Michigan 73, Louisville 69

Michigan 73, Louisville 69 Comment Count

Ace March 19th, 2017 at 3:57 PM


A sweet victory, indeed. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

As John Beilein delivered his opening statement of the postgame presser, Derrick Walton looked up to the ceiling and mouthed "oh my god."

Michigan won their second instant classic in as many games. Perhaps most remarkable is they went about it in an entirely different way. After making 16 three-pointers against Oklahoma State, the Wolverines were forced by Louisville's aggressive, switching defense to play through their big men. With Derrick Walton struggling to hit his shots, Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson stole the show.

Wagner scored a game-high 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting. In arguably the best performance of his young career, the big man used a dizzying array of post moves to punish mismatches. His biggest bucket of the game came on a move Beilein has wanted to see from him for a long time; off a pick-and-pop, Wagner got his defender to bite on a pump fake at the three-point line, then drove for a layup to give Michigan a six-point lead with 1:18 to go.

"We feed off of him," Walton said. "Because he's not afraid of anything."

Wilson's all-around impact nearly matched that of his German roommate. The last of his 17 points came in the final 20 seconds at the free-throw line, where his perfect four-for-four shooting kept the Cardinals at bay. His third block of the game ended the contest, as Walton plucked Donovan Mitchell's tipped shot out of the air and triumphantly raced into the frontcourt as the clock expired.

"Our play is kinda contagious on the floor," said Wilson. "I feed off his energy and he feeds off mine. Down the stretch when we pulled out the victory, I was as happy as I could possibly be."


Moe Wagner's best game couldn't have come at a better time. [Campredon]

Louisville led for nearly the entire first half. While neither team shot the ball well, ten UL offensive rebounds kept them out in front, and some creative officiating helped them go on an 8-0 run to close the half after Michigan had finally managed to tie it up. At the break, the outlook was bleak.

"The end of the first half I thought was a defining moment for our team," said Beilein. "A team that's not as experienced or doesn't have the poise that we had, they come back and try to win it all right away, but we won every four-minute period until we got ahead in the game."

That meant weathering a tough stretch at the beginning of the second half. Louisville center Mangok Mathiang matched Wagner bucket-for-bucket, and his putback off a missed three-pointer extended the lead to nine with 14:46 left. Then Michigan's offense really got rolling. Three straight baskets by Zak Irvin cut the deficit to three, and a short time later Wilson nailed a pick-and-pop three to get the Wolverines within one.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman knotted the game at 51 with 8:54 to play, hitting two free-throws after taking a hard foul at the rim. While the teams would trade blows, Michigan never trailed again. Wilson worked his way into the paint to give them the lead. The perimeter finally opened up a bit; Wagner knocked down a triple out of a timeout, then Walton followed suit with a signature stepback, looking as if he had no recollection of going 1-for-11 up to that point.


Derrick Walton came up huge when his team needed it most. [Campredon]

Wagner's pump-fake layup looked like it would ice the game, especially when Jaylon Johnson committed an offensive foul on the following possession, but Louisville wasn't done. Irvin coughed up back-to-back turnovers on inbounds as UL turned up the pressure, and a layup by Mitchell, who led the Cardinals with 19 points, cut the deficit to two as hearts jumped into throats and stomachs churned.

That was Walton's cue. Michigan's unflappable leader hadn't made a shot at the rim all afternoon, but when he got a step on his defender, he didn't hesitate to go up strong over Deng Adel for a layup.

Mitchell would get two more layups, but each one was answered by Wilson free throws. Wilson and Wagner embraced after the game-sealing block to send Michigan to the Sweet Sixteen.

"We're very close," said Wagner. "It's beautiful seeing each other be successful."

It sure is.

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Michigan 92, Oklahoma State 91

Michigan 92, Oklahoma State 91 Comment Count

Ace March 17th, 2017 at 3:56 PM


Derrick Walton's range extended to the midcourt logo today. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Three is worth more than two.

In one of the most unbelievable offensive showcases these eyes have seen at any level, that core tenet of John Beilein's offense proved the difference.

In a tight contest from start to finish, Michigan couldn't keep Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans from getting into the paint. Evans poured in 23 points and handed out 12 assists, and many of his 16 misses led to second-chance points for the Cowboys. OSU pulled down 16 offensive boards to Michigan's six; they outscored the Wolverines 50-20 in the paint.

Michigan, on the other hand, had a difficult time working their way inside. After clinging to a one-point halftime lead because they took care of the basketball, they laid waste to OSU's defense from the perimeter, sinking 11 of their 15 second-half three-point attempts.

