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.
Mmmm potential rebound [Bryan Fuller]
Our recording got cut off before we did the intro and outro so David had to record those at home.
We Couldn’t Have One Without the Other
We get to make audio content because we can afford the studio time and equipment to make it happen, and that’s thanks to the people running ads between segments.
The others: Homesure Lending, Ann Arbor Elder Law, the Residence Inn Ann Arbor Downtown, the University of Michigan Alumni Association, Deo Bookkeeping, Michigan Law Grad, Defensive Drivers Group, and Peak Wealth Management.
1. Bandwagon Basketball Podcast
starts at 1:00
The bandwagon for this Beilein team has a lot of room, since Ace’s is the only ass to remain in its seat through the bad times, and it’s a rather scrawny one. Defense is alright, offense is as good as the best of ’em. Talk every starter and how each has developed this year. Why two stretch bigs makes Michigan a tough ask to defend.
2. Finding a Seed
starts at 30:00
Disgust over the Minnesota game lingers: what that game could cost this team in the postseason. Appreciation for Northwestern’s commitment to drama (and Econ homework).
3. Gimmicky Top Five Developments You’d Like to See in Spring Football
starts at 46:30
Wilton Speight to the NFL, people saying the best recruit in the country is good, prophesies that might make Penn State fans, and more Glasgows.
4. A Grim Hockey Talk
starts at 1:05:16
David Nasternak, who’s been covering hockey for us this year, sits in to talk about how the bottom finally fell out, and what’s really up with this program right now. Fandom endurance badges to anyone who sticks around for all of it.
- “Secure the Galactic Perimeter”—Soronprfbs
- “Bubble Song”—Spongebob Squarepants
- “Catch 'Em Slippin’”—O.G. Style
- “Across 110th Street”
THE USUAL LINKS
2/25/2017 – Michigan 82, Purdue 70 – 19-10, 9-7 Big Ten
GERMAN DURANT [Bryan Fuller]
For months I'd chalked the Purdue game up as a loss. Michigan has certain deficiencies, you see, and Purdue has 7'2" Ivan Drago and a guy better at rebounding than 7'2" Ivan Drago. These gentlemen aimed a dagger straight at Michigan's primary weakness. Therefore, pessimism.
That pessimism was well founded. Purdue grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, 36% of those available. Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan had five of those. Swanigan went 7/8 from inside the arc. And it didn't matter. Mo Wagner summoned the spirit of Stauskas and spearheaded a run-away-and-hide first half that was reminiscent of the good ol' days when official Twitter accounts had no recourse from posting shruggies during NCAA tournament games.
Purdue fans must have felt the same creeping helplessness Texas's social media wrangler during Wagner's barrage. Wagner posted up the dead-certain Big Ten POY successfully. He took him off the dribble. Somewhat later he hit three straight triples like he was Kevin freakin' Durant at Rucker Park. On defense he was... acceptable? Swanigan scored a bunch but some of that was very late during Michigan's no-threes period and some of it was when Wagner went out briefly in the first half. Swanigan got his but he also got got by Wagner's Mitch McGary impression, as Ace helpfully clipped:
Wagner knew he couldn't win the strength battle so those little gambles are making the best of a bad situation. Five turnovers drove Swanigan's game ORTG down to 109 despite his hot shooting. That's below his season average, and that's a massive win, one that led to a massive win.
Wagner, meanwhile? 148 ORTG. Like the turnover embedded above, it's a trap(!).
People get the Death Star all wrong. When a real life thing is compared to fiction's most well-trodden trope it's a supreme thing. A thing of tremendous power at the top of the game. That's not right. Whenever a Death Star shows up—and it shows up in every Star Wars movie because it's not called New Idea Wars—it is immediately and spectacularly destroyed by someone throwing a can of soup at it.
I submit that this year's Michigan basketball team is a real Death Star kind of team. Charge 'em up and point 'em in the right direction and they will turn a bucolic, pastoral world into rubble.
