently much tougher when you are part of a Beilein basketball organism that forcibly expelled post-ups from its DNA back when it was using flagella to florp around in its Canisius days.
So the switching mostly resulted in a lot of isolation with Walton or whoever against a big. It took Michigan's silky, flowing offense and battered it down to the heroball stuff you see at Kansas or Kentucky, except without the infinite alley oops. Since Walton stepback threes are Very Good Offense, somehow, the switching didn't really slow Michigan down much. All it did was cause me to goggle at Michigan bigs guarded by oompa-loompas and be like all "AARGH THROW IT TO THAT GUY."
There was that particularly brutal possession pictured above on which DJ Wilson was trying to post up a 5'11" dude and Walton decided to jack up a 35-foot three pointer. This went in because of course it did; whether or not Michigan could do anything with this tactic in the event that Walton jacks stopped being Very Good Offense remained an open question. No longer.
In the aftermath of Sunday it is possible to interpret Michigan's somewhat frustrating inability to take advantage of said oompa-loompas as a devastating long con. Louisville entered the game with a plan: no threes. They would switch everything to remove the rotation, because Michigan will get you eventually if you rotate. They would refuse to help in the post, because that results in rotation. They would make Michigan execute a thing they simply do not do. In an advantageous situation, sure. But they wanted to make the fish ride the bicycle.
The fish rode the bicycle.
It popped wheelies.
Louisville's tactic backfired spectacularly in the second half. The tiny windows their giant posts leave drivers became caverns as 6'7" Adel Deng was repeatedly tasked with checking a guy much taller and more skilled than him. The posts stuck to their shooters, and Michigan lived and died by the two for a change.
Pitino did not relent. If he was going to lose this game it was two points at a time. Thus Michigan calmly and gradually reeled Louisville back in after the disastrous last minute of the first half. Screen and screen until you get your matchup, dump it down, score. Repeat. Regular, controlled thrust, easing Michigan through.
"It was some scheme things," Beilein said of his halftime talk, "but it was more: 'Alright, hit singles. Do not come out of here trying to win in the first four minutes. Let's just win the first four minutes. Let's just win the first four minutes. Win it by two points. Win every segment and you'll win the game.'"
Too bad that doesn't fit on a whiteboard.
So here we are. Orbit. It's nice. Very pretty. Can see Phoenix from here. Or Glendale. Whatever. Just two more harrowing white-knuckle terrordomes to go.
The most explosive team in the country is in the rear view. So too is a nation of angry ents. Confidence is through the roof, relative to your average white-knuckle terrordome experience. Let's go.
SAY 'WHAT' AGAIN, uh, SIR (via @the_mikeyb1246)
"Since Maverick" update. Michigan is up to #6 nationally in adjusted efficiency margin:
Amongst teams still in the tournament they're #3 behind Gonzaga and Florida. You'll note they're a nose ahead of Kansas.
First-round victim Oklahoma State shows up at #12. (They have a lot of losses, yes. In this time period they were all against tourney teams: two against Kansas, two against ISU, one to Baylor, one to KSU, one to Michigan. Most of those were 3-5 point games.) When I tweeted this out after the game I meant it:
Michigan just won a Sweet 16 game in the first round.
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) March 17, 2017
That felt like a #2 going up against a #3. This is not a seeding complaint, or at least it's not much of one. Oklahoma State, like Michigan, was a team that got a ton better about halfway through January and was 1) more or less fairly seeded while 2) being a terrible draw for whoever got them. Michigan did, and barely survived despite scorching the nets.
Finally, the road doesn't get any easier in the Sweet 16 as Michigan draws #10 Oregon. That hurdle is significantly lower with Duck post Chris Boucher out for the season. Oregon's given up significantly more than 1 PPP in the three games since Boucher's injury, against offenses ranging from "somewhat worse" to a "a lot worse" than Michigan.
DJ Wilson, sometimes center, is a thing. Wagner finished the Okie State game on the bench just like he finished the B10 championship game, and this was fine because DJ Wilson was functional at center. The opposition didn't have the ability to blow him away with guys who are both very burly and very athletic. Ethan Happ is burly but not that athletic and Wilson's length bothered him. Mitchell Solomon is pretty much the same minus the post-up skills.
Michigan's ability to go small against a light-speed team and then run Wagner and Wilson at the same time against Louisville provided them the flexibility to get past two crazy outlier teams with just one day of prep. That's a major asset.
Expect more of that going forward: Oregon is minus a 6'10" center they played 20 minutes a game and is now a small-ball outfit that runs out one player taller than 6'7" at a time*. Kansas is along the same lines, with wing Josh Jackson playing the 4 for them most of the time. DJ can play center against both, and likely will.
*[To be specific, 6'9" Jordan Bell is their 5 and they'll give 6'11" Kavell Bigby-Williams 10-15 minutes a game spelling him. Dillon Brooks is the only other Oregon player seeing meaningful minutes who's taller than 6'4".]
