Bracket Watch: The Other Bracket Looms
it us. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
The outlook is grim. After everyone but Derrick Walton sleepwalked their way to a loss against a mediocre Ohio State team, Michigan is 14-9 (4-6 B1G) and out of the projected NCAA tournament field. The Wolverines have to climb out of an increasingly big hole and they may have already missed their chance; KenPom says they've played the easiest conference schedule of any Big Ten team so far, and that's about to change in a major way:
Michigan only has three home games left; of those, a more confident and rested Michigan State squad is by far the most beatable. The Wolverines have yet to win a road game this season; they'll need to take at least two, and quite possibly as many as all five left on the docket, to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. They're 79th in RPI. I had to edit the second sentence of this post multiple times before it was family-friendly.
If they lose tomorrow night, NIT bracket-watching begins in earnest.
[After THE JUMP: Some good news! Really! Also some bad news.]
Ohio State muscled their way to the basket, then missed, then rebounded, picked up a foul, and made their free throws. Then Michigan attempted a three. That could be how the game ended, or any possession in a one-way physical battle that might have elbowed Michigan out of a place in the tournament. In fact I wrote it with six minutes left in the game. I get no points.
In a game expected to come down to whose backup center spent more time on the floor Michigan couldn’t keep its starter out there for more than five minutes. Unable to win battles in the paint Michigan lived and died by its three-point shooting while Ohio State owned the boards, taking 16/33 offensive rebound opportunities and 26/33 on their own end. The numerous second opportunities on Michigan’s side led to a lot of fouls, putting the Wolverines’ best frontcourt defenders on the bench and exacerbating the mismatches down low.
Derrick Walton continued his inspiring play since the Illinois “white collar” comment, leading all scorers with 25 points and nearly his team to a late comeback. Walton finished 6/9 from distance (a possible 7th was called a two-pointer could have gone either way). He also led the Michigan defensive effort with 10 rebounds, including his team’s first OREB of the game late in the 1st half, when he out-leapt even his own center:
Walton also drove to nearly tie it right before freethrowtime, missing both a tough layup and his attempted put-back. After Ohio State missed two free throws—just their third and fourth whiffed freebies of the game—Walton again put Michigan within one with his last three-pointer. That would do it for Wolverine scoring; Ohio State made their next four attempts to finish 24 for 28 at the charity stripe.
Michigan started on a 9-2 run and pushed it as far as 19-8 early. But Ohio State battled back to a 36-35 halftime lead by dominating the boards on both ends despite their own foul troubles. The Buckeyes’ 10-1 first half advantage in offensive rebounds was augmented by an uncharacteristic six turnovers for Michigan, half off the hands of Irvin.
Matters got worse early in the first half as both Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson quickly picked up their third fouls. Ohio State took advantage, pushing their lead to 47-39 by the next break as their frontcourt feasted on Donnal and Robinson. Wagner came back in at the 15 minute mark but immediately picked his fourth whistle, putting Donnal back on the floor. Moe would enter again late, fouling out on Michigan’s last wrap-up in the waning seconds. Teske did not play.
Michigan has its other, more basketbally rival coming to town for a night game this week. It’s hard to see this team making the tournament if they’re as accommodating to those guests too.
Miles Bridges hit some key shots late. [Bryan Fuller]
Even against a Michigan State team that's not up to Tom Izzo's usual standard, Michigan needed a lot to go right if they wanted to pull out a win in the hostile confines of the Breslin Center.
Very little went right.
The Wolverines struggled to score, shooting 40% on twos and 27% on threes. Zak Irvin had the worst game of his career, going scoreless on eight shots with three turnovers in 36 minutes. Derrick Walton was a bright spot with his aggressive drives to the basket, but while he scored 24 points and went 14-for-15 from the line, he couldn't get dialed in from long range, making only 2-of-9 threes. Moe Wagner, the only Wolverine who could consistently score from the field, only got up six shot attempts while saddled with foul trouble, and his fourth foul came on a preposterous double technical.
There were times when Michigan looked like the superior team, but they couldn't sustain them for long. The deciding stretch came early in the second half; starting at the 17:23 mark, when M trailed by a mere two points, the normally turnover-averse Wolverines coughed up the rock seven times in eight minutes. Suddenly, MSU had a double-digit lead, and the closest Michigan could get the rest of the way was four points as Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, and Cassius Winston closed the game out strong.