MSU—By 29 to Michigan
Indiana—By 30 to Michigan
Purdue—By 12 to Michigan
Marquette—By 18 to Michigan
SMU—By 22 to Michigan
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) February 25, 2017
Penetrate their flimsy defenses with some chunky clam chowder or, like, whatever Ohio State purports to be this year* and you'll be rewarded with a gradually expanding cloud of pine-scented debris. They put the thermal exhaust ports at backup center and for some unfathomable reason created nine-foot-high neon signs that blink SHOOT HERE. It doesn't have to make sense, because Ewoks.
It is possible that Michigan has turned the blinking signs off. That awful period at the beginning of conference play when every Michigan basketball observer except Ace gave up is now firmly in the rearview mirror. Michigan's defense is... acceptable? Both Dylan and our entire Slack chat took note of a particular play in the second half on which Michigan looked like they knew what they were doing:
Purdue's been very good this year not only because of their big guys but because they've surrounded them with shooters. Almost 40% of their shots are threes and they go down at a 40% clip. Michigan held Purdue to just 16 attempts, barely more than a quarter of their shots. They hit barely more than 30%, because a lot of them were contested jacks like the above.
That's a trend that's taken them off the bottom of the conference in most stats. Michigan actually hasn't given up significantly more than a point per possession since their win against Nebraska in the middle of January. That's an 11 game stretch of 1.01 PPP, which would be good for fifth in the league. Pair okay defense with an offense that is as scorching as any Beilein's had...
Michigan's adjusted offensive efficiency is now 120.3 - the team that made it to the title game a few years ago was 120.2
— bauncey chillups (@bauncechill) February 26, 2017
...and you're looking at the proverbial Team Nobody Wants To Play In The NCAA Tournament. Per this guy on twitter, Michigan was the best team in the Big Ten during February. One that nearly lost to Rutgers, just in case anyone was getting cocky.
One thing is clear: when Michigan takes the court a fireball will soon follow.
*[Ohio State Basketball 2016-17: "We Take A Comparison To A Can Of Soup As A Compliment."]
The cost and the benefit. Credit to John Beilein for rolling with Wagner for the vast bulk of the first half. He got an early foul and the bench time that results; Donnal came in and did what you'd expect against the Purdue front line for a few minutes in which Michigan was –7; Wagner returned and did not exit the rest of the half. This allowed Michigan to race out to a huge halftime lead.
Wagner's quick fouls in the second half were not the Bad Mo Whistle coming back out; they seemed to be sheer tiredness, especially the third, on which he grabbed Swanigan so blatantly that he did the sheepish hand raise thing. Every Michigan beat writer noted the time of his departure (14:58) but Michigan managed to extend their lead during the nine minutes he was out. This was largely because...
DJ Wilson functioned as the five. A few more Donnal minutes that were headed in a very bad direction and then Michigan went with their smallest possible lineup: DJ at the five. This had the same offensive benefits that Wagner did against Purdue's bigs, and Wilson did an admirable job using his tremendous length to deny entry passes to Swanigan. It's a stopgap, but I'm way on board with stopgaps at backup center.
Peak Derrick Walton. In a game featuring Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan, Derrick Walton led all rebounders with 11. He had literally half of Michigan's defensive rebounds. This is kind of a problem but not a huge one—Michigan is 9th in DREBs in the league.
Also in Derrick Walton news, 17 points on 13 shot equivalents, five assists, zero turnovers, and a steal. Find me a better point guard in the Big Ten. Melo Trimble has one thing on him: volume. Nobody else is even in the conversation.
Pretty good refereeing! There was only one thing that was insane.
The above is Wagner getting clocked in midair by Haas without a call. Nothing else stood out at bad either way; even the second half foul-fest looked to be entirely initiated by the players.
Third banana time. Zak Irvin was a perfect third banana as a freshman during the good ol' days. With Walton and Wagner blowing up Irvin's back to being #3, and that's fine. Sometimes he hits some shots and pulls Michigan over the hump—his 16 against Rutgers were desperately needed—and sometimes he throws up bricks and dribbles it off his foot and fades into the background. Michigan can live with Irvin scoring just four, as he did against Purdue, if he's only taking eight shots.