Derrick Walton, to nobody's surprise, led the second-half charge. After a 1-for-6 first half, Walton didn't hesitate to rise and fire from as far out as the edge of the midcourt logo, and for good reason: he scored 19 in the final stanza, hitting 5-of-6 threes.

"It's a lot of fun, first and foremost, to know you have that rock that you can always count on," Duncan Robinson said of Walton. "He's been so good and we go as he goes, so hopefully he's got a little bit more left in the tank."

"I just tapped into the fact that I know I've worked really hard," said Walton. "Just the mindset and the trust these guys have in me, that makes me go out and just play much more free knowing they have a lot of confidence in me."


Zak Irvin's 16 points included some huge second-half jumpers. [Bryan Fuller]

Robinson and Zak Irvin also hit huge shots down the stretch from beyond the arc. DJ Wilson came up with big plays on both ends of the floor, including the game-sealing free-throws to put Michigan up four before Evans drilled an inconsequential—unless you're a gambler—triple at the buzzer.

That capped one of the most entertaining, exhilarating, and stressful games of this college basketball season. So much happened in the second half that it's hard to remember that the game got off to a sluggish start; the two teams were knotted up at 11 at the under-12 timeout. OSU pushed ahead with a swift 9-0 run, then Michigan hit back when John Beilein threw caution to the wind and re-inserted Moe Wagner despite his two early fouls. Both squads settled into a groove, giving a taste of what was to come after the break.

The Cowboys again jumped out to a lead after halftime, and that was only a small part of Michigan's concern, as Walton briefly exited the game with an apparent ankle issue. He returned with the Wolverines down six points; that gap closed to two on M's next three possessions, in which Walton hit a three and dished out two assists. A pair of Wagner free throws deadlocked the game at 59 with 13 minutes to play; from there, Michigan's deadeye shooting made the difference.


Walton sizes up Jawun Evans before drilling a corner three. [Campredon]

While the Wolverines couldn't string together stops, neither could the Cowboys, and Michigan's shots were coming from beyond the arc. With that, the Wolverines needed one decent defensive stretch, and they got that with two stops at the rim—including a huge block by DJ Wilson that led to Walton's midcourt bomb—and a charge drawn on OSU center Mitchell Solomon. Subsequent triples by Wilson and Walton sandwiched around a Phil Forte two-pointer got the lead to eight with 6:47 left.

That held steady until a late OSU comeback push that appeared to be stymied by long jumpers from Irvin and Walton. Robinson missed the front end of two late one-and-ones, however, which added some serious drama to the final moments until Wilson's pair of free throws sealed it.

Michigan took this game despite a quiet performance from Wagner, who scored six points in only 14 minutes as Beilein went with Wilson at the five for much of the second half. Wilson finished with 19 points, while Irvin and Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman each added 16. That proved just enough to overcome Evans and a very efficient 19-point outing from Jeffrey Carroll.

Hopefully, we can catch our collective breath in time for Sunday's game, which will almost certainly be against two-seed Louisville.

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One Frame At A Time: BTT, Part One

One Frame At A Time: BTT, Part One Comment Count

Ace March 13th, 2017 at 4:59 PM

There's too much from this tournament run to cram into one GIFs post, so I'm splitting it into two parts; today's covers the Illinois and Purdue games. The glut of quality GIFs is due in no small part to Fred Wright-Jones, who emerged over the tournament as the heir apparent to Andrew Dakich's role as King of the Bench Mob. You can see him above mirroring Zak Irvin's dunk from the end of the bench. There's much more where that came from.

[Hit THE JUMP for the best moments from the Illinois and Purdue wins.]

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Maverick Prophecy

Maverick Prophecy Comment Count

Brian March 13th, 2017 at 2:31 PM

3/09/2017 – Michigan 75, Illinois 55 – 21-11, 10-8 Big Ten
3/10/2017 – Michigan 74, Purdue 70 (OT) – 22-11, 10-8 Big Ten
3/11/2017 – Michigan 84, Minnesota 77 – 23-11, 10-8 Big Ten
3/12/2017 – Michigan 71, Wisconsin 56 – 24-11, 10-8 Big Ten, BTT Champs

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[Paul Sherman]

Over the course of thousands of years of human history since the invention of writing, many people have written—or chiseled or typed or uh is there a calligraphy verb—unwise things. Incorrect things. Silly, stupid, terribly wrong things. Some of these were supported by the best available evidence available at the time. Some of these had rather a lot of backing.

