Notes On A Hamblasting

Notes On A Hamblasting

Submitted by Brian on March 6th, 2017 at 12:04 PM

3/5/2017 – Michigan 93, Nebraska 57 – 20-11, 10-8

This is not a game column.

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[Bryan Fuller]

God DAMN, Derrick Walton. There was a point last night where Derrick Walton took a terrible shot with verve and élan and it went in and I was neither mad at the shot nor surprised at the outcome. The rest of his night was on that level: 18 points, 16 assists (a program record), 5 steals, and... sigh... one rebound. Walton missing a triple-double because of insufficient rebounds is a killer.

Also killer: Derrick Walton. He is now taking those Chauncey Billups transition pull-up threes and I love them even when they do not go down. He is efficient inside the arc for the first time since he was a freshman, and he's doing Trey Burke things, and he's making himself a verb. If I say a senior has "gone Walton" you know what I mean. Not that anyone is likely to have such a transformation again.

I have gotten in the occasional twitter fight with Minnesota fans who are arguing that Nate Mason should be first-team All Big Ten, and I would just like to state for the record that any such assertions are insane homerism. The only thing Mason has on Walton is volume, and that volume is underwhelming: he's shot 268 twos at a 38% clip this year.

Well then. Michigan's 36-point road annihilation of Nebraska ends their regular season and confirms Michigan as one of the weirdest teams in the country. It also conjures a hypothetical: would you rather be a nine seed that plays like a six or a six seed that plays like a nine? The former team wins a lot of blowouts and drops close games; the latter wins a disproportionate share of close games.

Being a six seed that isn't quite as good would feel better. Michigan is the nine because of their record in games decided by five or less: 3-6. Last year's team was 6-1 and still slid into Dayton. Also last year's team finished the year losing six of their last nine. Michigan's inverted that, albeit in a much worse Big Ten.

So either nearly the same crew of players went from super clutch to not clutch or this is a much better team that doesn't look like one record-wise because their point distribution across games was suboptimal.

An illustration. Nobody really doubts Michigan's sea change on defense anymore. Nonetheless, Nebraska provided an easy before-and-after photo for Beilein: the game at Crisler in January was in the immediate aftermath of the Maverick Morgan White Collar Incident; Michigan won a barn-burner 91-85. Nebraska shot 59% from two and 50% from 3, with Tai Webster torching Michigan for 37.

Yesterday, Webster was held to 8 points; Nebraska shot 53% from 3 and was just 2/15 from three. Ace and Alex have mentioned this before and it bears re-emphasizing after a game where Michigan gave up just 15 attempts from behind the arc: a big part of three point defense is keeping them from being launched in the first place, and Michigan is suddenly very good at that.

A selection of team D stats from last year to this year, with major shifts bolded:

2016 2017
Adj Efficiency 95 85
EFG 248 234
Turnover Rate 188 90
OREB 47 173
FTA/FGA 17 40
3PT% 173 311
2PT% 264 205
FT% 315 64
Block% 308 237
Steal% 198 150
3PA/FGA 218 10
A/FGM 193 32

Michigan's now slightly better than they were a year ago because they've offset big declines in rebounding and three-point percentage allowed with more turnovers forced, better free throw D (high five!), and a severe restriction on opponent threes. Even last year's team, which was dead last in the league in 2PT% D and right on the NCAA average for 3PT% D, gave up more points per three attempted than per two.

Obviously this is not a complete picture of the value of two-pointers since you're much more likely to draw free throws inside the line, but in case you've missed the last 20 years of basketball it remains the case that three is more than two even in extreme environments. Michigan's closeout competency surge is the biggest effect of hiring Billy Donlon: Michigan has never (never!) been in the top 100 in that stat under Beilein, and now they're in elite company.

