Derrick Walton's range extended to the midcourt logo today. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Three is worth more than two.
In one of the most unbelievable offensive showcases these eyes have seen at any level, that core tenet of John Beilein's offense proved the difference.
In a tight contest from start to finish, Michigan couldn't keep Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans from getting into the paint. Evans poured in 23 points and handed out 12 assists, and many of his 16 misses led to second-chance points for the Cowboys. OSU pulled down 16 offensive boards to Michigan's six; they outscored the Wolverines 50-20 in the paint.
Michigan, on the other hand, had a difficult time working their way inside. After clinging to a one-point halftime lead because they took care of the basketball, they laid waste to OSU's defense from the perimeter, sinking 11 of their 15 second-half three-point attempts.
Derrick Walton, to nobody's surprise, led the second-half charge. After a 1-for-6 first half, Walton didn't hesitate to rise and fire from as far out as the edge of the midcourt logo, and for good reason: he scored 19 in the final stanza, hitting 5-of-6 threes.
"It's a lot of fun, first and foremost, to know you have that rock that you can always count on," Duncan Robinson said of Walton. "He's been so good and we go as he goes, so hopefully he's got a little bit more left in the tank."
"I just tapped into the fact that I know I've worked really hard," said Walton. "Just the mindset and the trust these guys have in me, that makes me go out and just play much more free knowing they have a lot of confidence in me."
Zak Irvin's 16 points included some huge second-half jumpers. [Bryan Fuller]
Robinson and Zak Irvin also hit huge shots down the stretch from beyond the arc. DJ Wilson came up with big plays on both ends of the floor, including the game-sealing free-throws to put Michigan up four before Evans drilled an inconsequential—unless you're a gambler—triple at the buzzer.
That capped one of the most entertaining, exhilarating, and stressful games of this college basketball season. So much happened in the second half that it's hard to remember that the game got off to a sluggish start; the two teams were knotted up at 11 at the under-12 timeout. OSU pushed ahead with a swift 9-0 run, then Michigan hit back when John Beilein threw caution to the wind and re-inserted Moe Wagner despite his two early fouls. Both squads settled into a groove, giving a taste of what was to come after the break.
The Cowboys again jumped out to a lead after halftime, and that was only a small part of Michigan's concern, as Walton briefly exited the game with an apparent ankle issue. He returned with the Wolverines down six points; that gap closed to two on M's next three possessions, in which Walton hit a three and dished out two assists. A pair of Wagner free throws deadlocked the game at 59 with 13 minutes to play; from there, Michigan's deadeye shooting made the difference.
Walton sizes up Jawun Evans before drilling a corner three. [Campredon]
While the Wolverines couldn't string together stops, neither could the Cowboys, and Michigan's shots were coming from beyond the arc. With that, the Wolverines needed one decent defensive stretch, and they got that with two stops at the rim—including a huge block by DJ Wilson that led to Walton's midcourt bomb—and a charge drawn on OSU center Mitchell Solomon. Subsequent triples by Wilson and Walton sandwiched around a Phil Forte two-pointer got the lead to eight with 6:47 left.
That held steady until a late OSU comeback push that appeared to be stymied by long jumpers from Irvin and Walton. Robinson missed the front end of two late one-and-ones, however, which added some serious drama to the final moments until Wilson's pair of free throws sealed it.
Michigan took this game despite a quiet performance from Wagner, who scored six points in only 14 minutes as Beilein went with Wilson at the five for much of the second half. Wilson finished with 19 points, while Irvin and Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman each added 16. That proved just enough to overcome Evans and a very efficient 19-point outing from Jeffrey Carroll.
Hopefully, we can catch our collective breath in time for Sunday's game, which will almost certainly be against two-seed Louisville.
There's too much from this tournament run to cram into one GIFs post, so I'm splitting it into two parts; today's covers the Illinois and Purdue games. The glut of quality GIFs is due in no small part to Fred Wright-Jones, who emerged over the tournament as the heir apparent to Andrew Dakich's role as King of the Bench Mob. You can see him above mirroring Zak Irvin's dunk from the end of the bench. There's much more where that came from.
[Hit THE JUMP for the best moments from the Illinois and Purdue wins.]
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.
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
Now for a cheer they are here, triumphant. [Paul Sherman]
I'm still not sure how that happened.
Almost everything that went right for Michigan in their regular-season win over Purdue went wrong today. Moe Wagner didn't make a shot from the field and spent most of the game on the bench with foul trouble. John Beilein got so frustrated with the officiating that he picked up a rare technical. Derrick Walton had his worst game of the last month or so. The Wolverines had more than twice as many turnovers (13) as assists (six) or made three-pointers (also six, on 25 attempts). Isaac Haas brutalized Michigan's big men. The clock operator Spartan Bob'd Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman out of a potential game-winning steal and layup at the end of regulation. Purdue even hit a buzzer-beating halfcourt heave, because after all, this is the Big Ten Tournament.
Somehow, they persevered. DJ Wilson made up for Wagner's extended absence by scoring 18 of his game-high 26 in the first half, taking advantage of Purdue's big men defending in space like Wagner did the first time around. Zak Irvin alternated great and awful possessions but came up huge down the stretch, tying the game on a layup with 4.2 seconds remaining in regulation. He got to the basket twice more for the only field goals either team made in the overtime session until a desperate Purdue heave with two seconds remaining. Irvin finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, and his defense was once again a huge positive.
DJ Wilson was on his game. The arena was on brand. [Sherman]
Haas and Swanigan feasted on the interior, especially the former, who went 8-for-10 from the field to net 17 points in just 15 minutes. Swanigan made 5-of-10 twos, dished out five assists, and pulled down 13 rebounds; he also missed all three shots from beyond the arc and committed four turnovers before fouling out in overtime. Michigan overcame their struggles in the paint with excellent perimeter defense. While Purdue shot 42% on threes, they could only get 19 looks, and their primary sharpshooters were shut down; Ryan Cline was 1-for-2 while Dakota Mathias had a rough 1-for-8 performance.
Free throws ended up as the deciding factor. The Boilermakers were 6-for-13; Michigan went 18-for-23. PJ Thompson's miss on the front end of a one-and-one led to Irvin's tying layup at the end of regulation. In overtime, Walton and Duncan Robinson were able to keep the game just out of reach with perfect trips to the line.
With that, Michigan's incredible, unlikely, bizarre week continued. Despite being the eight-seed, they may very well be the Big Ten Tournament favorite from here on out; they're the only team to beat Purdue over the last ten games and they've done it twice. The Wolverines await the winner of Michigan State and Minnesota in the game currently being played on ESPN. They'll have plenty of motivation in the semifinal either way. Getting off the 8/9 seed line would be huge for their hopes of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament; if they didn't accomplish that today, another win might do it.