The bigs delivered a spot in the Sweet 16 [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Discussing Michigan’s Sweet 16 team
1. In Michigan’s last five games, they’ve defeated five straight NCAA Tournament teams at neutral sites, taking what had been a rather average season and making it one of John Beilein’s very best in Ann Arbor in a span of two weeks. March rules everything in college basketball and the Wolverines have already cemented a successful season with the potential to do even more.
In these past five wins, Beilein has tightened the rotation: seniors Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin are playing over 90% of available minutes; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and DJ Wilson are playing over 80%; Duncan Robinson over 50% and Moritz Wagner right at 50%. Xavier Simpson and Mark Donnal play spot minutes as necessary to spell the starters, but it’s pretty much a six-man rotation.
2. Walton and Irvin spend as little time on the bench as possible, and for good reason. Plenty has been written about Walton: over the last half of his senior season, he’s become an elite point guard, commanding Michigan’s 5-out ball-screen offense with aplomb, draining threes and venturing on tough forays to the basket.
Walton’s ability to set up his teammates – marshaling the Wolverine offense into taking advantage of Wagner’s mismatches against Louisville’s wings in the mid-post, for example – to maximize Michigan’s offensive ability is uncanny. Overnight, he became something approximating a Nik Stauskas (or even a Trey Burke, honestly). Walton came in as a well-regarded recruit and was a starter on an Elite 8 team as a freshman, and even though his career was sidetracked by injuries, he’s fulfilling his potential, having become a star – capable of carrying Michigan on his back.
3. Irvin’s story is a little more complicated. The former five star wing was an unrepentant three-ball gunner with indifferent defense as a freshman, and morphed into a solid distributor as his shot abandoned him. He took leadership in a lost sophomore season after injuries to Caris LeVert and Walton; Michigan often rode with Irvin in late-game situations to mixed results and eventually found that it was better to run the offense through Walton instead of Irvin, especially during a February cold stretch. To his credit, Irvin has morphed into an excellent role player as of late – occasionally taking long jumpers, but deferring more and more. His ability to conjure a shot from nothing is still useful, and he’s a good passer.
Irvin’s work ethic really shows up on the defensive end: he works hard to get skinny over ball-screens, switches one-through-four, and he tracks shooters around the perimeter, working to deny them the ball. The improvement he’s made on that end of the floor over the course of his career has been remarkable. Michigan wouldn’t be in the Sweet 16 without him.
4. Walton and Irvin are program cornerstones: hyped prospects who were rotation players for a great team from day one, guys who have played so many games in a Michigan uniform, not quite talented enough to make a leap to the NBA but good enough to win at the college level. This team was built around Walton and Irvin, and now that the squad is exceeding expectations, full credit should go to those two foundational players – classmates who have grown into excellent leaders for Michigan. Beilein’s previous best teams (2012-2013 and 2013-2014) were led by youngsters. Not this season.
5. It’s too early to talk about Walton and Irvin’s legacies – as they still have games to play (and hopefully win) in the tournament – but, needless to say, they’ll be remembered more fondly because of their Big Ten Tournament title and Sweet 16 appearance as seniors. Of course, they could still carry the team even further in the NCAA Tournament. In Beilein’s tenure, there have been a few notable leadership tandems: Manny and Peedi, Zack and Stu, Trey and Tim – and Derrick and Zak. It will be extremely sad to see them go.
Rest of the post after the JUMP:
Wichita St.’s Gregg Marshall [Getty]
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Yesterday, I took a look at the most overseeded teams in the NCAA Tournament – those who are worse than their seed line. Here are the teams who got boned.
As a reminder, this is the methodology:
In order to sort out which teams are better or worse than where they’re seeded, I took the list of teams sorted by the committee 1-66, and I compared it to a composite computer ranking of tournament teams based on the average of Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, and Bart Torvik’s metrics. I then calculated the difference between where a team should theoretically be ranked given their strength according to that composite ranking and where they actually wound up.
The seven most underseeded teams are
- South #10 Wichita St.
- South #11 Kansas St.
- Midwest #10 Oklahoma St.
- West #4 West Virginia
- East #10 Marquette
- East #5 Virginia
- East #8 Wisconsin
No, no Michigan. Or at least if Michigan got boned in our seeding by historic standards it wasn't as bad as some other schools got it. True we have to play one of the most underseeded teams in the tournament in the first round, but it's not like Michigan played an Elite 8 seed kind of season and got put in a double-digit slot. Who's got it worse than us? See after the jump.
