A masterful Walton kept Minnesota off-balance all afternoon. [Paul Sherman]
Can we get a recount?
Minnesota's Nate Mason beat out Derrick Walton for a spot on the All-Big Ten first team last week. Today, the difference between those two guards proved to be the difference in the conference semifinal. Walton was productive and efficient, scoring a career-high 29 points on 8-for-15 field goals and a perfect 10-for-10 mark from the line, dishing out nine assists against a lone turnover, and pulling down four rebounds.
When the Gophers mounted their second-half comeback, Walton's cold-blooded outside shooting and impeccable passing put Michigan back out in front and kept them there. Mason was productive, and nobody would accuse him of not playing well, but he needed 23 shots from the field and a pair of free throws to score 23 points. He tried to match Walton shot-for-shot down the stretch, and that played to Michigan's advantage.
Michigan came out of the gate on fire. Walton had five assists in the opening five minutes as John Beilein's offense created layup after layup. Moe Wagner hit all five of his first-half shots for 14 points, Zak Irvin went 4-for-5 to net nine, and Walton took what the Gopher defense gave him for ten of his own. While Minnesota generated almost all of their offense in the paint, they didn't make any of their four three-point attempts in the half, and that's no way to keep pace with this Michigan squad; the Wolverines threatened to turn this into a laugher with a 47-36 halftime lead.
A plane accident, the hectic travel that ensued, and three games in three days appeared to catch up to Michigan in the second half, however. While the Gophers continued to get what they wanted inside, the Wolverines left a lot of open shots short and failed to pick up shooters on the other end. A wide-open Mason three knotted the game up with 13:11 remaining.
Duncan Robinson broke a six-minute Michigan shooting slump two possession later. While the Gophers would keep it tight they couldn't close the gap again, even with Wagner limited to nine second-half minutes with foul trouble. Walton poured in 17 points after Minnesota tied it up, going 4-for-6 from the field and 6-for-6 from the line with a steal and two assists in that span to shut the door on the Gophers in Burke-like fashion.
Wagner (17), Irvin (13), and Robinson (10) all finished the game in double figures, as did all five starters on a shorthanded Minnesota squad that lost starting two-guard Akeem Springs for the year yesterday. Michigan overcame a severe disadvantage on the boards—Minnesota had a 15 to 2 edge in offensive rebounds—with superior outside shooting, transition offense, and having the only Derrick Walton on the floor.
Walton's Wolverines will face the winner of Wisconsin and Northwestern in tomorrow's Big Ten title game. The unbelievable nature of this week almost obscured the equally unbelievable turnaround by both Walton and the team as a whole in the latter half of the season. This has turned into a banner-worthy squad. They can secure one tomorrow afternoon.
#23 Michigan (22-11, 10-8 B1G) vs
#33 Minnesota (24-8, 11-7)
A Half-Empty Arena
|WHEN||1 pm ET, Saturday|
Michigan -3 (KenPom)
Michigan -3 (Vegas)
PBP: Jim Nantz
Analysts: Bill Raftery & Grant Hill
Right: Michigan lost a close, whistle-marred game in overtime at Minnesota in February. [Patrick Barron]
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Moe Wagner sported a wrap on his back during today's game. He told MLive's Brendan Quinn that it's not an issue:
Re. Moritz Wagner's back: He said he's fine. Was just experiencing some tightness.
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) March 10, 2017
There was concern that Wagner hurt himself when he collided with an official in the second half against Purdue, but he'd been wearing the back pad the whole game. Hopefully the tightness doesn't linger into tomorrow.
THE LAST TIME
In the only meeting this season, Minnesota needed overtime and 41 free-throw attempts, the most ever against one of Beilein's Michigan teams, to finish off the Wolverines 83-78 in The Barn. All five Michigan starters scored in double figures, but Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin both had ineffecient performances. Jordan Murphy's 16 points and 15 rebounds led the way for the Gophers. The post-Minnesota mailbag has aged rather well.
The officiating was, um, a factor. Let's leave it at that.
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||2||Nate Mason||Jr.||6'2, 190||84||25||106||Not At All|
Good passer, volume scorer who shoots better on threes (38%) than twos (38%).