Given their offensive performance, Michigan was lucky to be this close. On the flip side, they managed to hang tight with MSU on the road while playing far from their best game. They'll have the whole week to work out this afternoon's issues before taking on a very beatable Ohio State squad at Crisler on Saturday. Two days later, they'll get a chance for revenge against the Spartans, and they'll need Irvin to show up for that one if they want a different result.
Moe Wagner exploited mismatches in the post. [Eric Upchurch]
Michigan exploited multiple mismatches in the frontcourt to jump out to an early lead and used that as a springboard to a 30-point blowout of Indiana.
Let that sink in for a moment.
A shorthanded Indiana squad was faced with a choice: stick center Thomas Bryant on Moe Wagner and hope DJ Wilson wouldn't destroy 6'6" injury replacement Zach McRoberts, or put Bryant on Wilson and hope Wagner wouldn't feast on McRoberts in the post. They initially chose the second option. Wagner feasted, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the first half on 6-for-8 shooting. When IU tried putting Bryant on Wagner, it didn't go any better, as Bryant couldn't stay in front of the quicker German big man.
The Hoosiers couldn't exactly slow down Wilson, either. He did a bit of everything, attacking the matchup on McRoberts early, setting up his teammates with gorgeous passes, and providing great rim protection. He finished with 11 points, five rebounds, three assists, four blocks, and a steal; if anything, that undersells his impact.
"Don't forget, DJ and Moe are really evolving, yet," said John Beilein. "They are really playing the big crunch time minutes for the first time."
It was easy to forget that tonight.
Probably could've been the whole recap. [Upchurch]
After the big men softened up Indiana's defense, Derrick Walton took over, getting to the hoop time and again, and finishing when he got there, a great sign given his past struggles scoring at the rim. He led the team with 21 points (7-for-8 FG, 6-for-7 FT) and five assists.
Seemingly everyone who hit the floor got into the act. Duncan Robinson scored 13 off the bench; Zak Irvin added 12 points and three assists; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman also had 12 and played exemplary defense on Hoosiers star James Blackmon. Michigan shot 63.3% from the floor, their best mark in a Big Ten game since 2006.
Indiana shot the ball well themselves, finishing at 54.5% from the field. The Hoosiers couldn't keep up, however, because of their 16 turnovers. Those were part a product of good, aggressive defense—Michigan had seven steals—and part some really sloppy play on IU's part.
"We did have some great [defensive] possessions," said Beilein. "We created turnovers by just being active."
Put it all together and this was a laugher that Tom Crean could hardly bring himself to talk about; his postgame presser lasted all of a few minutes.
"There's no excuse for it," Crean said of their defensive effort.
While one coach sulked, the other was loose and excited, knowing his team has laid down a blueprint for success over the last few games.
"It's just a great feeling for those guys knowing this is how we're going to win going forward," said Beilein.
"The world corrects itself at some point, and basketball does too," he added.
From his lips to the basketball gods' ears, hopefully.
DJ Wilson led a blue-collar effort for Michigan today. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
After Illinois blew out Michigan in Champaign ten days ago, Illini center Maverick Morgan described Michigan as a "white collar" team.
When the Wolverines arrived at Crisler for today's rematch, their blue road uniforms were hanging in the lockers—a request the players made, according to John Beilein. If the message weren't already abundantly clear, Billy Donlon made sure it hit home.
"He wrote 'street fight' on our wall with a sharpie," said DJ Wilson. "We were like, 'you know you can't take that off,' and he was like, 'that's the point.' His energy was contagious and I think it showed in the first half."
Wilson, in particular, took that message to heart. He scored 19 points (7/10 FG), grabbed six of his seven rebounds on the offensive end, immediately finishing a couple with emphatic tip-slams. He also broke down the Illinois zone with five assists and contributed a block and some more altered shots to Michigan's strong defensive effort.
"He's got to get in there," Beilein said of Wilson. "One of our zone things was he was not leaving the paint so he could rebound, and stay in there instead of stretching [out to the perimeter]."