It would be really nice if he could get back to that 40% three point clip he had early in his career.
The late slowdown. With about six minutes left Michigan took the air out of the ball and proceeded to give everyone a near-heart attack. It's obvious when that slowdown took place on the Kenpom probability chart:
Michigan in blue
The Walton heave at the buzzer starts off Michigan's final scoring flurry. There has been a lot of consternation in the aftermath. I'm of two minds. I was freaking out like everyone else, and I hated those four minutes of bleeding the clock and shooting your offense in the foot. It's especially grating because Michigan has one of the nation's slowest and most efficient offenses. If they just act normally they are likely to run a bunch of time off the clock and get a good look.
On the other hand, the defensive end of the floor was close to the worst case scenario...
The Boilermakers scored on 10 of 11 possessions after DJ Wilson hit a three to put Michigan up by 21 points with 8:50 to play. That’s 25 points in 11 possessions or 2.3 points per trip. That’s more than a basket every trip down the floor and Purdue scored just 45 points in the other 54 possessions of the game.
...and Kenpom was almost entirely unmoved.
Whittling it down to six with just over two minutes to go got Michigan down to a 95% win percentage, and Walton's dagger shut the door again. So it was probably the percentage play to shut down the variance.
Still felt like a couple minutes too early.
Bubble watch turns into something else. Michigan's punched their ticket and is now trying to get out of the 8-9 game, but there is significant bubble intrigue left in the league: Northwestern. At the beginning of February the Wildcats were 18-4 and cruising towards a bid. After losing five of seven—oddly one of the two wins in there is at the Trohl Center—they're 20-9, 9-7, and solidly on the bubble. They finish with Michigan and Purdue at home. Both those games are near coinflips to Kenpom.
It would have been disappointing if Northwestern's first NCAA bid was a cruise to a six-seed. This feels much better. The downside is that Michigan's going into Welsh Ryan against some desperate dudes.
Derrick Walton capped his Crisler career with a vintage performance. [Bryan Fuller]
"We're not done yet," said a triumphant Derrick Walton, addressing the Crisler Center crowd after a Senior Day victory over Purdue that all but locked in Michigan to a NCAA tournament bid.
The Wolverines looked the part of a team capable of making a run in March. They scored on their first possession against the current Big Ten leaders, getting a Moe Wagner layup off a Walton assist. Those two would lead the way in a game Michigan never trailed.
The matchup of Wagner and national player of the year candidate Caleb Swanigan took center stage in the first half. The German big man didn't just hold his own: he dominated. Forcing the burlier Swanigan to defend in space, Wagner poured in 22 first-half points, making five of six two-pointers and raining in four of his six three-point attempts. While Swanigan had an efficient nine points in the half, timely Michigan double-teams forced two turnovers, and he couldn't get the defense to collapse—the normally hot-shooting Boilermakers went only 5-for-16 on threes.
"That's just my guy, man," Walton said of Wagner. "I've got an absurd amount of respect for him. We go through [the pick-and-pop] so much in pregame, that's just our little thing. He knows where I'm at. I know where he's at. With a defense like that, I feel it was my priority to get him the ball in space."
Purdue adjusted in the second half, putting Vincent Edwards on Wagner and switching on every screen, but by then it was too late. Duncan Robinson's corner three-pointer sent Michigan into halftime with a 15-point lead, and the Wolverines would push the margin as high as 22 points before a last-gasp Boilermakers comeback made matters uncomfortable for a couple possessions.
Wagner scored 22 of his 24 points in the first half. [Fuller]
Fittingly, the seniors to play a huge role in fending off that comeback. Zak Irvin struggled to score again today, but he made his mark with a big defensive play, chasing down Carsen Edwards to force a fast break miss when Purdue had a chance to cut the lead to single digits. The Boilermakers subsequently got it to a six-point game with 2:14 to play. Walton ended the threat by ducking under Swanigan to hit leaning three-pointer that beat the shot clock and effectively ended the threat.
