spoiler alert: i linked this
3/18/16 – Michigan 7, Penn State 2 – 23-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten
3/19/16 – Michigan 5, Minnesota 3 – 24-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten, Big Ten Tourney champions
It takes me a while to grasp what a hockey player is like. Part of that is just the game: most of the time even the best players are on the bench, and then there are ten guys trying to control a puck that bounces around. It takes time for a player new to college to establish what he's going to be, and then further time for me to figure it out. Like, I thought Dylan Larkin was a good player. I couldn't describe his game like I could describe Zach Hyman's. Hyman, a senior, was excellent in the corners and capable of bursting from the boards to the net-front with little warning. Once there he had a deft touch at the net front. Larkin… scored a lot.
Like Larkin the year before, Kyle Connor has put up points in buckets without having a distinct on-ice personality for much of this year. That has gradually changed as the season progressed and Connor kept scoring on one-timers from absurd angles, kept dropping saucer passes directly on his teammates' sticks. A debate about which Michigan player should be their primary Hobey candidate went from wide open to probably Connor.
In the aftermath of a Big Ten Tournament in which Connor scored a natural hat trick in nine minutes and left Eric Schierhorn in a heap of self-loathing with this…
…both the Hobey and personality issues have been resolved. Connor for Hobey, because he is an all-around offensive dynamo.
He is fast. Everything is fast. His skating is fast. His shot gets out fast and travels fast. He is precise. Everything is precise. His ability to hit the water bottle from one knee on a one timer is something I've never seen from a Michigan player, even Hilbert or Tambellini. Seemingly every game now sees a saucer pass that elevates itself a good foot off the ice and then lands perfectly flat on a teammate's stick.
On Michigan's rampant power play he calmly checked options high and across before sliding the puck to Motte at the side of the goal. The pass was not remarkable in itself, but the process by which Connor moved the defense around with his posture and the fact that at any moment he might do something Kyle-Connor-esque opened up an opportunity. This was the weekend when Connor went from a guy on an awesome line to the guy on the awesome line, and that's no slight to Motte or Compher. I mean, go back to that Vine and check the pass that got Connor the opportunity and who it's from. JT Compher is awesome. He's not the guy.
And so Michigan grabs a banner. As banners go it's not exactly a monumental achievement—it's on par with the GLI in games played. But it goes up in the Yost rafters anyway. More importantly, Michigan got another week further away from the alarming Ohio State meltdown. I'll take two even-strength goals allowed on a weekend. Two goals is more or less a shutout for this team.
Even when Minnesota scored three consecutive goals to take the lead on Saturday those felt like things that will happen in hockey games, and not an endless parade of unchecked opponents in the slot. Sorting out the signal from the noise in hockey requires a lot of feelingsball, and my feeling is that the team has responded to the OSU debacle with four of their most defensively responsible games of the season.
Extending that streak of games that don't make fans want to pull their hair out was more important than the actual trophy; mission accomplished. Having Kyle Connor definitively stamp his name on this season, nationwide, is a bonus.
Michigan enters the most bowel-rending postseason known to man firing on at least most of their many, many cylinders. It could all blow up in a second, because hockey. It could all blow up because this hockey team has many guns, some of which point at their own feet. It could blow up because the universe hates you. There are many ways in which doom comes in single-elimination playoff hockey. But if you squint and forget about two weeks ago…
On the opposition. I haven't seen any Notre Dame hockey this year but at a glance they look like a typical Jeff Jackson team: fast, disciplined, slightly D-oriented. They score just over 3 goals a game (good for 15th)* and give up just over two (14th). They are reasonably good at everything and not great at any one thing. They're good-ish on the PP and good-ish on the PK. They spread their scoring out. Nobody's got more than 13 goals but six guys are in double digits.
As far as common opponents go, ND split with Penn State, Minnesota, and BU. They're just 19-10-7 but KRACH ranks their schedule difficulty 10th; Michigan languishes in 32nd. Both KRACH and RPI have this a game between #7 and #12, so Michigan got a slight break there—emphasis, however, is on slight. ND is a whisker behind Yale and Harvard.
Should be an exciting game. ND has a lot of draft picks and gets in your face on the forecheck.
*[Yes, the #15 O in the country is almost two goals a game worse than Michigan.]