Nonetheless, diseases are not cured by bleeding out-of-balance humours from the body. No matter what NBA players may tell you, the earth is not flat. And virtually everything written about the Michigan basketball team during the first five weeks of 2017 should be taken to the largest conveniently-located landfill or event horizon and disposed of, never to be revisited. For example, take this festering twit from the depths of the internet reacting to Michigan's trip to East Lansing:

That was either in late January (by ordinal time) or the Cretaceous (by subjective time). There was rather a lot of data backing that up, as Michigan trundled towards the NIT with a defense that at one point had sunk as low as #184 in the country on Kenpom.

Even by then, though, things were fitting into place. That was their fourth straight game of decent to good defense, and Irvin quietly spearheaded it. Future lottery pick Miles Bridges scuffled to 15 points on 17 shots and chipped in couple of turnovers en route to a 94 ORTG. In the return game things would only get worse for him, with 5 turnovers sinking his game ORTG even lower.

Michigan is fighting in the post and closing out like crazy and every single guy on the team has bought in. Only Irvin had to do that while simultaneously coming to grips with his role on the team, and how it wasn't what he wanted it to be. Walton's gotten the headlines and the hosannahs, but in a way it's much harder to fade into the background gracefully than become the lip-curled alpha dog. In that hamblasting of Michigan State at Crisler he had three points on 8% usage. Zak Irvin's learned something about humility this year. Hopefully so have festering twits from the internet*.

*[Spoiler: they have not.]

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

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[Sherman]

Irvin is an emblem of a Michigan renaissance unmatched since the Aneurysm of Leadership. Since The White Collar Incident, Michigan is 13-5 and one of the top ten teams in the country.

Also emblems: Derrick Walton, about whom the Trey Burke whispers are getting louder. Duncan Robinson, the world's unlikeliest candidate for defensive stopper and also a gentleman who would have gotten Michigan to overtime against Northwestern if not for Julia Louis-Drefyus's heavenly intervention. DJ Wilson, who can apparently play center now and guard 1-5 and go bucket for bucket with Purdue bigs. Mo Wagner, who firebombed Isaac Haas off the floor and has developed a stick-and-move hedge game that turns late clock in to very late clock. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who nobody even notices anymore because he's just as efficient as everyone else. Maverick Morgan, whose sick burn made Walton so angry he turned into the Hulk.

That's everyone with a usage above "limited roles" and a guy who plays for Illinois.

The improvement is comprehensive and near-unprecedented, and it stretches back half the season now. This isn't a fluke. It hasn't been inconsistent. Michigan has won a bunch of blowouts during that stretch and aside from that inexplicable OSU game all their losses were on narrow, on the road, against tournament teams. They had a plane crash; they arrived at the Big Ten tournament barely over an hour before their scheduled start time; Illinois was more shell-shocked than Michigan was, trailing by 11 by the first break.

I can't explain it. I feel like Robert Hooke looking through a microscope and finding out life was impossibly smaller and bigger than it seemed, simultaneously. I feel like I've just watched a month long Rocky training montage that has turned this Poindexter of a team into... well, still that but a murder hobo version of it. We were given many pieces of evidence and this team has improbably, wonderfully overturned them all.

Bullets

Mind the gap. Three point launch margin over the course of the tourney: +10, +6, +10, +8. An increasingly tired Michigan outfit wasn't as efficient on theirs as they usually are, and it's no surprise to find out that a Beilein team takes a lot of threes.

But the three avoidance is real, and it's spectacular: Wisconsin's first shot in the championship game was a late-clock long two forced by an aggressive MAAR closeout. This is a beautiful place to force an off the dribble shot from:

image

Once again, barely more than a quarter of an opponent's FGAs were from behind the arc. Michigan moved up a spot in 3PA prevention after the BTT. They're still 308th in 3PA% allowed.

In Soviet Smiths Album, DJ hangs you. In the championship game Mark Donnal was limited to a few brief cameos and avoided a trillion only because he picked up a personal foul; Mo Wagner also played just 24 minutes. Michigan papered over the gap with DJ Wilson at the 5, and this worked brilliantly.

He was able to effectively front Happ most of the time and use his length to bother him when he did get a catch; Happ ended up shooting 6 of 16 from the floor with 3 TOs. With Irvin capable of checking the perimeter-oriented Hayes and Wagner having a rough day on offense, Michigan simply chose to ride with their small lineup in crunch time.

Short turnover Beilein time. So Michigan's two-point shooting was scorching over the course of the four days: 68%, 54%. 68%, 68%. All the more impressive since there were periods in the second half of all four games where Michigan looked too exhausted to run their offense and settled for some heroball.

