The Fire And The Flutter

The Fire And The Flutter

Submitted by Brian on March 20th, 2017 at 12:51 PM

3/17/2017 – Michigan 92, Oklahoma State 91 – 25-11, NCAA second round
3/19/2017 – Michigan 73, Louisville 69 – 26-11, Sweet 16

Michigan's NCAA tournament weekend was a lot like what I imagine it's like to enter Earth orbit.

Stage One

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[Bryan Fuller]

You are strapped to a rocket. In the English language, "rocket" is shorthand for "tube that barely contains fuel." When lit, that fuel explodes; the rocket shunts the exploding bits out its rear to create the kind of incredible, bowel-threatening acceleration that allows one to escape the surly bonds of earth.

I'll be damned if there's a better metaphor for playing Jawun Evans and Oklahoma State. To watch this Oklahoma State team is to be continually surprised that Evans does not literally have flames coming out of his ass, propelling him inevitably towards death or glory at the rim.

At first, there was a lot of noise but not much action. This is also in keeping with rockets, which have various moments early in the enterprise when it is unclear whether the thing will go up or tip over, explosively.

After ten minutes when the game threatened to teeter over into a dud, the acceleration took, and did not stop until all observers were weak kneed and gripped with pallor, as if the blood had been forced from their heads.

Rockets do not have men in grimy outfits and train engineer hats frantically heaping fuel into a furnace to keep the thing from sputtering out and allowing gravity to reclaim what is rightfully hers. Our metaphorical rocket does. The men in hats are flinging three pointers, desperately attempting to stay ahead of gravity's brutal math. Evans and company are providing a constant drag of 1.58 points a possession. Walton and Irvin and Robinson must pump at least that much into the ever-hungry, blazing heart of the engine.

Amazingly, they do so. At first it seems easy. Walton drifts to one corner and then the other to work screens and grab passes for wide open looks. Robinson comes off a screen and rises up from a comfortable spot. A couple of transition opportunities find guys open in the corners. Things are going well—very well—but so far you can chalk it up to a bunch of open looks and good fortune against the nation's #133 defense.

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[Fuller]

Two things happen nearly back-to-back that take it into the realm of the spooky. Zak Irvin comes off a screen, takes a dribble, and fires an objectively bad shot, a heavily contested jack that draws the NO NO NO YES reaction not just from all Michigan fans but also the announcers. Almost immediately after this, Walton passes to Robinson, who's two or three feet from the line and getting more than a token contest. Walton yells at Robinson to shoot. He probably shouldn't shoot. Robinson shoots. It goes down, because of course it does. A bit later, Walton ignores DJ Wilson posting up a 5'11" guy to take this:

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[Fuller]

This goes down. Because of course it does.

As all this is happening, Evans is taking his rocket ass into the lane to claw two points back, like gravity does. Gravity draws you back at a constant 9.8 m/s^2, and you either beat it or you don't. Michigan beat it, in the way movies portray the first stage of rocket liftoff. There is a tremendous amount of noise. The camera shakes impressively. One of the cast members says "ohhhhhhhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiiit." There is a moment of unbearable tension as the G forces ramp up to the maximum humans can tolerate.

Then everything stops. There's a clunk as the first stage departs. You have won! You are alive. You are very high in the air on a fatal trajectory.

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Interplanetary_Superhighway

Stage Two

You've dropped your first-stage booster and watched it burn up in the atmosphere. (Underwood's stunning, immediate departure for Illinois will do nicely in our analogy.) Now you are up up up very far and have entered the realm of orbital mechanics. I've read just enough science fiction to not understand orbital mechanics at all.

The gist seems to be that certain things are all but impossible despite seeming easy, while other things are damn near free because of... reasons. The image above is something called the "interplanetary transport network," which allows you to visit any point of interest in the solar system—eventually, very eventually—by hopscotching through Lagrange points where all the competing gravities of the system average out to zero. This is virtually free in terms of energy.

These are tiny pinholes in a vast expanse of quicksand. Reaction mass is limited and space is very big.

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Louisville basketball has four centers and plays two of them at a time, and if you want to get a shot up it's time to hunt for Lagrange points.

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Mo Wagner changed the way most teams defend Michigan with his white-hot first half against Purdue. After halftime the desperate Boilermakers decided they were going to switch every screen no matter what kind of ludicrous matchups resulted. Michigan was initially confused, and then Wagner was forced to the bench with foul trouble for nine minutes of the second half. By the time he returned there were only a few possessions before Michigan's Lloydball clock-drain offense made the switching moot. Painter's move exited the game more or less untested.