"He can really shoot, but he's got to understand that if we're going to win, if he's going to play at another level, he's got to mix it up inside. He's very receptive to that coaching."
This afternoon, it showed. Wilson attempted eight of his ten shots from inside the arc after shooting only four two-pointers over the last two games. His six offensive boards matched the career-high he set in the conference opener at Iowa.
Wilson, Walton, and Irvin all produced at the rim. [Campredon]
Unlike the first Illinois game, when he also had 19 points, Wilson got plenty of help. Derrick Walton posted 13 points and 11 rebounds, all on defense, for his first double-double of the season and sixth of his career. Zak Irvin wasn't exactly efficient, needing 15 field goal attempts to get his 15 points, but he repeatedly broke down the Illini defense and got to the basket. Most importantly, the team-wide defensive effort was a night-and-day contrast from the last time around: after allowing 1.42 points per possession in Champaign, Michigan held them to 0.89 PPP at Crisler and forced 17 turnovers.
After Michigan followed up their awful defensive showing at Illinois with a shootout win over Nebraska in which neither team could stop the other, there was good reason to fear that this team would embrace having to out-gun every team they faced from here on out. Today's win, however, marked the second consecutive game in which the Wolverines played much-improved defense. The final score isn't indicative of the flow of the game, either; Michigan held a comfortable lead throughout and led by 21 with 5:57 to play before packing in the offense a little prematurely.
Morgan, who scored 16 points on 8-for-9 shooting in the first game, mustered a six-point, three-turnover performance this afternoon; in 22 minutes, he had a +/- of -22, the worst mark of any player by 13 points.
"We won't have a painter come in until next year, at least," said Beilein.
The Post Defense Was... Good?
Michigan put up a surprisingly strong fight in the post. [Patrick Barron]
I don't think I was alone in thinking Wisconsin, boasting two strong post scorers in Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes, would crush Michigan in the paint on Tuesday night. Instead, Michigan limited the Happ/Hayes duo to shooting a combined 8-for-20 on two-pointers with six assists and four turnovers; they were the two least-efficient players among Badgers to play at least 12 minutes.
I went back through the game and pulled clips of every Wisconsin possession that went through the post. While Happ missed a couple makeable shots, Michigan generally played strong post defense, with both DJ Wilson and Moe Wagner standing out for the good:
Given how Michigan has played defense this year, the first thing that jumps out is their effort; they scrapped for post position, didn't give up on plays, and hit the deck for rebounds.
Wilson gave up an easy bucket to Hayes early when he got caught napping on a cut (0:29 mark) and couldn't recover in time to deny prime post position. He otherwise did quite well; he blocked Happ twice and forced a Hayes miss shortly after the aforementioned bucket by establishing good position and forcing him to spin for a tough left-handed attempt.
While Wagner wasn't quite as strong in the post, which allowed Happ to get good position on him multiple times, he used his hands quite well to disrupt Happ on the way up and pulled off the subtle "step in and bump the guy with your chest" thing that often throws off shots and rarely draws a whistle (0:39, 2:23). A couple paint baskets weren't on the bigs, either; I didn't include Vitto Brown getting isolated on Duncan Robinson, which ended in a layup (surprise!), and on the final clip Robinson rotates over to the open big way too late.
The notable exception to M's strong interior defense: Mark Donnal, who gave up an and-one and fouled Happ on the floor just before he could give up another on his two post defense possessions before getting yanked.
In his lone opportunity, Jon Teske gave up a second-chance bucket when he lost contact with Happ after an offensive rebound. I'd still like to see more of him out there; Donnal was physically overwhelmed on defense and once again a non-factor on offense, so Beilein might as well let his behomoth freshman big man work through his mistakes—Teske is much more likely to display significant in-season improvement than a guy in his fourth year in the program.
Michigan still had their fair share of defensive breakdowns, which I'll get to momentarily. That said, this was an encouraging performance on that end of the floor, especially in the paint. If the Wolverines can replicate that level of effort on defense while getting offensive outputs like they have in their non-Wisconsin Big Ten games, they can make a late tourney push. It's a huge if, of course, but it's hard not to feel better about this team after Tuesday night despite the loss.
[Hit THE JUMP for the aforementioned breakdowns, highlights of a couple 2017 commits, and more.]