Michigan's Michael Downing ejected after a crosscheck to the head of Penn State captain David Glen pic.twitter.com/iIg7Tfueb5
— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) March 18, 2016
Welp. Downing picked up a game misconduct for a crosscheck to the head delivered to a player who was on the opposite side of the ice from the puck and not even looking at him. That was his third of the season and brought with it a mandatory suspension from the title game; given his track record I wouldn't have been surprised to see another game added on for an incident that was pure violence without even the whisper of a legit hockey play.
At least that incident seems like a relapse by now. Downing got chippy late in those Ohio State games but so did a lot of Michigan players; when faced with games that were not inexplicable three or four goal deficits Downing's been even keel for the last couple months.
In his absence… Sam Piazza stepped in and Michigan didn't skip a beat. They even inserted Piazza next to De Jong on the nominal top pairing, which speaks both to Michigan's confidence in their D one through six and their confidence in Piazza—who also absorbed Downing's PP minutes—himself. And he's repaid that confidence, with a 1-5-6 line, a +7 rating, and zero penalties in 16 games. That is an incredible luxury to have as your seventh defenseman.
Getting more active. Both De Jong and Boka have been much more noticeable presences near the opposition's goal over the past few weeks. Michigan is doing a lot more rotation between forwards and D, which goes a long way towards making your cycle unpredictable enough to generate 5x5 chances. I still remember a vintage Minnesota team from a while back—the one on which Jordan Leopold, a defenseman, won the Hobey—that was terrifying specifically because they were the best at using their defensemen to generate 5x5 scoring chances. Michigan is not that, but I think they'll be in good shape next year as those two guys get older.
Good lord, the power play. Yes, I expect to score on every power play now. Michigan was 6/9 this weekend. (Nice.) They had excellent chances on two of the three they did not manage to convert; it is a machine unlike any I've seen at M. They lead the country, converting at 32%(!), and are 17/29(!!!) over their last six games.
Mandatory attendance rant. There was nobody at this tournament even when Minnesota was there. It's embarrassing, and it's unnecessary. Michigan and Penn State averaged 97% of capacity this year and played in front of a few hundred people. A best two out of three series at Yost ends up with 40-60 times the attendance of this neutral-site farce.
There is no fixing this. Nobody but Minnesota fans and the odd Wisconsin fan will show in St. Paul. Nobody but Michigan fans will show in Detroit. The geographic realities of the Big Ten demand a return to home sites if anyone is ever going to show.
College hockey refuses to acknowledge this. Just yesterday the WCHA commissioner unveiled the "Big Idea". Prepare to be underwhelmed:
While the logistics, of which there would be many, still need to be worked out, the basic idea is to host all three conference tournaments for the WCHA, Big Ten, and NCHC in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area on the same weekend, and stagger the start times as much as possible to allow fans the opportunity to see as many games as possible. While not mentioned in the article, one rumor suggested all three conference tournament finals then being played on the final day of the season at the XCel Energy Center. The idea is to turn the weekend into a festival of college hockey for the city.
That's great for St. Paul, I guess. It's terrible for everyone in the Big Ten other than Minnesota and should be a non-starter. The idea that people who aren't interested in going to their own conference tournament will be convinced because teams they don't play against are also having a tournament is fanciful, and that permanently shuts out every Big Ten fanbase other than the Gophers. It's an idiotic idea. So of course:
The Big Ten seems the most interested at the moment, with B1G deputy commissioner and most hated man in college hockey Brad Traviolia admitting that is one of many potential options they will discuss and consider for the future, saying "We recognize that the attendance hasn’t been what we had hoped" under the current set-up.
College hockey is not big enough for neutral site playoffs other than the Frozen Four, period. I will never understand why they keep trying.
Michigan's power play and Kyle Connor just drove Michigan to a Big Ten Tournament championship and an autobid to the NCAA Hockey Tournament. They don't need it, but they'll take it, and send Minnesota home for the year like the Gophers did a year ago.
And you can't have one without the other…
Brackets should start getting projected here as soon as the NCHC title is decided.
A five-minute scoring drought. A struggling star player. Iffy post play and equally iffy substitution patterns.
Michigan charged out to an early lead against Notre Dame and controlled much of the game. In the end, however, a familiar set of problems cost the Wolverines the game and capped the season in unfortunately fitting fashion.