That did not prevent it from quickly being replicated, to middling-at-best effect. The constant switching did dull the effectiveness of Michigan's pick and roll. It dared Michigan to post up, which they simply do not do. It's pretty easy to holler about exploiting a post mismatch when you are a fan looking at a 5'11" guy on DJ Wilson. It's evidently much tougher when you are part of a Beilein basketball organism that forcibly expelled post-ups from its DNA back when it was using flagella to florp around in its Canisius days.

So the switching mostly resulted in a lot of isolation with Walton or whoever against a big. It took Michigan's silky, flowing offense and battered it down to the heroball stuff you see at Kansas or Kentucky, except without the infinite alley oops. Since Walton stepback threes are Very Good Offense, somehow, the switching didn't really slow Michigan down much. All it did was cause me to goggle at Michigan bigs guarded by oompa-loompas and be like all "AARGH THROW IT TO THAT GUY."

There was that particularly brutal possession pictured above on which DJ Wilson was trying to post up a 5'11" dude and Walton decided to jack up a 35-foot three pointer. This went in because of course it did; whether or not Michigan could do anything with this tactic in the event that Walton jacks stopped being Very Good Offense remained an open question. No longer.

In the aftermath of Sunday it is possible to interpret Michigan's somewhat frustrating inability to take advantage of said oompa-loompas as a devastating long con.  Louisville entered the game with a plan: no threes. They would switch everything to remove the rotation, because Michigan will get you eventually if you rotate. They would refuse to help in the post, because that results in rotation. They would make Michigan execute a thing they simply do not do. In an advantageous situation, sure. But they wanted to make the fish ride the bicycle.

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[Campredon]

The fish rode the bicycle.

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It popped wheelies.

Louisville's tactic backfired spectacularly in the second half. The tiny windows their giant posts leave drivers became caverns as 6'7" Adel Deng was repeatedly tasked with checking a guy much taller and more skilled than him. The posts stuck to their shooters, and Michigan lived and died by the two for a change.

Pitino did not relent. If he was going to lose this game it was two points at a time. Thus Michigan calmly and gradually reeled Louisville back in after the disastrous last minute of the first half. Screen and screen until you get your matchup, dump it down, score. Repeat. Regular, controlled thrust, easing Michigan through.

"It was some scheme things," Beilein said of his halftime talk, "but it was more: 'Alright, hit singles. Do not come out of here trying to win in the first four minutes. Let's just win the first four minutes. Let's just win the first four minutes. Win it by two points. Win every segment and you'll win the game.'"

Too bad that doesn't fit on a whiteboard.

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So here we are. Orbit. It's nice. Very pretty. Can see Phoenix from here. Or Glendale. Whatever. Just two more harrowing white-knuckle terrordomes to go.

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[Campredon]

The most explosive team in the country is in the rear view. So too is a nation of angry ents. Confidence is through the roof, relative to your average white-knuckle terrordome experience. Let's go.

Bullets

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SAY 'WHAT' AGAIN, uh, SIR (via @the_mikeyb1246)

"Since Maverick" update. Michigan is up to #6 nationally in adjusted efficiency margin:

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Amongst teams still in the tournament they're #3 behind Gonzaga and Florida. You'll note they're a nose ahead of Kansas.

First-round victim Oklahoma State shows up at #12. (They have a lot of losses, yes. In this time period they were all against tourney teams: two against Kansas, two against ISU, one to Baylor, one to KSU, one to Michigan. Most of those were 3-5 point games.) When I tweeted this out after the game I meant it:

That felt like a #2 going up against a #3. This is not a seeding complaint, or at least it's not much of one. Oklahoma State, like Michigan, was a team that got a ton better about halfway through January and was 1) more or less fairly seeded while 2) being a terrible draw for whoever got them. Michigan did, and barely survived despite scorching the nets.

Finally, the road doesn't get any easier in the Sweet 16 as Michigan draws #10 Oregon. That hurdle is significantly lower with Duck post Chris Boucher out for the season. Oregon's given up significantly more than 1 PPP in the three games since Boucher's injury, against offenses ranging from "somewhat worse" to a "a lot worse" than Michigan.