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[Fuller]

Why Michigan's rebounding has declined is a bit of a mystery. It's mostly the same crew playing with the exceptions of DJ Wilson and Mo Wagner. Those two guys are replacing either wing types or Michigan's 2016 centers, who were Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle. Both of those guys had DREB rates barely over 10%. IE: they were not good rebounders. I maintained last year that Doyle was good at boxing out while letting others grab the ball; Ace theorized that Michigan's stronger closeout game has taken guys away from the basket.

Dunno. Area for improvement next year.

The volume of shift. Ace didn't want to round this and I don't either. Michigan's defense post-Nebraska-torching: 0.998 points per possession. That's a 12 game sample against much better competition* than the bad old days and would have been fourth in the league.

Perspective: Michigan's D improved just as much as Derrick Walton did after Maverick Morgan.

*[That ugly five game stretch to start the conference season is even uglier when you consider that it came against five opponents who were #3, #8, #11, #12, and #13 in offensive efficiency.]

Don't look at it. Use your peripheral vision. Zak Irvin's miserable stretch ended after the Indiana game. Since then he's been middling, hitting 53%/35% from the field on third-banana usage and helping Michigan's team-wide defensive renaissance. With Walton emerging as the team's alpha dog and Wagner either running things inside or throwing entire defensive systems into disarray ("Let's switch bigs on to Walton" –Tim Miles), third-banana, doesn't-dribble-out-half-a-shot-clock, zero-hero-ball Zak Irvin has re-emerged into an asset. Even if there's like one or two hero-balls in there.

Also in post-Maverick surges. MAAR is quietly the sixth-most efficient player in conference play. There was a point midseason where everyone seemed pretty mad at him, including Beilein. That seems like a long time ago, what with MAAR shooting 56/49 in Big Ten play, with many of those two-pointers difficult late-clock takes to the bucket when Michigan can't get anything else going.

One of the key questions on next year's offense is "how does MAAR maintain his efficiency at much higher usage?" He's at 17% now and will probably tack on 5% next year—that's a big leap. Pretty well if he just up that assist rate, I think. MAAR's done something pretty difficult for a guard: his career shooting percentage inside the arc is higher in conference play than it is over the course of the season, for three straight years. The kind of shots he gets are good ones.

Graham Couch time! It's been a minute since we checked in with the only beat writer on the planet who thinks Martin Luther King Day is for lazy people. It takes time to regather yourself after such a take and find the next thing you're going to be spectacularly, inanely wrong about. Couch rises to the occasion:

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – If Michigan State is left out of the NCAA tournament this month, MSU’s non-conference schedule next season should be a who’s who of the SWAC and MEAC, with a couple mid-level MAC and Missouri Valley Conference teams sprinkled in to give the illusion that competition matters.

MSU is in line for a bid mostly because they successfully gamed the RPI by losing to good teams. That's how they're one spot behind Michigan in that metric despite a 25-spot gap in Kenpom, two fewer wins, and the same conference record. MSU beat one nonconference team of consequence, Wichita State; Michigan beat Marquette and SMU. MSU also lost to Northeastern. The only reason to project those teams at or near the same seedline is because the NCAA is still relying on the archaic RPI, and the RPI has rewarded MSU for losing to good teams.

What would the SWAC-and-MEAC schedule do to Michigan State's RPI? Annihilate it. The worst thing you can do as a college basketball team looking to game the system is play teams ranked 300+. Graham Couch's argument is "if the NCAA puts MSU in the NIT, MSU should throw a fit... and put themselves in it." I can't let this zinger languish on Slack:

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By and for juggaloes.

Basketbullets: Still-Not-A-Bubble Watch, The Last Two Plays

Basketbullets: Still-Not-A-Bubble Watch, The Last Two Plays

Submitted by Ace on March 2nd, 2017 at 2:46 PM

Chill.