Zak Irvin couldn't recreate his recent late-game magic, missing the potential game-tying three-pointer from the top of the key after a discombobulated final possession. Irvin finished the game 4/16 from the field and 1/9 from long range. Derrick Walton temporarily broke out of his shooting slump with a 4/7 first half and looked on his way to a great all-around game; he crashed to a halt in the second, going 0/6 from the field over the final 20 minutes.
The short version, via FiveThirtyEight.
For Notre Dame, forwards Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson each went 4/5 from the field. Michigan's best counter to them in the post, Moe Wagner, hit all three of his shots but played only eight minutes; a questionable charge call for his fourth foul swung the momentum and quite possibly the game in favor of the Irish. The foul negated a Wagner layup that would've given Michigan a two-point lead with 5:39 to play; when Wagner finally reentered with 1:01 on the clock, Notre Dame had a three-point lead and the ball. In the interim, Mark Donnal blew a critical layup.
Clutch late shots by VJ Beachem (game-high 18 points, 7/7 FG) on the perimeter and Colson in the paint gave the Irish the margin they needed to advance. Michigan will be left to wonder: What if John Beilein gave Wagner a longer leash or at least played him ahead of Ricky Doyle? What if Irvin and Walton could play well in the same game? What if MAAR shifted to the point instead of sticking at the two while the team went two scoreless minutes with Andrew Dakich running the offense? What if that official called a block? We now have a long offseason to ponder the answers.
On the plus side, Michigan didn't lose to a 15-seed today.
WELL MICHIGAN STATE LOST TO MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE. THAT WAS FUNNY.
[clears throat] and now on to the evening games:
7. Wisconsin – 10. Pitt (6:50, TNT)
In one of the better games of the day, Wisconsin takes on Pittsburgh in Greg Gard’s first game as the head coach of the Badgers. UW had been playing extremely well until the Big Ten Tournament, where they dropped a surprising L against Nebraska. Wisconsin is the type of team that can grind it out against Pitt: Nigel Hayes, Vitto Brown, and Ethan Happ are a powerful front line, and all three can score from multiple places on the floor. Wisconsin’s calling card is still its impressive defense – the Badgers actually have allowed a very high % on opponents’ three-pointers, which would suggest that their defensive efficiency is weighed down by that randomness. It’s still kind of hard to get a grasp on Wisconsin because of their iffy guard play, but they should play better than they did against Nebraska.
Pitt was a middling team in the ACC this year, but between a good non-conference showing and a few solid wins in conference play (including three wins over former Big East rival Syracuse), they made it safely into the field. Contrary to what you’d expect from a Jaime Dixon team, Pitt is actually better on offense than they are on defense; predictably, their strength on the offensive end is derived from a strong collective offensive rebounding presence led by Michael Young and Sheldon Jeter in the frontcourt. The Panthers’ best offensive option is swingman Jamel Artis, though Young is definitely an able sidekick.
As far as 7/10 games go, this one is pretty even – Kenpom gives Wisconsin a 56% chance of advancing to the next round to (probably) face Xavier.
[After the JUMP: the rest of the 1st round]
What led to the decision to come here?
“It was just a great opportunity to work with coach Harbaugh. He’s had a lot of success everywhere he’s been, so honestly I just wanted to be a part of that and learn from him. And also the chance to work with coach Brown, who I’ve worked with before and I’ve played with. It was a chance to meet up with him again and work side by side, so I couldn’t pass up that opportunity.”
Difficult transition at all going straight to Florida like that and not even knowing any of the player’s names at this point, it’s such a quick decision?
“Yeah, I mean, everything happened fast. The whole process, just learning names out on the field the first day. But like I said, I’ve worked with coach Brown before in the past so that made the transition a lot easier for me. But just spending extra time trying to get in the playbook myself, learning it along with the players, was a fun process.”
What was Jim’s pitch to you coming to Michigan?
“Well, he didn’t really have to pitch too much. Michigan kind of speaks for itself. It’s a great university and they’ve had a lot of success in the past, and just the opportunity to be here I couldn’t pass up.”
More enjoyable to play for coach Brown or to work with him?
“Well it was great to play for him in that defense that he has. It’s changed a little bit over the years but not much. It’s still the same philosophy, so as a player you love that style of defense.”
We’ve heard a lot about the front seven in his defense. How does that impact the back four?
“He always does a good job stopping the run and it makes teams one-dimensional, so it helps us out.”
MGoQuestion: What are the characteristics of the ideal free and strong safety in this defense?