DJ Wilson, sometimes center, is a thing. Wagner finished the Okie State game on the bench just like he finished the B10 championship game, and this was fine because DJ Wilson was functional at center. The opposition didn't have the ability to blow him away with guys who are both very burly and very athletic. Ethan Happ is burly but not that athletic and Wilson's length bothered him. Mitchell Solomon is pretty much the same minus the post-up skills.

Michigan's ability to go small against a light-speed team and then run Wagner and Wilson at the same time against Louisville provided them the flexibility to get past two crazy outlier teams with just one day of prep. That's a major asset.

Expect more of that going forward: Oregon is minus a 6'10" center they played 20 minutes a game and is now a small-ball outfit that runs out one player taller than 6'7" at a time*. Kansas is along the same lines, with wing Josh Jackson playing the 4 for them most of the time. DJ can play center against both, and likely will.

*[To be specific, 6'9" Jordan Bell is their 5 and they'll give 6'11" Kavell Bigby-Williams 10-15 minutes a game spelling him. Dillon Brooks is the only other Oregon player seeing meaningful minutes who's taller than 6'4".]

Donnal survived against Louisville. Credit to the most maligned current Wolverine: Mark Donnal hit a three and blocked a shot in nine minutes, which went a good way towards offsetting the facemashing he's naturally going to receive when he finds himself trying to check UL's infinite conveyor belt of giant dudes.

I wasn't even irritated at Donnal's foul, which was an enthusiastic boxout of lanky 7-footer Anas Mahmoud. He got whistled for a foul that seemed impossible, because I've spent all season watching Michigan bigs take the same contact and get blasted off their spot. Donnal flipped the script and got a foul for his troubles. Better that than weak post D.

Walton didn't score much against Louisville, but... naturally he led the team in rebounds with seven and had six assists to zero turnovers. Also he was instrumental in harassing Quinn Snider into an 0/9 shooting performance. Also:

Shot parity: close enough! Against UL Michigan lost the offensive rebound battle by six; they won turnovers by five. That'll do when you're the most efficient shooting team around. Against Oklahoma State it was dodgier, with Michigan –10 in OREBs while only ending up +6 in turnovers. Still, if you told me Michigan was going into a game with a top ten OREB offense and came out only –4 in shot margin I'd take that.

There is an alternate universe of Wagner foul bitchin'. One man's comically inept refereeing is another man's comically inept refereeing multiplied by –1, and I have to relate to you, dear reader, that it is the opinion of many Louisville fans that Mo Wagner commits offensive fouls every time he touches the ball.

This is not the most convincing ref incompetence highlight reel I've seen.

I imagine this stems from one of the first times Michigan went after the Deng Adel-Wagner mismatch in the first half. Adel flopped at the same time Wagner appeared to go for the ol' chicken wing on his path to the basket. The refs did not bite on the flop and the wing met air; Wagner went for an easy bucket. After that everything Wagner did seemed to set off cascades of complaints on UL game threads.

Big Ten seeding complaints on point. After the bracket came out there was consternation about the ordering of various Big Ten teams, and it was proven correct. 5 seed Minnesota was a Vegas dog against 12 MTSU and duly lost. Maryland was hammered by 11 seed Xavier. Meanwhile Wisconsin beat Villanova and Michigan beat Louisville to reach the Sweet 16.

The sample sizes are necessarily tiny here, but since there was plenty of evidence before the games were even played they serve to reinforce the fact that the tourney was badly mis-seeded.

Also worth noting that MSU was the only 8-9 not to give its opponent a competitive game. Wisconsin won, Northwestern battled valiantly before losing by 6 thanks in part to that missed goaltend, Arkansas led in the last four minutes. Hell, you can rope in the two seeds here as well: Michigan and South Carolina won while St Mary's and Wichita State battled valiantly to the final whistle. Only Michigan State was blown out, as you would expect them to be.

Wooooof. There was a plague of refereeing blunders this weekend that should but almost certainly won't be the cause for some soul-searching at the NCAA. The most egregious miss—Northwestern's comeback-stalling missed goaltend—saw the NCAA's head of officials show up on one of the studio shows to lamely defend the refs working the game because he, a 70-year-old man watching on TV, didn't catch it. I expect slightly more from a man literally standing under the basket.

Anyway, there were some doozies in Michigan's game, none worse than the two calls late in the first half against Louisville. The first was a phantom call on Walton that turned a turnover into two free throws for UL; the second was the Wagner open-court steal that again turned into two free throws. With Michigan likely to get a fast-break bucket if the second call isn't made that was a six-point swing just after Michigan had finally managed to claw its way back into a tie.