"I silently thanked God because there was no reason I should've made the shot," Walton said. "It was probably one of the worst possessions we had all game. You just kind of dribble the ball around for six seconds. It's just one of those times. We had a lot going against us this season. It was one of those moments where it was kind of 'okay then, we finally got a good bounce of the ball.'"
"I was actually about to chase it. It was not a good shot."
Walton finished with a very Walton stat line: 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting, 11 rebounds, five assists, no turnovers, and a steal. Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman both finished in double figures on combined 7-for-9 shooting. DJ Wilson added nine points and a critical stint at center in the second half when Mark Donnal proved ineffective. Xavier Simpson got into the act, hitting both his field goals—a transition corner three and an eye-opening layup after driving past Swanigan—and dishing out a pair of assists.
Xavier Simpson gave the fans a taste of what's to come after Walton. [Fuller]
The team was in high spirits in the aftermath. Asked if Irvin cried, Walton couldn't help but laugh, then said loud enough for his fellow senior to hear, "I think he choked up on the mic. He did. I looked at him."
"No I didn't!" Irvin yelled from across the room.
They know there's still more to accomplish, however.
"We already experienced something like this where we've had some success," Walton said, referring to the wins at Madison Square Garden. "We want to show who we really are by consistently bringing the same effort."
"You've just got to spend a film session with me to know that they know they haven't punched any ticket," said John Beilein. "There's a lot of work to do. You don't know what can happen down the stretch here with teams that are trying to get in there."
Northwestern fits that description. Michigan will head to Evanston on Wednesday in the midst of their best stretch of basketball all season. The team we've seen the last few weeks could make quite a bit of noise in March. Today's win made it much more likely they'll get the chance to do so.
Before and after. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
At the 17:35 mark of the second half last night, Ethan Happ backed Moe Wagner down from just inside the three-point line all the way to the charge circle and hit a baby hook. That marked his ninth field goal in ten attempts; he had 20 points, five assists, no turnovers, and no fouls. Up to that point, Michigan had been content to let their big men try to handle Happ on their own, as they'd done much more successfully in the game in Madison. It wasn't working. John Beilein adjusted (thanks to UMHoops' Orion Sang for saving me the transcription work):
“We looked at our numbers last time that we played this — Northwestern just double-teamed him the whole game and it was a point per possession, and when we didn’t double team him last time it was 0.6. So we said we can have it in our package, but we’re not going to do it unless we need it. Not all of those were post-ups — he blew by Mo a couple times. Mo’s 21 points, I’m really happy about that. He’s got to improve his defense too, he got sloppy a few times. He’s just got to get better there. Happ is really good. Part of where Wisconsin is so successful with us and others is there’s just so little low-post game in college basketball. … It’s unique for people to guard.”
“(Happ’s) good. He missed some shots from four or five feet. He didn’t miss them this time. He’s a good player. But we weren’t going to change just to change knowing we had our package, and save it for the second half. Just save it for the second half and see if we need it.”
From that point forward, Happ went 1-for-3 from the field with one assist and three turnovers. He also committed five fouls, two of which came on the offensive end of the floor. His fourth foul came after Moe Wagner and Zak Irvin combined to force a miss; Happ was visibly frustrated after unnecessarily hacking Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman on the rebound.
Eric Coughlin of the Detroit News tweeted a useful chart displaying how Michigan's defensive adjustment—and Wisconsin abandoning the pick-and-roll—had an enormous impact on Happ's output:
— Eric Coughlin (@EricCoughlin1) February 17, 2017
Mark Donnal looked overmatched in the first half; in the second, with some impressive help defense from Zak Irvin, he more than held his own. Irvin's offensive resurgence would've been for naught if Michigan didn't make, and execute, a mid-game scheme change on defense. It led to one of the most unexpected plays in recent memory:
My coverage of Donnal has been rather harsh at times; last night was his most encouraging game in a long time. Yes, he struggled to guard Happ one-on-one in the first half, but so did all of Michigan's big men; Jon Teske's disastrous two-minute stretch put a serious damper on the #FreeTeske movement. Donnal's seven minutes in the second half were impressive, even more so because he made a positive impact without taking a shot, which isn't exactly his norm. In addition to the block on Happ, he had a nice tipout offensive rebound and perhaps the most forceful blockout of his career:
If that's the version of Donnal we get going forward, there won't be any more controversy about who should back up Wagner.