Five days ago. [Bryan Fuller]

That wasn't a fun way to lose. I'll cede that point. The reaction to a one-point road loss, however painful it may have been, has still been borderline hysterical. Heading into last night, Michigan had won five of six—with the one loss a ref screw-job in Minneapolis—while moving off the NCAA tournament bubble. They have the best offense in the Big Ten by a wide margin and a defense that's steadily improving. They lost last night on a prayer of a play that was inches away from backfiring spectacularly; if Nathan Taphorn's pass flies another six inches or so, Michigan is inbounding under Northwestern's basket with a chance to win in regulation.

With a night to sleep on it, here's where things really stand: Michigan is still comfortably in the NCAA tournament field. Jerry Palm's latest bracket denotes 15 bubble teams, including Michigan State. Michigan, projected as a nine-seed, isn't one of them. Joe Lunardi dropped the Wolverines one seed line—to a nine-seed. Michigan is still an eight-seed on the Bracket Matrix, though they'll slide back to a nine as more projections are updates; that's still not on the bubble.

Illinois, a team that Penn State swept this season, has moved into the field on several projections, including Palm's. This year's bubble is really soft. If Michigan loses out, they're in danger of a nerve-wracking Selection Sunday. They have two very winnable games left: at Nebraska, a team that's never beaten Michigan since joining the Big Ten, and a neutral-site game in the BTT against a team that won't be seeded higher than ninth. KenPom gives Michigan a 63% chance to beat Nebraska. The most likely BTT scenario, a 7/10 matchup with Ohio State, gives M a 68% chance of picking up another win, per Bart Torvik's tourney simulator. That works out to a 12% chance of losing both games.

The rending of garments is premature.

[Hit THE JUMP for the final play and more.]

Basketbullets: Matchup Chess, The New Rotation, Wagner/Wilson Quote Bonanza

Basketbullets: Matchup Chess, The New Rotation, Wagner/Wilson Quote Bonanza

Submitted by Ace on February 28th, 2017 at 3:46 PM



Stopping all of this has proven quite difficult. [All photos: Bryan Fuller]

Generally, opposing coach press conferences after losses are brief and uninformative. After the Moe Wagner-Derrick Walton pick-and-pop obliterated Purdue's defense to the point they had to entirely change strategies, however, Matt Painter went into great detail on the problems posed by Michigan's offense, specifically those that result from facing two big men that can shoot.

To set this up: Purdue started the game with Caleb Swanigan defending Wagner. Michigan exploited the matchup by forcing Swanigan out to the perimeter, usually with high screens. Wagner feasted.

Wagner went 9-for-12 in the first half, hitting 5-of-6 twos and 4-of-6 threes. Michigan fielding a lineup with five viable outside shooting threats wreaked havoc on Purdue's defense and their rotation. 7'2" center Isaac Haas usually plays 20 minutes per game, often pairing with Swanigan to form an imposing frontcourt duo. Here's what happened when Purdue put both big men out there:

If Michigan's big men can't shoot, Swanigan wouldn't be in no-man's land, and Haas would be in position to block Simpson's shot into the tenth row if he manages to get into the paint anyway. The threat of Wilson and Wagner instead opened a cavernous lane for the quick point guard to bolt through.

As a result, Haas played only seven minutes in the first half, and just two with Swanigan also on the court. The adjustment Painter had to make in the second half forced his second-best player off the floor almost entirely:

We just went and switched everything, knocked them out of their [pick-and-pop] action. The downside of that is now you have your bigs guarding their guards and they can break you off the dribble. Then you have to help, now you’ve got to get to their shooters. When you have a good point guard and you have bigs that are skilled that can shoot and spread you out, you have to pick your poison. We can flip it on them, but when you don’t score the ball at the rim—and I thought we had a lot of opportunities for Haas in there, missed dunk, layups, a hook, that he normally makes—if we could’ve made those plays, we could’ve lived with all of it, because we wouldn’t have been out of the game, and now we put them in a bind because they’re eventually going to foul us and get out of the game. But if we can’t keep you in the game because [of defense], that gets hard for us. We just decided at half that we had to switch, and then when Donnal came in the game we could play Isaac [Haas]. But obviously we didn’t play well enough to be able to get back in.