[Bryan Fuller – MGoBlog]
With the unfortunate news that Derrick Walton didn’t make First-Team All-Conference, I decided that I should jot down some thoughts on the best players in the Big Ten this season. While I leaned on a lot of data to justify these picks, I also have probably watched way more Big Ten basketball than the average person should, so I’m pretty well acquainted with the impact and style of these respective players. Instead of naming All-Big Ten “teams” – which inherently places a huge gap between the fifth- and sixth-best players in the league – I’ll rank the top ten.
10.) Nate Mason – Minnesota
Instead of Walton, Minnesota’s Nate Mason was named First-Team All-Big Ten. Mason’s team finished a game ahead of the Wolverines in the conference standings, and he had better counting stats than Walton did (15.5 points and 5.1 assists per game to Walton’s 14.5 and 4.5); Mason was markedly less efficient as he shouldered the load for the Gophers’ inelegant offense. Aside from impressive assist and turnover rates, Mason’s statistical profile isn’t as impressive. Shooting splits of 39 / 39 / 80 (2P% / 3P% / FT%) aren’t bad, but he did hoist more than his fair share of poor mid-range jumpers and drives into too much traffic, which sunk his eFG% to just 44.9.
Mason deserves credit for his role in helping bring together Minnesota’s new players and being the best* player on a team that finished top four in the Big Ten – one that will be headed to the NCAA Tournament. Aside from Northwestern’s historic bid, the Gophers are one of the biggest storylines in the conference: they were 8-23 last season and sit at 23-8 right now. While Mason was one of the better point guards in the league (and made this list instead of Bryant McIntosh, Tai Webster, and others), his middling efficiency prevents him for ranking more highly.
*Shot-blocking menace Reggie Lynch might be better, but plays <2/3rds as much of the time as Mason does, which limits his impact.
9.) Vince Edwards – Purdue
A player that’s often forgotten about because of his gargantuan teammates, Vince Edwards was quietly one of the biggest reasons for Purdue’s success this season. With Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas often rotating at center, Edwards was able to slide from the three to a more natural four spot. It paid dividends; the versatile wing scored 12.3 points per game, led the team in assist rate, and shot 42% from behind the three-point line. Edwards’s impact as a secondary threat on the offensive glass also complemented the big men well.
The Big Ten champs lean most heavily on Swanigan, of course, but Edwards has had a considerable influence. In the Boilermakers’ last game against Northwestern, Edwards scored an efficient 25 points and added 5 rebounds and 4 assists, helping Purdue to a narrow win. While most of the players on this list are forced to create their own shots or generate offense for others, Edwards doesn’t necessarily have those responsibilities. As a consequence, he’s one of the most efficient players in the league, finishing third in offensive rating for players in Big Ten play with a usage rate over 20%.
[rest of the list after the JUMP]
With one game left in the regular season, the Big Ten Tournament picture is becoming clearer – there are still a wide variety of potential outcomes, but most teams have a pretty good idea of where they’ll end up. With Michigan’s recent heartbreaking loss to Northwestern, and Iowa’s impressive road win over Wisconsin, it’s likely that Michigan will find itself playing in the 8/9 game on Thursday afternoon against none other than Illinois, the team that may have sparked the Michigan turnaround with a blowout win and Maverick Morgan’s harsh-but-mostly-true “white collar” comment. Derrick Walton in particular has been playing blue-collar ball as of late, and I’m sure he’d relish another shot at the Illini even though Michigan won the rematch.
This excellent post by Dan Baker at The Only Colors outlines the potential outcomes of this weekend of action across the Big Ten (and it’s definitely worth a click to read through in-depth) – right now, this is what the bracket would look like if there’s chalk in the remaining seven games:
The favorites in the remaining games (according to Kenpom) are in bold:
- Indiana at Ohio State
- Illinois at Rutgers
- Michigan State at Maryland
- Penn State at Iowa
- Purdue at Northwestern
- Minnesota at Wisconsin
- Michigan at Nebraska
A look at some possible seed outcomes after the JUMP.