[Hit THE JUMP for MAAR the quiet killer, updated bracket watch, and more.]
The knockout blow. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Derrick Walton pump-faked, got Wisconsin's defense to collapse, and found Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman, who hit a corner bomb through contact for a four-point play that gave Michigan the lead. While perhaps not expected, it wasn't the least likely thing in the world.
Then came the following sequence: Mark Donnal blocked Ethan Happ, Michigan got out on the fast break, and Zak Irvin's three-pointer hit nothing but net. Suddenly the Wolverines were up seven.
A few minutes later, Irvin found himself one-on-one on Ethan Happ, who'd dominated every defender Michigan threw his way. Irvin held his ground, though, and Moe Wagner picked off Happ's attempt to kick the ball back out. Adbur-Rahkman rewarded his center with a feed on the ensuing fast break, and the force of Wagner's dunk knocked Wisconsin's Zak Showalter to the ground. Crisler got as loud as it's been all season.
"I've been guarding fours and fives since I was a freshman here," said Irvin. "I guarded [Frank] Kaminsky as a freshman when we played Wisconsin. So it's really nothing new. Ethan Happ is a great player, I give him all the credit, but I think we really just wanted to win more."
On the strength of that second-half run, Michigan got a much-needed victory over a ranked team, and it didn't come in a fashion anyone expected. Happ was unstoppable for most of the evening, scoring 22 points on 10-for-13 shooting and dishing out six assists. Walton, who'd carried the scoring load for much of the last month, had eight assists but only mustered five points. DJ Wilson helped erase Nigel Hayes on defense, but he was invisible on offense; the two seemed to cancel each other out.
Irvin's improbable banked-in three may have snapped his slump. [Bryan Fuller]
Coming to life after a couple midrange jumpers and a banked-in three from the top of the key, Irvin broke out of his slump at the perfect time. Irvin's 18 points were the most he's scored since dropping 20 in the first game against Wisconsin nearly a month ago to the day. His passing and defense were also critical components of tonight's win.
"I made the pull-up in the beginning of the first half," said Irvin. "That's usually my go-to shot, so I got to see that one go down, had a lot of confidence after that. The bank shot, you know, it's three points, so I'll take it any way I can get it, to be honest with you."
The win seemed unattainable only a few minutes into the second half. Wisconsin had fought off an 8-2 Michigan run to start the game, riding Happ to a one-point halftime lead. They stormed out of the gate in the second with a 7-0 run featuring a Happ assist and a bucket that brought him to 20 points with 17:35 to play. The Wolverines countered with six quick points, however, and after the teams traded a few buckets, Irvin found the bank open late and Happ committed his second foul. Irvin would score eight more points; Happ would go scoreless for the duration, harried by more frequent double-teams, and eventually foul out of the game.
MAAR's four-point play lit up the building. [Campredon]
Michigan got huge baskets down the stretch from Wagner, who drilled a late pick-and-pop triple over Happ to get to a team-high 21 points, and Rahkman, who needed only eight shots to net his 12. Even though the Wolverines missed a couple front-end free throws in the bonus, Wisconsin couldn't draw closer than five points after the final media timeout, and that only came after a comical five-shot possession that burned most of the remaining clock. Fittingly, it was Irvin who capped the scoring at the free-throw line.
"We knew our backs were against the wall going into this stretch that we have," said Irvin. "It still is. This helps us out, beating Wisconsin, but we can't let our foot off the gas. We've got to keep our foot on the gas. We know Minnesota is going to be a tough environment, and we'll be ready for it."