Minnesota in particular was diced into a fine mist by the Michigan offense. Discombobulated by the lack of Reggie Lynch on the interior—the nation's leading shotblocker had zero as he tried to check Wagner on the perimter—the Gophers fell prey to a half-dozen back cuts in the first ten minutes and fell behind so badly that Michigan's dead-legs period in the second half only got them back to a tie, and from there Walton took over.

That's Michigan's offense going to work when the three point shooting was iffy.

One note of praise for referees. The championship game was downright perfect. I was a little irritated from time to time when Michigan didn't get a particular call but since they were letting various minor bumps go on both ends I soon settled down into a mode where—get this—I was not surprised when fouls happened or what direction they went.

The golden age of offense. Big Ten players who played at least 40% of the time and had a usage rate of at least 16%, ranked by ORTG:

  1. Duncan Robinson, 126
  2. Derrick Walton, 125
  3. James Blackmon, IU, 123
  4. DJ Wilson, 123
  5. Juwan Morgan, IU, 122
  6. Vincent Edwards, PU, 119
  7. Mo Wagner, 118
  8. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, 116
  9. Bronson Koenig, UW, 116
  10. Trevor Thompson, OSU, 115

Only Zak Irvin(103) has the requisite minutes to qualify and is not on this list. This the second-best offense Beilein's ever had at Michigan, slotting in a hair behind the Stauskas/Levert-led Elite 8 team.

A bit on the draw. More on Michigan's first and (potential) second round opponents later in the week. At first blush this is a rough one. Oklahoma State is the #1 offense in the country and a team that, like Michigan, had a mid-season turnaround that has seen them thump a lot of teams and lose narrowly when they do in fact lose. If I had to pick one stat I do not want to see an opponent bring to a matchup with Michigan it's a bucket of OREBs, and Okie State is 6th nationally in that department.

On the other hand, their defense is miserable, like Michigan-before-Maverick miserable, and the only thing they're actually good at in that department is forcing turnovers. This could be a game where Duncan Robinson is 7/11 from 3, that sort of thing.

It should be good for neutrals. Thrill quotient type calculations that prioritize high scoring, close games have Michigan-Okie State as the best game of the first round.

A hypothetical second round matchup against (almost certainly Louisville) is not ideal, but at least the pod also features Kentucky so the crowd in Indy is likely to be relatively split. This version of UL has the usual jumping jacks in the middle that give them a ton of OREBs and swat/alter a ton of shots. Their shooting is only middling; they hang their hat on D and on the glass.

Seeding complaints are real. Maybe not for Michigan, but you know you screwed up as a committee when you've done this:

That line is the best available guess from people with many dollars riding on accurate projections and just about matches Kenpom's 7-point projected margin. That corresponds to a 75% shot at a Wichita win. Congrats, Dayton. Here's a 25% shot at a first round game as a 7 seed.

I don't think Wichita should have been given a two like a world that seeds exclusively by Kenpom would, but does anyone blink if the Shockers are a 6? No. The team testing out the theory that Wichita State is actually good despite a loss to 3-9 19-14 Michigan State would be one of the last at-larges in the field and thus just happy to be here.

Don't even get me started on the Big Ten. The committee talked a big game about finally modernizing their approach, and that was all balderdash.

When the committee chair is Mark Hollis I don't know why anyone expected better except for blind optimism.

Well, poop. They've been found. Chad Ford didn't have anyone from Michigan on his draft radar this season, but that's changed. He's got a list of the top guys to watch in the NCAA  tournament; Wilson and Wagner check in towards the tail end of the list:

25. D.J. Wilson

Wilson is an athletic forward who can both stretch the floor and protect the rim. He has a rare combination of explosiveness and skill. His inconsistency and soft play (despite his size he doesn't really like contact in the paint) concern NBA scouts.

He's on the first-round bubble, but a big NCAA tournament could change things for him. He was outstanding in the Big 10 tourney for Michigan with 26 points, eight boards and three blocks against Purdue and 17 points, six boards, three assists and two steals against Wisconsin to lead Michigan to the title.

26. Moritz Wagner

Wagner might be the biggest sleeper on this list. The native of Germany brings many of the things that Lauri Markkanen brings to the table and is just six months older, such as size, agility, a terrific 3-point stroke and a high basketball IQ.

Like Markkannen, he isn't a great rebounder or shot blocker, but you don't find many players with his size and skill set in the draft.

He's still got both in the 30-50 range—ie, the second round—and FWIW, I've heard that both are planning to return next year. I wouldn't count on year four from either.