Haas played four second-half minutes, entering the game after Michigan inserted Donnal and exiting at the first stoppage after Beilein lifted Donnal and put DJ Wilson at center. The combination of Wagner and Wilson in Beilein's offense rendered the second-best player on the Big Ten's best team effectively unplayable.

[Hit THE JUMP to see how Michigan took advantage of Purdue's new defensive tack.]

Fully Armed And Operational Battlest-

Fully Armed And Operational Battlest-

Submitted by Brian on February 27th, 2017 at 12:12 PM

2/25/2017 – Michigan 82, Purdue 70 – 19-10, 9-7 Big Ten

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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.

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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.

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...

...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."]

Bullets

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[Fuller]

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.

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[Fuller]

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:

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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.

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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.

Michigan 82, Purdue 70

Michigan 82, Purdue 70

Submitted by Ace on February 25th, 2017 at 7:29 PM


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.

2017 Michigan Basketball Player Comparisons

2017 Michigan Basketball Player Comparisons

Submitted by Alex Cook on February 15th, 2017 at 1:02 PM


Walton's game resembles that of a former IU star and Wolverine-killer. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

With 25 games played so far this hoops season, the statistical profiles of teams and players are pretty representative of the quality of those teams and players; by mid-February, the sample size of relevant information is definitely large enough. With that in mind, I took a look at the advanced stat profiles for Michigan’s four players who average double digit points: Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Moritz Wagner, and DJ Wilson.

A few years ago, I came up with a way to compare a player’s statistical output to a database of former Big Ten players: by now, there are over 1,000 players that can be compared to a given player’s unique performance in various tempo-free numbers. A little more in-depth background can be found here. Basically the algorithm finds a player’s comparable precedents – over the course of the project (which spans players from 2008-2016, the Beilein Era), the outputs of the system have mostly passed the sanity test and frequently the group of similar players tells us something more about the style of a given player than their statistics would in and of themselves.

Usually these similarity score posts feature plenty of charts and graphs and this one is no different.

Derrick Walton: Close to a Legit Star

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X-Axis: Usage Rate. Y-Axis: Offensive Rating. Bubble size: Minutes.

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X-Axis: Usage Rate. Y-Axis: Offensive Rating.

[After the JUMP: Walton's comp, plus Wagner, Wilson, and Irvin]

One Frame At A Time: Indiana

One Frame At A Time: Indiana

Submitted by Ace on February 14th, 2017 at 11:38 AM

There are usually two or three plays in a given Michigan game in which DJ Wilson makes his NBA potential strikingly apparent. This was one such play, and there were more than a couple others as the Wolverines finished an authoritative season sweep of Indiana.

Yes, the Crean GIF is after the jump.

[Hit THE JUMP for Wagner trucking Crean, lots of Walton and Wilson, and more.]

This Week’s Obsession: Better Late Than Never

This Week’s Obsession: Better Late Than Never

Submitted by Seth on February 13th, 2017 at 3:32 PM

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Suddenly it’s happening [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

The Question:

Ace:

Best/favorite/memorable senior-year breakout?

Brian: I surmise this is in honor of Derrick Walton?

Ace: Indeed.

Brian: We should point out that Walton's breakout is not merely a senior year breakout but the ultra-rare midseason senior-year breakout. After being called softbatch.

Ace: Yeah, I don’t really remember anything quite like what Walton has done over the last month, at least with Michigan basketball players.

Brian: I could kiss Maverick Morgan.

---------------------------------

The Responses:

Ace: The senior-year breakout that comes to mind for me hopefully won’t have too many parallels to Walton. When I was a senior in high school, my parents got me a ten-game ticket package for Michigan basketball that covered the conference portion of the schedule. This was 2005-06, when it looked like this could finally be the year that Tommy Amaker’s squad snapped the tourney drought.