First matchup: 43 mins, 13 pts (2/10 2P, 1/3 3P, 6/9 FT), 4 reb (1 off), 8 ast, 2 to
|G||1||Dupree McBrayer||So.||6'5, 190||66||20||107||No|
Good outside shooter, iffy finisher drawn into lineup with Akeem Springs out.
First matchup: 30 mins, 15 pts (1/6 2P, 2/3 3P, 7/8 FT), 1 reb, 2 to, 1 blk, 1 stl
|G||5||Amir Coffey||Fr.||6'8, 195||78||19||107||No|
After ugly start, shot 42% on threes in B1G. Decent finisher w/ high FT rate.
First matchup: 38 mins, 9 pts (0/3 2P, 1/1 3P, 6/6 FT), 4 reb, 1 ast, 3 to, 1 blk, 1 stl
|F||3||Jordan Murphy||So.||6'6, 240||66||22||102||Very|
Good rebounder, shot-blocker, inside finisher. High FT rate, bad FT shooter.
First matchup: 36 mins, 16 pts (7/12 2P, 0/1 3P, 2/5 FT), 15 reb (4 off)
|C||22||Reggie Lynch||Jr.||6'10, 260||54||19||103||Very|
Deserving B1G defensive POY. Athletic finisher, can be turnover-prone.
First matchup: 13 mins, 11 pts (4/4 2P, 3/4 FT), 8 reb (3 off), 1 to, 1 stl
|F||24||Eric Curry||Fr.||6'9, 235||49||17||101||Very|
Good rebounder, decent inside scorer, takes bad-idea jumpers.
First matchup: 35 mins, 12 pts (5/5 2P, 0/1 3P), 5 reb (1 off), 1 ast
|C||21||Bakary Konate||Jr.||6'11, 235||24||12||92||Very|
Good shot-blocker, foul-prone, only offense is putbacks.
First matchup: 6 mins, 0 pts (0/1 2P), 3 reb (1 off), 1 ast, 2 to
|F||42||Michael Hurt||Fr.||6'7, 200||11||10||83||Very|
Has played double-digit minutes once in B1G. 2/14 on threes.
First matchup: DNP-CD
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Friday, March 3, 2017
Michigan 5, #5 Minnesota 3
Mich 0 Minn 1 PPG 13:21 Assists: Bristedt & Gates
A deflected pass turns into a loose puck and that in turn becomes an opportunity for Minnesota to cycle the puck in the corner. Warren gets his stick into the passing lane and is a fraction of a second from knocking the pass away. The 2016-17 season is, however, a cruel mistress, so the pass gets through and the Minnesota skaters switch spots.
Gates skates into the circle and turns to open up for a pass as Bristedt loops around at the wall. Luce is watching this and understandably becomes preoccupied with saddling up next to Gates.
Cammarata sees the cycling along the wall and steps away from the crease. Boka had just dumped him to that side of the net two frames earlier and has since watching the cycling along the wall and quickly checked behind him to see if a skater was in position for a cross-ice one-timer. A good check, but one that sees him lose sight of Cammarata.
Bristedt doesn’t lose sight of him; he sees Luce take away Gates while the easier pass to Cammarata at the side of the net simultaneously opens up.
Cammarata reaches as far across as possible upon receipt and flings a shot in before Nagelvoort can get his leg extended.
As Sean Ritchlin said on the broadcast, you’re either going to tuck the puck in far-side before the goalie can push off the post or you’re going to get the goalie to kick it and create a rebound for that backside skater who’s been handing out in the faceoff circle (or the one in the slot).
[Much more after THE JUMP]
Irvin or Robinson?
Choosing between defense and offense. [Left: Campredon; right: Barron]
I put out a call for hoops mailbag questions over the weekend. A theme emerged:
@AceAnbender why doesn't Duncan Robinson start/play Irvin's minutes? Irvin is broken and it's not like the D can get substantially worse
— RIP D (@affluenzaQB) February 21, 2017
— Bob Dively (@bobdively) February 20, 2017
With Duncan Robinson's semi-emergence on defense (feels weird saying that), why is Coach Beilein not inserting him into the clutch-time lineup for Zak Irvin? I live in constant fear of Irvin hero-ball and I just don't trust him to make shot these days, let alone the right decision.
I'd feel much more comfortable with a Walton-MAAR-Robinson-Wilson-Wagner lineup offensively at the end of the game, and if the defense only takes a small step back isn't it worth it?