At that moment I could only think of the Trey Burke block and a couple other calls in the title game that prevented that one from truly going down to the wire, as it deserved to, and I resolved to never watch basketball again. I resolve this several times a season, and sometimes multiple times in one game.

And the worst bit about all this. Yahoo has an accurate summation of the worst five calls of the weekend:

  1. Gonzaga goaltend
  2. North Carolina's travel/charge/travel/charge
  3. Arizona's Lauri Markannen blasting a St Mary's player out of bounds, for which the St Mary's player got call
  4. The Plessy v Ferguson flagrant in Seton Hall vs Arkansas
  5. A horrendous charge call EC Mathews picked up in Oregon-Rhode Island.

Every single one of these made a tight game less tight, and every one of them favored the higher seed. (Seton Hall-Arkansas was an 8-9; the rest were serious upset bits.) A lot of the drama of March Madness was sapped by referee errors.

Other Stuff

Best And Worst:

John Beilein’s defining characteristics (at least publicly) are being incredibly nice/genuine and being a bit, how do you say, hokey.  In 2013, he celebrated going to the Sweet 16 with crazy subs, and this year has taken to ambushing players with water guns after big wins.  It’s notable when he freaks out on the sidelines about the officiating because (a) it almost always means he’s getting a technical, and (b) he’s almost always right, and has held his tongue for untold transgressions up to that point.  Maverick Morgan called Michigan “white collar” this year as a pejorative about their toughness, and more than a few fans felt the Wolverines reflected Beilein’s temperament.  Both Louisville and Okie St. outrebounded Michigan this weekend, and a common refrain was that the team didn’t play tough enough on the glass.

But behind that gentile veneer is the heart of a killer.  Okay, maybe not “killer”, but as Ace noted, quite evil.  He knows what his offense can do to other teams.  Matt Painter was exasperated trying to explain the difficulties defending Michigan, the harsh realization that your center has to defend a guy who shoots over 40% from three and can also shake-and-bake you behind his back on the way to the hoop.  That even when the outside shot isn’t falling, Beilein will tax your team the entire time they are in the half-court offense, probing for breakdowns.  And when they are firing from outside at a good clip, ooohhh.  Oklahoma State scored 91 points and didn’t hold a lead after the 10-minute mark of the second half because Michigan shot 11-15 from 3 in the second half, a performance so scarring that OSU’s head coachg Brad Underwood left the Cowboys…for Illinois.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Matt Norlander on the narrative. John Beilein on ESPN:

Brendan Quinn:

D.J. Wilson, another of the day's stars, sank four free throws in the final 17 seconds.

That pragmatism? It was on full display. Wilson, a sophomore, made each free throw like he was in the driveway. Asked about the pressure of the moment later, Wilson sat stone-faced and said: "I don't feel any really."

Five key plays from Oklahoma State.

Etc. Rodger Sherman on Wagner. Pat Forde thinks Beilein is famously serious. Must not know about subs. Michigan is a one point favorite over Oregon. Hang on to your butts. Hoo boy does the Underwood departure suck for Okie State. Illinois fans are happy, as they should be. Oklahoma State fans shouldn't be.

Michigan 73, Louisville 69

Michigan 73, Louisville 69

Submitted by Ace on 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.

Maverick Prophecy

Maverick Prophecy

Submitted by Brian on 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.

Michigan 84, Minnesota 77

Michigan 84, Minnesota 77

Submitted by Ace on March 11th, 2017 at 4:04 PM


A masterful Walton kept Minnesota off-balance all afternoon. [Paul Sherman]

Can we get a recount?

Minnesota's Nate Mason beat out Derrick Walton for a spot on the All-Big Ten first team last week. Today, the difference between those two guards proved to be the difference in the conference semifinal. Walton was productive and efficient, scoring a career-high 29 points on 8-for-15 field goals and a perfect 10-for-10 mark from the line, dishing out nine assists against a lone turnover, and pulling down four rebounds.

When the Gophers mounted their second-half comeback, Walton's cold-blooded outside shooting and impeccable passing put Michigan back out in front and kept them there. Mason was productive, and nobody would accuse him of not playing well, but he needed 23 shots from the field and a pair of free throws to score 23 points. He tried to match Walton shot-for-shot down the stretch, and that played to Michigan's advantage.