“Well, we like guys that have length, that are athletic, that can play man-to-man. You know, those are some of the things that we look for. At the end of the day, football players- guys that are football players, tough, [and] love to play the game.”
[After THE JUMP: it’s a press conference of course Jabrill comes up]
While Thursday was a good start to March Madness – shout out to Yale for knocking off Baylor and Arkansas Little-Rock for coming back to shock Purdue – let’s hope that Friday’s games are even better. Here’s a look at the first slate of games:
7. Dayton – 10. Syracuse (12:15, CBS)
A few things about Syracuse’s coaching legend:
The NCAA on Friday suspended Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim for nine ACC games, took away 12 scholarships, and ordered that 108 wins be vacated as a result of a multiyear investigation into the university's athletic programs.
The NCAA said that the violations, which were self-reported by Syracuse and dated back to 2001, included academic misconduct, extra benefits, failure to follow the drug-testing policy and impermissible booster activity.
Other violations included impermissible academic assistance and services, Boeheim's failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor his staff, and the school's lack of control over its athletics program.
I’m sure he didn’t know about anything that was going on.
Even after those sanctions were announced, he flipped shooting guard Tyus Battle, a 5* potential one-and-done 2016 Michigan commit, under potentially shady circumstances and set off a chain reaction that basically pushed 5* wing Josh Langford to Michigan State instead of Michigan.
The targets of Boeheim's latest bluster are two of his former players, Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant. Ennis left Boeheim and Syracuse after one tremendous season as a freshman; Grant stayed two years but eventually opted for the draft after taking time to consider returning to school. Asked about how his two former players are preparing for the NBA, Boeheim essentially said he's cut off contact with them.
Ennis and Grant signed contracts worth a combined $8 million dollars with NBA teams.
And, from a purely subjective standpoint, he has the annoying 2-3 zone as his staple – as much of a singular stylistic identity as any in college basketball. As Bomani Jones is fond of saying: “zone is for cowards.” He put it on a t-shirt.
This is my completely unsubtle attempt to convince you that Syracuse is Bad. I’m sure you’re rooting for your bracket regardless.
Anyways, as for the actual game itself, it should be a defensive slugfest. Dayton boasts one of the nation’s best defenses – one that’s good enough to mitigate their pretty mediocre offense. Dyshawn Pierre and Charles Cooke anchor the strong interior defense for the Flyers, while sparkplug point guard Scoochie Smith (one of the best names in the tournament), is the go-to guy to make things happen on offense. In the last two seasons, Dayton has made it to the Elite 8 and Sweet 16, so there’s plenty of March experience on the roster. As for Syracuse – who have lost five of their last six games – their 2-3 has been enough of a boost to get them into the tournament by the skin of their teeth; senior guards Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney, as well as 5* freshman swingman Malachi Richardson, are players to watch for the Orange.
2. Villanova – 15 UNC Asheville (12:40, tru TV)
UNC Asheville was the surprise winner of the Big South tournament after finishing tied for third in the conference during the regular season, and they shouldn’t be too much of a test for a veteran Villanova team that just fell off the one-seed line. Villanova is one of the rare teams with and offense and a defense that are good enough to win a title, and even though there’s been legitimate reason to be skeptical of the Wildcats in March, a team with Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Jalen Brunson should be able to handle a team like Asheville with ease.
[After the JUMP: less editorializing, I promise]
Tourney Previews Have a Sponsor (via Seth): My good friend Matt Demorest has built himself a nice little niche mortgage business in Southeast Michigan. I had a rather complicated FHA refinance for my house last fall, and despite that it a) took less of my time than filling out my bracket, b) cost half of what I paid to do our original loan, and, c) saved me so much the refi's already paid for itself.
Last Friday I then watched him blow everything he's made from advertising here so far on a signed Jim Harbaugh Ann Arbor Pioneer helmet. If you're buying a house around here, or if you've got one and have "yeah I should look at getting in on these rates" rattling around in your head, give him a ring. His ticket offer is still going so if you close you can use them for football tickets this fall.
#11 Michigan (23-12, 10-8 B1G) vs
#6 Notre Dame (21-11, 11-7 ACC)
Brooklyn, New York
|WHEN||~9:40 pm ET, Friday|
|LINE||Notre Dame -2 (KenPom)|
PBP: Verne Lundquist
Analyst: Jim Spanarkel
Right: Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson is a fringe lottery prospect. [AP photo]
Since this has somehow been a question I've had to answer multiple times: no, Caris LeVert is not playing tomorrow. Unless John Beilein gives Moe Wagner a more prominent role (please?), the rotation will be the usual.