Donnal survived against Louisville. Credit to the most maligned current Wolverine: Mark Donnal hit a three and blocked a shot in nine minutes, which went a good way towards offsetting the facemashing he's naturally going to receive when he finds himself trying to check UL's infinite conveyor belt of giant dudes.
I wasn't even irritated at Donnal's foul, which was an enthusiastic boxout of lanky 7-footer Anas Mahmoud. He got whistled for a foul that seemed impossible, because I've spent all season watching Michigan bigs take the same contact and get blasted off their spot. Donnal flipped the script and got a foul for his troubles. Better that than weak post D.
Walton didn't score much against Louisville, but... naturally he led the team in rebounds with seven and had six assists to zero turnovers. Also he was instrumental in harassing Quinn Snider into an 0/9 shooting performance. Also:
Michigan committed 10 turnovers, total, in its first 2 NCAA Tournament games.
Derrick Walton Jr has 17 assists & 3 turnovers in 75 minutes.
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) March 20, 2017
Shot parity: close enough! Against UL Michigan lost the offensive rebound battle by six; they won turnovers by five. That'll do when you're the most efficient shooting team around. Against Oklahoma State it was dodgier, with Michigan –10 in OREBs while only ending up +6 in turnovers. Still, if you told me Michigan was going into a game with a top ten OREB offense and came out only –4 in shot margin I'd take that.
There is an alternate universe of Wagner foul bitchin'. One man's comically inept refereeing is another man's comically inept refereeing multiplied by –1, and I have to relate to you, dear reader, that it is the opinion of many Louisville fans that Mo Wagner commits offensive fouls every time he touches the ball.
— Williamncaudill (@wncaudill) March 19, 2017
This is not the most convincing ref incompetence highlight reel I've seen.
I imagine this stems from one of the first times Michigan went after the Deng Adel-Wagner mismatch in the first half. Adel flopped at the same time Wagner appeared to go for the ol' chicken wing on his path to the basket. The refs did not bite on the flop and the wing met air; Wagner went for an easy bucket. After that everything Wagner did seemed to set off cascades of complaints on UL game threads.
Big Ten seeding complaints on point. After the bracket came out there was consternation about the ordering of various Big Ten teams, and it was proven correct. 5 seed Minnesota was a Vegas dog against 12 MTSU and duly lost. Maryland was hammered by 11 seed Xavier. Meanwhile Wisconsin beat Villanova and Michigan beat Louisville to reach the Sweet 16.
The sample sizes are necessarily tiny here, but since there was plenty of evidence before the games were even played they serve to reinforce the fact that the tourney was badly mis-seeded.
Also worth noting that MSU was the only 8-9 not to give its opponent a competitive game. Wisconsin won, Northwestern battled valiantly before losing by 6 thanks in part to that missed goaltend, Arkansas led in the last four minutes. Hell, you can rope in the two seeds here as well: Michigan and South Carolina won while St Mary's and Wichita State battled valiantly to the final whistle. Only Michigan State was blown out, as you would expect them to be.
Wooooof. There was a plague of refereeing blunders this weekend that should but almost certainly won't be the cause for some soul-searching at the NCAA. The most egregious miss—Northwestern's comeback-stalling missed goaltend—saw the NCAA's head of officials show up on one of the studio shows to lamely defend the refs working the game because he, a 70-year-old man watching on TV, didn't catch it. I expect slightly more from a man literally standing under the basket.
Anyway, there were some doozies in Michigan's game, none worse than the two calls late in the first half against Louisville. The first was a phantom call on Walton that turned a turnover into two free throws for UL; the second was the Wagner open-court steal that again turned into two free throws. With Michigan likely to get a fast-break bucket if the second call isn't made that was a six-point swing just after Michigan had finally managed to claw its way back into a tie.
At that moment I could only think of the Trey Burke block and a couple other calls in the title game that prevented that one from truly going down to the wire, as it deserved to, and I resolved to never watch basketball again. I resolve this several times a season, and sometimes multiple times in one game.
And the worst bit about all this. Yahoo has an accurate summation of the worst five calls of the weekend:
- Gonzaga goaltend
- North Carolina's travel/charge/travel/charge
- Arizona's Lauri Markannen blasting a St Mary's player out of bounds, for which the St Mary's player got call
- The Plessy v Ferguson flagrant in Seton Hall vs Arkansas
- A horrendous charge call EC Mathews picked up in Oregon-Rhode Island.
Every single one of these made a tight game less tight, and every one of them favored the higher seed. (Seton Hall-Arkansas was an 8-9; the rest were serious upset bits.) A lot of the drama of March Madness was sapped by referee errors.
John Beilein’s defining characteristics (at least publicly) are being incredibly nice/genuine and being a bit, how do you say, hokey. In 2013, he celebrated going to the Sweet 16 with crazy subs, and this year has taken to ambushing players with water guns after big wins. It’s notable when he freaks out on the sidelines about the officiating because (a) it almost always means he’s getting a technical, and (b) he’s almost always right, and has held his tongue for untold transgressions up to that point. Maverick Morgan called Michigan “white collar” this year as a pejorative about their toughness, and more than a few fans felt the Wolverines reflected Beilein’s temperament. Both Louisville and Okie St. outrebounded Michigan this weekend, and a common refrain was that the team didn’t play tough enough on the glass.
