Bracket Watch: Safely In For Now
Get pumped up for a tourney run? [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
While they still have work to do to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament, Michigan made their way back into the vast majority of projected fields after their back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Indiana. The Wolverines are on 92 of the 110 brackets comprising the current Bracket Matrix (updated yesterday evening), putting them as an 11-seed and, critically, avoiding the First Four for now.
The projection for the remainder of the season has also improved. Following the Indiana win and Wisconsin's home loss to Northwestern (yes, that's a thing that really happened), KenPom's algorithm bumped Michigan from a slight underdog to a slight favorite in tomorrow night's game against the Badgers. With games at Rutgers and Nebraska still on the schedule, Michigan is the outright favorite in three of their last six games, and I'm still not sold on Minnesota being as tough an opponent as the numbers suggest.
Friendly neighborhood bracketologist CrislerSpidey ran the win probability numbers for the rest of the season a couple days ago. At that point, Michigan was more likely to finish with a winning conference record than a losing one, and the projections have become slightly more favorable since then:
Tomorrow night's game is, of course, a huge one for M's tourney chances. Wisconsin's offense has been in a statistical nosedive for the last five games, almost exactly coinciding with Michigan's (relative) defensive renaissance. They're vulnerable; Michigan played them close at the Kohl Center; it'd be a much-needed quality win.
[Hit THE JUMP for the bubble rooting guide, how to slow Ethan Happ, and more.]
Walton's game resembles that of a former IU star and Wolverine-killer. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
With 25 games played so far this hoops season, the statistical profiles of teams and players are pretty representative of the quality of those teams and players; by mid-February, the sample size of relevant information is definitely large enough. With that in mind, I took a look at the advanced stat profiles for Michigan’s four players who average double digit points: Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Moritz Wagner, and DJ Wilson.
A few years ago, I came up with a way to compare a player’s statistical output to a database of former Big Ten players: by now, there are over 1,000 players that can be compared to a given player’s unique performance in various tempo-free numbers. A little more in-depth background can be found here. Basically the algorithm finds a player’s comparable precedents – over the course of the project (which spans players from 2008-2016, the Beilein Era), the outputs of the system have mostly passed the sanity test and frequently the group of similar players tells us something more about the style of a given player than their statistics would in and of themselves.
Usually these similarity score posts feature plenty of charts and graphs and this one is no different.
Derrick Walton: Close to a Legit Star
X-Axis: Usage Rate. Y-Axis: Offensive Rating. Bubble size: Minutes.
X-Axis: Usage Rate. Y-Axis: Offensive Rating.
[After the JUMP: Walton's comp, plus Wagner, Wilson, and Irvin]
There are usually two or three plays in a given Michigan game in which DJ Wilson makes his NBA potential strikingly apparent. This was one such play, and there were more than a couple others as the Wolverines finished an authoritative season sweep of Indiana.
Yes, the Crean GIF is after the jump.
[Hit THE JUMP for Wagner trucking Crean, lots of Walton and Wilson, and more.]
Wagner hits 3, runs over Tom Crean. pic.twitter.com/YdwT35WGlv
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) February 12, 2017
In one sense, this felt deeply unfamilar. Michigan entered today's game with zero road wins on the season and one victory in 17 tries at Assembly Hall since 1996, that an overtime win over a terrible 2008-09 Indiana squad. They never trailed the Hoosiers or even came particularly close to relinquishing their lead.
In another sense, this felt pleasantly familiar. Michigan turned up the defensive intensity, forced 15 turnovers—ten in the first half—and rode hot perimeter shooting and another tremendous game from Derrick Walton for a comfortable victory over the Hoosiers.
If this wasn't a must-win game, it was damn close to it, and Walton once again played with an intensity that matched the stakes. He scored 25 points, going 7-for-13 from the field and 9-for-9 from the line, while adding five rebounds, four assists, and three steals. It was a masaterful performance that had the CBS announcers full-on fawning over his play:
— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) February 12, 2017
Much like in the first contest, Walton's main scoring support came from big men Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson. Wagner overcame a series of extremely questionable calls to post an 11-point, ten-rebound double-double while helping keep star IU center Thomas Bryant (8 points on 8 shots, 3 turnovers) in check. Wilson did a little bit of everything on both ends; he showed off an NBA-caliber array of shotmaking to net his 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting and his NBA-caliber combination of size and coordination to tally three blocks and three steals.