The first two questions are slightly different from the third. To address those first: Zak Irvin is going to remain in the starting lineup. I agree with that choice because of the difference Irvin makes on defense. I disagree with the premise in the first question; the defense can get substantially worse—we all saw as much in January—and Irvin is a big reason why Michigan has improved on that end.
Irvin's versatility on defense is more important than people seem to think. He can do everything from stay in front of two-guards to play passable post defense; did we already forget about this? (And this? And this too?) Michigan doesn't have another wing (DJ Wilson, if you're inclined to count him, excluded) with anything resembling Irvin's combination of strength and quickness; his presence allows M to switch on defense without creating too many mismatches. He's one of Michigan's better on-the-ball defenders, too.
Robinson has made strides on defense; he's still far from a good defender. SI posted anonymous coach quotes today on several potential tourney teams. From the Michigan section, which was critical but fair:
If [senior guard Duncan] Robinson is in the game you want to attack him defensively. Everybody knows that.
Robinson hasn't been caught out of position as often as he was earlier in the season. He's still susceptible to being attacked off the dribble by quicker guards/wings and he doesn't have Irvin's strength to hold up when he's switched onto a post player. Yes, Robinson is the superior offensive player; Irvin, in my opinion, has as much of an edge on defense.
A straight-up comparison between the two isn't sufficient; this is, after all, a team sport. You can gameplan to hide a struggling offensive player, especially when the rest of the offense is clicking like Michigan's. Irvin, in fact, is playing a decreased role in the offense over the course of this slump. This mathematical approach isn't perfect, but Irvin averaged a 27% usage rate over M's first seven conference games, with a high mark of 32% (Maryland) and a low of 21% (Illinois). That average is down to 17% over M's last seven games, in which he's surpassed the 20% only three times, topping out at 24% in the Wisconsin win; he's gone as low at 8% in that span, using only five possessions in the MSU win. Walton and MAAR have been able to pick up the slack.
It's much more difficult to hide a weak defender; you don't get to choose what set the opposing team runs. Robinson has been such an effective offensive player this season in part because John Beilein can cherry-pick his matchup on both ends. Robinson wasn't nearly as efficient as a starter last year (107.7 ORating in B1G games) compared to what he's done as the sixth man this year (122.8 ORating in B1G); while correlation doesn't equal causation, I don't believe that's a coincidence.
If Irvin continues to take on big late-game possessions—I'll admit I cringed when he waved off Derrick Walton in a second-half late-clock situation at Minnesota—then I wouldn't mind seeing Beilein use Robinson over Irvin in certain late-game situations, as Christian suggests, especially if he can go offense-defense with his substitutions. Benching Irvin is a step too far; Michigan still has the best offensive efficiency in the conference with him playing 89% of the available minutes, and he's played a major role in the defensive improvement of the last month. Another stat of note: Robinson averages 22.3 minutes per game in Michigan's seven conference losses; he's at 17.6 in their seven conference wins.
[Hit THE JUMP for the path to the tourney, Minnesota technical explanation, and more.]
Same. [Patrick Barron]
Michigan could've overcome it, either with better rebounding or free-throw shooting or Derrick Walton's overtime three going a quarter-inch the right way or any of the dozens of little moments that ultimately tilt a close basketball game one way or the other.
It, in this case, was as much officiating as Minnesota. This was one of those unfortunate games in which you can either sound like a bitterly sore loser or sound like you're ignoring the big story. In a game that started slow and never got much of a rhythm, the officials made their presence felt, as crews featuring TV Teddy Valentine are wont to do. It's difficult, after an overtime loss, to ignore such sequences as the phantom foul and ensuing phantom technical—called, apparently, on assistant Saddi Washington for getting into position to talk to his team—that resulted in a four-point Minnesota possession instead of a Gopher turnover.
Walton gutted out 16 points and five assists and DJ Wilson had two huge threes—including a bomb to send it to overtime—among his 16 points. Moe Wagner had an efficient 15 points before fouling out in overtime. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had a strong 14-point game marred by a pair of missed free-throws in the extra session. Jordan Murphy led the way for Minnesota with 16 points and 15 rebounds; Michigan had a tough time keeping him and center Reggie Lynch off the offensive glass.
The loss drops Michigan to 7-7 in Big Ten play and leaves them squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. More to come tomorrow when I'm less of a bitterly sore loser.