Rivalry trash-talking rights and a spot in the second round on Sunday, most likely facing three-seed West Virginia.
KenPom gives Notre Dame a 55% chance to win, putting the spread at two points. FiveThirtyEight isn't as high on Michigan's upset chances, pegging the Irish as 66% favorites. The Vegas line opened at ND -1.5 and has since moved to ND -3.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.
|G||11||Demetrius Jackson||Jr.||6'1, 201||86||24||Kinda|
|Excellent passer, good finisher for a PG, iffy outside shooter, high steal rate.|
|G||32||Steve Vasturia||Jr.||6'5, 212||90||18||No|
|51/36/86 shooting splits, can be turnover-prone when he drives.|
|F||3||VJ Beachem||Jr.||6'8, 200||76||16||No|
|Takes more threes than twos, hits 43% of them. Despite size, not a rebounder.|
|F||35||Bonzie Colson||So.||6'5, 225||65||22||Very|
|Plays big. Excellent rebounder and shot-blocker, gets most of points in the paint.|
|F||30||Zach Auguste||Sr.||6'10, 245||74||27||Very|
|Outstanding rebounder, decent shot-blocker, good finisher who draws fouls.|
|F||4||Matt Ryan||Fr.||6'8, 217||39||15||No|
|Extreme Just A Shooter™ making 38% of his threes.|
|G||0||Rex Pflueger||Fr.||6'6, 198||28||11||Kinda|
|Barely utilized when on the court. 12/27 2P, 8/25 3P on the season.|
|G||5||Matt Farrell||So.||6'1, 175||21||14||Yes|
|Low-usage, turnover-prone PG with bad shooting numbers. Doesn't play much.|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
At the time of this writing, we’re 2-for-3 in close games, with Duke getting everything they can handle from UNC Wilmington and UConn and Colorado heading down to the wire after a back-and-forth game. Without any further ado, let’s take a look at today’s later games:
3. Miami – 14. Buffalo (6:50, TNT)
After a down year in which Miami missed the NCAA Tournament, Jim Larranaga has quietly put together one of the better teams in college basketball: the Canes finished tied for second in the ACC and show good balance on both sides of the floor (though they’re slightly better on offense). I was actually lucky enough to catch a Miami game in person this year – unsurprisingly, attendance was sparse in Coral Gables – and they have three exceptional players: point guard Angel Rodriguez (formerly of Kansas State) is a consummate floor general, close to the platonic ideal of the undersized college PG; Sheldon McClellan is a fringe NBA prospect with great shooting splits on high usage; big man Tonye Jekiri is a long seven-footer who puts in the work as a rim-protector and offensive rebounder, but also can hit mid-range jumpers. Miami is a veteran team that could make a run.
Their opponents are back in the tournament for the second consecutive year, as Buffalo has been able to continue the momentum even after the departure of coach Bobby Hurley. The Bulls finished tied for third in the MAC East, but upset the class of the MAC – Akron – in the conference tournament championship. Miami is the best team that Buffalo has faced all year and the Bulls were blown out by all of their quality non-conference competition, but they return many of the same pieces that almost upset West Virginia a year ago.
[After the JUMP: more previews]
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. As we settle into our “sick” days or prep the clandestine CBS browser window, let’s take a look at which games we should keep an eye on for this, one of the most wonderful days in American sports. Even though – unfortunately – some of the best games look to be the latest (on St. Patrick’s Day, no less), take heart in the fact that these games rarely follow the script and chaos can erupt anywhere at any time.
Here’s a look at today’s first 8 games:
4. Duke – 13. UNC Wilmington (12:15, CBS)
A year after a national title, it’s been a pedestrian season by Duke’s standard: a frighteningly shallow rotation and inexperience left the Blue Devils tied for fifth in the ACC. Serial tripper and classic Duke White Guy Grayson Allen has moved from the end of the rotation to be the featured guard (and has since played at an All-American level); one-and-done freshman Brandon Ingram plays as a stretch-4 and his skill-set mixed with his extremely lanky frame has drawn optimistic Kevin Durant comparisons; yes, there is another Plumlee.