Other than Zak Irvin (5 points, 1-for-8 FG), whose offensive woes continued, the supporting cast had another strong outing. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman needed only four shot equivalents for his seven points and once again made James Blackmon Jr. a relative non-factor; Blackmon scored only six points, three of which came on a meaningless garbage-time shot. Duncan Robinson hit a couple timely threes, playing his part in making sure IU paid dearly for their live-ball turnovers. Xavier Simpson followed his breakout MSU game by converting a strong take the hoop on his only shot attempt and chipping in two assists and a steal in 12 minutes.
The first road win of the season couldn't have come at a better time. Michigan is now 16-9, 6-6 in the Big Ten, and they'll be in the field in the next round of NCAA tournament projections; in many of them, they'll be taking Indiana's place. A 3-3 finish down the stretch, which features four road games and tough home contests against Wisconsin and Purdue, should have the Wolverines in position for an at-large bid. That looks a whole lot more realistic this afternoon than it did a week ago.
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 Versatile, Part One
Illinois couldn't keep DJ Wilson off the glass. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
In Michigan's seven conference games, DJ Wilson is second on the team in scoring, first in rebounding, third in assists, and first in blocks. The efficiency numbers look even better than the counting stats: Wilson leads the Big Ten in O-Rating, ranks third in 2P%, 3P%, and eFG%, has the second-lowest turnover rate, and is top-25 in offensive rebound and block rates. Over the course of the season, he's gone from being most notable for his short shorts to being the most important—and perhaps outright best—player on the Wolverines.
Wilson bounced back from a scoreless foul-out against Wisconsin with a complete, dominant outing against Illinois: 19 points (6/8 2P, 1/2 3P, 4/6 FT), six rebounds (five offensive), five assists, no turnovers, a block, and two fouls in 39 minutes. Illini coach John Groce was duly impressed:
“I thought they beat us up on the glass, and obviously DJ Wilson spearheaded that. I thought he was absolutely terrific today. To be honest with you, he was pretty good in game one, too, when you look at his stat line. Today, he hurt us on the glass. Assuming that none of his five assists contributed to threes, he basically produced 29 points minimum for their team with his assists and his scoring.* That’s right at probably half of their production. That’s his energy level on the backboard, his willingness to make the extra pass, make his team better. I just thought he was absolutely terrific in the game. Thought he was a real, real difference.”
Let's start with Wilson's work on the boards. He grabbed six offensive rebounds for the second time this season (Iowa); excluding those two games, however, he hadn't surpassed two since the second game of the season. After the game, John Beilein mentioned he's been hammering home a specific coaching point with Wilson:
He can really shoot, but he’s got to understand, if we’re going to win, if he wants to play at another level, he’s got to mix it up inside. And he’s very receptive to that coaching, but the habit is to drift out. And getting in there, that’s where he gets stuff.
Wilson played with more aggression against Illinois and reaped the rewards. Incidentally, the threat of his outside shot is part of what makes him such a dangerous offensive rebounder. Take his first-half tip-slam, for example. Wilson is parked in the near-side corner while Zak Irvin and Moe Wagner run a high pick-and-roll. With Irvin a legitimate threat to drive and Wilson a legitimate threat on a catch-and-shoot, Wilson's defender, Leron Black—who's Illinois' best rebounder—ends up stuck in no-man's land. Black keeps his eyes on Irvin while shuffling back towards Wilson, except Wilson recognizes the opportunity and sneaks down the baseline:
That wasn't the only time Illinois had trouble picking up Wilson when he crashed from the perimeter:
If you feel like you've seen this before, Glenn Robinson III's putbacks came in similar fashion. Wilson is much bigger; he's also a better outside shooter. After this performance, he should be the second man hitting the boards much more often.
*Two of Wilson's assists did, in fact, contribute to three-pointers, so you can increment that up to 31 points produced.
[Hit THE JUMP for more DJ, a surprising Zak Irvin stat, and more.]