What's German for "you should play me more"? [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Michigan begins Big Ten play on Sunday at Iowa. As the team's long holiday break comes to a close, it's a good time to take some mailbag questions. I got enough good questions this time around that I'll probably do another one of these next week; a couple of these required deeper dives than I expected.
— Crisler Spider-Man (@CrislerSpidey) December 28, 2016
I'll begin with this: I'm less concerned about the team making the tournament than most Michigan fans, or at least that's the sense I get. They're 10-3 with no resume-crushing losses and a couple neutral-site blowout wins over top-40 teams. While it's early yet to keep tabs on this, the Wolverines are a nine-seed in the Bracket Matrix with eight at-large teams below them. A handful of the teams ahead of them have the look of paper tigers. I'm not ready to believe Minnesota and Northwestern are tournament squads; both are currently ahead of Michigan in the matrix. This team is in better shape both statistically and resume-wise after the nonconference schedule than last year's team, which had Caris LeVert through the Big Ten opener. Unless there's an injury to a major contributor, which we obviously can't rule out, then this will be a tournament team.
With that out of the way, the key to season is Moe Wagner earning John Beilein's trust enough to become the focal point of this team. This is both on Wagner and Beilein. Wagner, for his part, needs to cut down on the oft-inexplicable mental errors that he makes on defense; those have been Beilein's focus when he explains why Wagner got pulled from a particular game or doesn't have a bigger role in general. Beilein, for his part, needs to realize that Michigan is usually better off with Wagner in the game even when he's made a couple mistakes. While I understand the need for teaching moments, they don't always need to come during games, especially when they may be at the expense of the team's chances to win.
There are already encouraging signs on this front. Wagner has played 25+ minutes in three of the last six games; the exceptions were UCLA, when he got in foul trouble, and the blowouts over Central Arkansas and Maryland Eastern Shore, when Beilein had a chance to give Jon Teske some extended playing time.
Meanwhile, Wagner's relatively low minute total—he's still playing a shade less than half of the available minutes—partially obscures the reality: when Wagner is on the floor, he's the lead offensive player. His 24.0% usage rate is the highest on the team, as is his 26.2% share of shot attempts when he's on the floor. His seven assists already outnumber last season's total by three. He's cut his turnover rate nearly in half, an especially difficult feat given the major uptick in usage. He's drawing more fouls. Most importantly, he's obscenely efficient as a scorer, shooting 71% on twos and 50% on threes. While those numbers will fall back to earth as Wagner can no longer feast on the Kennesaw States of the basketball world, it's clear that Wagner has the highest ceiling as a scorer of any of Michigan's rotation players, and it may not be close.
Wagner has done an excellent job of cutting down his foul rate, which has dropped from 7.3 fouls per 40 minutes last season to 3.9 this season. As long as that continues, it's time for Wagner to play closer to 30 minutes per game than his current mark of 19.2.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag.]