It’s a rare game where a have-not gets to take on an in-state blue-blood – UNC Wilmington split the CAA regular-season title and won the rubber-match against co-champion Hofstra in overtime in the conference title game. The Seahawks favor an egalitarian approach on offense and feature a deep bench, but allow the second-most free throws of any team in the country – and their opponents are known to get more than their fair share of whistles.
Once the next game starts, consider flipping to it, but Duke – UNC Wilmington is positively dripping with schadenfreude potential so don’t stray too far.
8. Texas Tech – 9. Butler (12:40, tru TV)
While Minnesota is the worst Big Ten team (outside of Rutgers, obviously) under Richard Pitino, former Gopher coach Tubby Smith has taken the Texas Tech Red Raiders to their first NCAA Tournament in almost a decade despite starting 3-7 in conference play. Tech boasts a strong trio of guards: senior Toddrick Gotcher is the team’s best shooter, Keenan Evans gets to the free throw line a ton, and Devaugntah Williams is a defensive specialist. As a team, TTU’s strength is their free throw shooting: they were the second-best in the Big 12 in getting to the charity stripe and the best at converting those opportunities.
Butler’s third season in the New Big East has mostly been a success: even though they were swept by the league’s elite (Villanova and Xavier), they have two wins over Seton Hall, and possess non-conference wins over Cincinnati and Purdue. The player to watch in this game is Roosevelt Jones, an anachronistic bully-ball lead guard who’s seemingly been at Butler forever and never shoots threes despite standing at just 6’4. He’s flanked by an array of shooters, most notably Kellen Dunham.
This 8/9 game is more appealing than the other one in this window; Texas Tech and Butler are decidedly offense-first teams and should provide a competitive game. One thing that could prove to be decisive is the Red Raiders’ weakness on the defensive glass.
[After the JUMP: more basketball]
Zak Irvin making plays late. pic.twitter.com/R5Ia8IbGsp
— Big Ten Geeks (@bigtengeeks) March 17, 2016
Zak Irvin had been, for lack of a better word, terrible. His last shot had barely grazed the rim. His last drive had resulted in a depressingly predictable turnover. He'd made one three-pointer all game.
But when Irvin's defender ducked under a Moe Wagner screen, he didn't hesitate to rise and fire with Michigan down a point and less than a minute on the clock. Despite some trepidation from onlookers...
The look on John Beilein's face on that Irvin 3 pic.twitter.com/FbrqNjs3gH
— Patrick Barron (@BlueBarronPhoto) March 17, 2016
...Irvin's shot found twine. A couple stops and five free-throws later, Michigan booked a trip to Brooklyn to face six-seed Notre Dame.
While the game got the desired result, it's not one Michigan fans are likely to want to relive. Both teams went through first-half scoring droughts that exceeded six minutes. After the Wolverines finished the half on a drawn out 19-4 run to take an eight-point lead, they gave it all back in the first three minutes of the second before both teams went ice-cold.
John Beilein played Andrew Dakich for five frustrating minutes while Derrick Walton sat on the bench with foul trouble. For murkier reasons, he sat Wagner—Michigan's biggest bright spot all game—in favor of Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle before rectifying that error for the home stretch.
While the Wolverines were effective when they attacked the basket against an undersized Tulsa squad, only Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman—and on a couple surprising occasions, Wagner—was willing to drive to the paint with any consistency. MAAR wasn't a paragon of efficiency with 16 points on 5/16 FG, but he created havoc on the Tulsa defense that led to putback opportunities and drew enough contact to get extra points at the line (6/8 FT).
Wagner, meanwhile, played like he should be the clear-cut starter at center. After recording two blocks all season, he had four tonight in addition to pulling down eight rebounds and making both his shot attempts, including a poster-worthy slam on a second-chance opportunity to give M a late three-point lead. Michigan functioned better on both sides of the court with Wagner on the floor.
Duncan Robinson opened the game with a three; while he wouldn't hit another until late in the game, he found other ways to contribute—he grabbed 11 rebounds, dished out a team-high four assists, and finished a few forays to the hoop to tally 13 points. The contributions of MAAR, Wagner, and Robinson—a sophomore no major program wanted, a freshman who barely clung to a role this season, and a D-III transfer—allowed Michigan to overcome underwhelming performances from their two go-to guys.
Then, with the pressure on, Irvin delivered. It wasn't pretty. It was, in fact, cringeworthy, as Beilein's face can attest. At this point in the year, however, the final score is all that matters.
Now somebody grab me a drink.