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Senior Horton nearly got an Amaker team to the Dance. [MGoBlue.com via Holdin the Rope]

Up to that point in his career, Daniel Horton had been an enigmatic player: obviously talented, usually the best player on some mediocre teams, but clearly hamstrung by the system and surrounding talent. His ORating never cracked 100 in his first three years at Michigan, and after a junior season cut short when he pled guilty to domestic violence, it looked like his promising freshman year may stand as his peak.

It all clicked in his senior year. Horton took a Walton-esque leap with his finishing around the rim, hit 39% of his threes, and played remarkably efficient ball for someone shouldering such a huge load (111.4 ORtg on a 28% usage rage). He had several notable performances, most of which came down the stretch: 32 points in a win at Minnesota, 23 and five assists in a win over MSU at Crisler, 21 and five in the home rematch against the Gophers, and a masterful 39-point game to beat Illinois and get Michigan to 8-6 in the Big Ten and on the precipice of a tourney bid. (Someone, please, get that game on YouTube. That was as loud as I’d ever heard Crisler until the Final Four squad.)

Horton’s heroics weren’t quite enough to propel Michigan into the tournament. The Wolverines went 2-7 down the stretch, with Dion Harris’ ankle injury against Ohio State wiping out much of Horton’s scoring support; Horton’s 34-point game against Indiana still wasn’t enough to get M the final win they would’ve needed to get a bid. They instead had to settle for a run to the NIT final. Horton’s magnificent play to close out his career, however, remains one of my fondest memories from a relatively dreadful era in Michigan hoops.

[Hit THE JUMP for Seth just rocketing off answers before anybody else can]

Michigan 75, Indiana 63

Michigan 75, Indiana 63

Submitted by Ace on February 12th, 2017 at 3:49 PM

In one sense, this felt deeply unfamilar. Michigan entered today's game with zero road wins on the season and one victory in 17 tries at Assembly Hall since 1996, that an overtime win over a terrible 2008-09 Indiana squad. They never trailed the Hoosiers or even came particularly close to relinquishing their lead.

In another sense, this felt pleasantly familiar. Michigan turned up the defensive intensity, forced 15 turnovers—ten in the first half—and rode hot perimeter shooting and another tremendous game from Derrick Walton for a comfortable victory over the Hoosiers.

If this wasn't a must-win game, it was damn close to it, and Walton once again played with an intensity that matched the stakes. He scored 25 points, going 7-for-13 from the field and 9-for-9 from the line, while adding five rebounds, four assists, and three steals. It was a masaterful performance that had the CBS announcers full-on fawning over his play:

Much like in the first contest, Walton's main scoring support came from big men Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson. Wagner overcame a series of extremely questionable calls to post an 11-point, ten-rebound double-double while helping keep star IU center Thomas Bryant (8 points on 8 shots, 3 turnovers) in check. Wilson did a little bit of everything on both ends; he showed off an NBA-caliber array of shotmaking to net his 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting and his NBA-caliber combination of size and coordination to tally three blocks and three steals.

Other than Zak Irvin (5 points, 1-for-8 FG), whose offensive woes continued, the supporting cast had another strong outing. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman needed only four shot equivalents for his seven points and once again made James Blackmon Jr. a relative non-factor; Blackmon scored only six points, three of which came on a meaningless garbage-time shot. Duncan Robinson hit a couple timely threes, playing his part in making sure IU paid dearly for their live-ball turnovers. Xavier Simpson followed his breakout MSU game by converting a strong take the hoop on his only shot attempt and chipping in two assists and a steal in 12 minutes.

The first road win of the season couldn't have come at a better time. Michigan is now 16-9, 6-6 in the Big Ten, and they'll be in the field in the next round of NCAA tournament projections; in many of them, they'll be taking Indiana's place. A 3-3 finish down the stretch, which features four road games and tough home contests against Wisconsin and Purdue, should have the Wolverines in position for an at-large bid. That looks a whole lot more realistic this afternoon than it did a week ago.