Anthony Cowan [Maryland Athletics]
Last Week’s Results
Indiana 72 - Maryland 75
Minnesota 47 - Michigan State 65
Michigan 69 - Illinois 85
Ohio State 66 - Wisconsin 89
Northwestern 69 - Rutgers 60
Purdue 78 - Iowa 83
Nebraska 85 - Michigan 91
Minnesota 50 - Penn State 52
Maryland 62 - Illinois 56
Rutgers 57 - Indiana 76
Michigan State 67 - Ohio State 72
Iowa 54 - Northwestern 89
1. Maryland (4-1)
2. Wisconsin (3-1)
T-3. Michigan State (4-2)
T-3. Northwestern (4-2)
T-5. Nebraska (3-2)
T-5. Penn State (3-2)
T-5. Purdue (3-2)
T-8. Iowa (3-3)
T-8. Minnesota (3-3)
T-10. Illinois (2-3)
T-10. Indiana (2-3)
T-10. Michigan (2-3)
13. Ohio State (1-4)
14. Rutgers (0-6)
A Dark Horse Emerges
Since joining the Big Ten for the 2014-15 season, Maryland has been one of the best programs in the conference, posting an impressive 30-11 record in league games and finishing in the top three in both seasons that have been completed with the Terrapins as a member. Despite losing four starters before this season, UMD is the surprising outright leader of the Big Ten early on this season (it’s worth noting that Wisconsin is tied in the loss column, but has played one less game than Maryland has). Non-conference play offered little indication that Maryland would get off to such a hot start; they barely beat a couple of bad teams and won three games against decent opponents by just a single point.
Melo Trimble has been a huge part of Maryland’s success, of course - although his offensive rating (92.9) and usage rate (30.7, third-highest among B1G players in conference play) likely aren’t sustainable. Freshman Anthony Cowan, who was correctly compared to Trimble often as a recruit, has arguably been better, as he’s been able to score at the rim and get frequent trips to the free throw line despite his lack of size. Another freshman - Kevin Huerter - has also excelled, shooting an impressive 46% from behind the arc with 13 made threes in five conference games. Damonte Dodd, a senior big man coming off of an injury-related absence, has been the cornerstone of Maryland’s excellent defense when he’s been on the floor; Ivan Bender and LG Gil also receive minutes at the five.
It’s difficult to assess how much of Maryland’s early success in Big Ten play is schedule-related: they’ve swept a mediocre Illinois team, beat Indiana at home in what was essentially a coin-flip game, and won on the road against Michigan. Their only loss came after blowing a double-digit lead late at home against Nebraska. While their remaining schedule is relatively unchallenging compared to those of other teams, it’s probably more difficult than the games they’ve already played. Kenpom has Maryland just inside the top 50 nationally - a far cry from the quality of supposed Big Ten title contenders. A lot of that is due to their non-conference schedule, which resulted in a lot of wins that weren’t well-regarded by his algorithm.
Whether or not the Terps regress to the mean will be a major storyline. Many people (including myself) have been predicting that regression for quite a while, only to see Maryland continue to put up wins on the floor. Since they’ve been so dominant since entering the Big Ten, there’s good reason to think that they might continue to flaunt statistical wisdom, despite their youth. Maryland’s an undeniably talented team and having an excellent point guard helps bring everything together.
More on Big Ten hoops after the JUMP
[Upchurch – MGoBlog]
A decade after Ohio State and Michigan met as the top two teams in the country, they faced off again with similarly high stakes – and again, Ohio State emerged victorious in a hard-fought classic. The playoff picture isn’t necessarily any clearer, though Michigan is probably now eliminated.
Onto the week that was:
--- The Game, which featured the two best teams in the conference, lived up to the hype, even though it was a game marred by critical mistakes on both sides. MICHIGAN gave up two regulation touchdowns on interceptions from deep in its own end of the field: one was returned by Malik Hooker for a touchdown, another was taken deep into the red zone and punched in on one play. OHIO STATE missed two field goals in regulation, including one from inside Michigan’s five-yard line (the Wolverines fumbled away a sure scoring possession earlier in the game from near the same spot), and JT Barrett was an ineffective passer all game. Still, the game went to overtime after the Buckeyes marched down the field for a game-tying field goal in the waning moments of regulation. In overtime, Michigan responded to an easy OSU touchdown with a tough completion into the end zone on fourth down; in the second overtime, Michigan settled for a field goal and managed to force Ohio State into fourth-and-one – of course, a controversial spot gave the Buckeyes a first down and they scored the game-winning touchdown on the next play. Wilton Speight was available to play for Michigan and, aside from the critical interceptions (one came on a bad read, another on a play where he was hit when he threw), he was capable and helped compensate for an ineffective UM rushing attack. Ohio State struggled with Michigan’s excellent defensive front and they were unable to get much-needed explosive plays, but the Buckeye defense provided just enough scoring to get the game to overtime.
[More on the week that was after the JUMP]