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Big Ten Tournament Champion Michigan 71, Wisconsin 56

Big Ten Tournament Champion Michigan 71, Wisconsin 56 Comment Count

Ace March 12th, 2017 at 5:37 PM


Champs. [Paul Sherman]

Michigan's team plane skidded off the runway on Wednesday. The Wolverines flew to Washington DC on Thursday morning. They essentially walked off the plane and right onto the court before crushing Illinois, then went through top-seeded Purdue and four-seed Minnesota to reach the final. Today, they handed Wisconsin their biggest loss* of the season to become the lowest-seeded Big Ten team to win the conference tournament.

No matter what happens in the NCAA Tournament, this week will go down as one of the most incredible in Michigan basketball history, as much due to their play as the trying travel circumstances. Nothing reflects Michigan's incredible late-season transformation more than today's victory. With the offense not firing on all cylinders, the defense shut down Wisconsin's often-overwhelming interior attack.


DJ Wilson was a force on both ends of the floor. [Sherman]

Derrick Walton had another exemplary performance, posting 22 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and two steals. Zak Irvin played a remarkable two-way game, scoring 15 on 6-for-9 shooting, pulling down seven boards, dishing out five assists, and playing tremendous defense both on the perimeter and in the paint.

The difference, however, was DJ Wilson. Not only did Wilson drop 17 points on a wide array of finishes, but he shut down star Wisconsin center Ethan Happ after John Beilein moved him to center at halftime. Happ went 4-for-8 with 8 points in the first half; he shot only 2-for-8 after the break, and three of his four of his second-half offensive rebounds came on one possession. With that adjustment and great all-around defense, the Wolverines cruised in the second half.

Michigan now awaits their NCAA seed, which will be revealed momentarily. What an unbelievable run.

---------------
*The 71-56 final score is identical to North Carolina's win over Wisconsin in November

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Michigan 74, Purdue 70 (OT)

Michigan 74, Purdue 70 (OT) Comment Count

Ace March 10th, 2017 at 3:13 PM


Now for a cheer they are here, triumphant. [Paul Sherman]

I'm still not sure how that happened.

Almost everything that went right for Michigan in their regular-season win over Purdue went wrong today. Moe Wagner didn't make a shot from the field and spent most of the game on the bench with foul trouble. John Beilein got so frustrated with the officiating that he picked up a rare technical. Derrick Walton had his worst game of the last month or so. The Wolverines had more than twice as many turnovers (13) as assists (six) or made three-pointers (also six, on 25 attempts). Isaac Haas brutalized Michigan's big men. The clock operator Spartan Bob'd Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman out of a potential game-winning steal and layup at the end of regulation. Purdue even hit a buzzer-beating halfcourt heave, because after all, this is the Big Ten Tournament.

Somehow, they persevered. DJ Wilson made up for Wagner's extended absence by scoring 18 of his game-high 26 in the first half, taking advantage of Purdue's big men defending in space like Wagner did the first time around. Zak Irvin alternated great and awful possessions but came up huge down the stretch, tying the game on a layup with 4.2 seconds remaining in regulation. He got to the basket twice more for the only field goals either team made in the overtime session until a desperate Purdue heave with two seconds remaining. Irvin finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, and his defense was once again a huge positive.


DJ Wilson was on his game. The arena was on brand. [Sherman]

Haas and Swanigan feasted on the interior, especially the former, who went 8-for-10 from the field to net 17 points in just 15 minutes. Swanigan made 5-of-10 twos, dished out five assists, and pulled down 13 rebounds; he also missed all three shots from beyond the arc and committed four turnovers before fouling out in overtime. Michigan overcame their struggles in the paint with excellent perimeter defense. While Purdue shot 42% on threes, they could only get 19 looks, and their primary sharpshooters were shut down; Ryan Cline was 1-for-2 while Dakota Mathias had a rough 1-for-8 performance.

Free throws ended up as the deciding factor. The Boilermakers were 6-for-13; Michigan went 18-for-23. PJ Thompson's miss on the front end of a one-and-one led to Irvin's tying layup at the end of regulation. In overtime, Walton and Duncan Robinson were able to keep the game just out of reach with perfect trips to the line.

With that, Michigan's incredible, unlikely, bizarre week continued. Despite being the eight-seed, they may very well be the Big Ten Tournament favorite from here on out; they're the only team to beat Purdue over the last ten games and they've done it twice. The Wolverines await the winner of Michigan State and Minnesota in the game currently being played on ESPN. They'll have plenty of motivation in the semifinal either way. Getting off the 8/9 seed line would be huge for their hopes of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament; if they didn't accomplish that today, another win might do it.

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

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

Ace 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.]

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

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

Ace 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.]

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Fully Armed And Operational Battlest-

Fully Armed And Operational Battlest- Comment Count

Brian 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(!).

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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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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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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.

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