But behind that gentile veneer is the heart of a killer. Okay, maybe not “killer”, but as Ace noted, quite evil. He knows what his offense can do to other teams. Matt Painter was exasperated trying to explain the difficulties defending Michigan, the harsh realization that your center has to defend a guy who shoots over 40% from three and can also shake-and-bake you behind his back on the way to the hoop. That even when the outside shot isn’t falling, Beilein will tax your team the entire time they are in the half-court offense, probing for breakdowns. And when they are firing from outside at a good clip, ooohhh. Oklahoma State scored 91 points and didn’t hold a lead after the 10-minute mark of the second half because Michigan shot 11-15 from 3 in the second half, a performance so scarring that OSU’s head coachg Brad Underwood left the Cowboys…for Illinois. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Matt Norlander on the narrative. John Beilein on ESPN:
D.J. Wilson, another of the day's stars, sank four free throws in the final 17 seconds.
That pragmatism? It was on full display. Wilson, a sophomore, made each free throw like he was in the driveway. Asked about the pressure of the moment later, Wilson sat stone-faced and said: "I don't feel any really."
Five key plays from Oklahoma State.
Etc. Rodger Sherman on Wagner. Pat Forde thinks Beilein is famously serious. Must not know about subs. Michigan is a one point favorite over Oregon. Hang on to your butts. Hoo boy does the Underwood departure suck for Okie State. Illinois fans are happy, as they should be. Oklahoma State fans shouldn't be.
The bigs delivered a spot in the Sweet 16 [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Discussing Michigan’s Sweet 16 team
1. In Michigan’s last five games, they’ve defeated five straight NCAA Tournament teams at neutral sites, taking what had been a rather average season and making it one of John Beilein’s very best in Ann Arbor in a span of two weeks. March rules everything in college basketball and the Wolverines have already cemented a successful season with the potential to do even more.
In these past five wins, Beilein has tightened the rotation: seniors Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin are playing over 90% of available minutes; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and DJ Wilson are playing over 80%; Duncan Robinson over 50% and Moritz Wagner right at 50%. Xavier Simpson and Mark Donnal play spot minutes as necessary to spell the starters, but it’s pretty much a six-man rotation.
2. Walton and Irvin spend as little time on the bench as possible, and for good reason. Plenty has been written about Walton: over the last half of his senior season, he’s become an elite point guard, commanding Michigan’s 5-out ball-screen offense with aplomb, draining threes and venturing on tough forays to the basket.
Walton’s ability to set up his teammates – marshaling the Wolverine offense into taking advantage of Wagner’s mismatches against Louisville’s wings in the mid-post, for example – to maximize Michigan’s offensive ability is uncanny. Overnight, he became something approximating a Nik Stauskas (or even a Trey Burke, honestly). Walton came in as a well-regarded recruit and was a starter on an Elite 8 team as a freshman, and even though his career was sidetracked by injuries, he’s fulfilling his potential, having become a star – capable of carrying Michigan on his back.
3. Irvin’s story is a little more complicated. The former five star wing was an unrepentant three-ball gunner with indifferent defense as a freshman, and morphed into a solid distributor as his shot abandoned him. He took leadership in a lost sophomore season after injuries to Caris LeVert and Walton; Michigan often rode with Irvin in late-game situations to mixed results and eventually found that it was better to run the offense through Walton instead of Irvin, especially during a February cold stretch. To his credit, Irvin has morphed into an excellent role player as of late – occasionally taking long jumpers, but deferring more and more. His ability to conjure a shot from nothing is still useful, and he’s a good passer.
Irvin’s work ethic really shows up on the defensive end: he works hard to get skinny over ball-screens, switches one-through-four, and he tracks shooters around the perimeter, working to deny them the ball. The improvement he’s made on that end of the floor over the course of his career has been remarkable. Michigan wouldn’t be in the Sweet 16 without him.
4. Walton and Irvin are program cornerstones: hyped prospects who were rotation players for a great team from day one, guys who have played so many games in a Michigan uniform, not quite talented enough to make a leap to the NBA but good enough to win at the college level. This team was built around Walton and Irvin, and now that the squad is exceeding expectations, full credit should go to those two foundational players – classmates who have grown into excellent leaders for Michigan. Beilein’s previous best teams (2012-2013 and 2013-2014) were led by youngsters. Not this season.
5. It’s too early to talk about Walton and Irvin’s legacies – as they still have games to play (and hopefully win) in the tournament – but, needless to say, they’ll be remembered more fondly because of their Big Ten Tournament title and Sweet 16 appearance as seniors. Of course, they could still carry the team even further in the NCAA Tournament. In Beilein’s tenure, there have been a few notable leadership tandems: Manny and Peedi, Zack and Stu, Trey and Tim – and Derrick and Zak. It will be extremely sad to see them go.
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