Michigan came out of the gate on fire. Walton had five assists in the opening five minutes as John Beilein's offense created layup after layup. Moe Wagner hit all five of his first-half shots for 14 points, Zak Irvin went 4-for-5 to net nine, and Walton took what the Gopher defense gave him for ten of his own. While Minnesota generated almost all of their offense in the paint, they didn't make any of their four three-point attempts in the half, and that's no way to keep pace with this Michigan squad; the Wolverines threatened to turn this into a laugher with a 47-36 halftime lead.

A plane accident, the hectic travel that ensued, and three games in three days appeared to catch up to Michigan in the second half, however. While the Gophers continued to get what they wanted inside, the Wolverines left a lot of open shots short and failed to pick up shooters on the other end. A wide-open Mason three knotted the game up with 13:11 remaining.

Duncan Robinson broke a six-minute Michigan shooting slump two possession later. While the Gophers would keep it tight they couldn't close the gap again, even with Wagner limited to nine second-half minutes with foul trouble. Walton poured in 17 points after Minnesota tied it up, going 4-for-6 from the field and 6-for-6 from the line with a steal and two assists in that span to shut the door on the Gophers in Burke-like fashion.

Wagner (17), Irvin (13), and Robinson (10) all finished the game in double figures, as did all five starters on a shorthanded Minnesota squad that lost starting two-guard Akeem Springs for the year yesterday. Michigan overcame a severe disadvantage on the boards—Minnesota had a 15 to 2 edge in offensive rebounds—with superior outside shooting, transition offense, and having the only Derrick Walton on the floor.

Walton's Wolverines will face the winner of Wisconsin and Northwestern in tomorrow's Big Ten title game. The unbelievable nature of this week almost obscured the equally unbelievable turnaround by both Walton and the team as a whole in the latter half of the season. This has turned into a banner-worthy squad. They can secure one tomorrow afternoon.

MGoPodcast 8.16: Fair But Mean

MGoPodcast 8.16: Fair But Mean

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Mmmm potential rebound [Bryan Fuller]

Our recording got cut off before we did the intro and outro so David had to record those at home.

We Couldn’t Have One Without the Other

We get to make audio content because we can afford the studio time and equipment to make it happen, and that’s thanks to the people running ads between segments.

The show is presented by the Bo Store, UGP & Moe's, and if it wasn’t for Rishi and Ryan we probably would have real jobs.

The others: Homesure Lending, Ann Arbor Elder Law, the Residence Inn Ann Arbor Downtown, the University of Michigan Alumni Association, Deo Bookkeeping, Michigan Law Grad, Defensive Drivers Group, and Peak Wealth Management.

1. Bandwagon Basketball Podcast

starts at 1:00

The bandwagon for this Beilein team has a lot of room, since Ace’s is the only ass to remain in its seat through the bad times, and it’s a rather scrawny one. Defense is alright, offense is as good as the best of ’em. Talk every starter and how each has developed this year. Why two stretch bigs makes Michigan a tough ask to defend.

2. Finding a Seed

starts at 30:00

Disgust over the Minnesota game lingers: what that game could cost this team in the postseason. Appreciation for Northwestern’s commitment to drama (and Econ homework).

3. Gimmicky Top Five Developments You’d Like to See in Spring Football

starts at 46:30

Wilton Speight to the NFL, people saying the best recruit in the country is good, prophesies that might make Penn State fans, and more Glasgows.

4. A Grim Hockey Talk

starts at 1:05:16

David Nasternak, who’s been covering hockey for us this year, sits in to talk about how the bottom finally fell out, and what’s really up with this program right now. Fandom endurance badges to anyone who sticks around for all of it.

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

MUSIC:

  • “Secure the Galactic Perimeter”—Soronprfbs
  • “Bubble Song”—Spongebob Squarepants
  • “Catch 'Em Slippin’”—O.G. Style
  • “Across 110th Street”

THE USUAL LINKS

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.

image

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.

Basketbullets: Adjusting The Defense, MAAR's Quiet Resurgence, GRIII Dunk Contest Preview

Basketbullets: Adjusting The Defense, MAAR's Quiet Resurgence, GRIII Dunk Contest Preview

Submitted by Ace on February 17th, 2017 at 4:32 PM

[Speechless]


Before and after. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

At the 17:35 mark of the second half last night, Ethan Happ backed Moe Wagner down from just inside the three-point line all the way to the charge circle and hit a baby hook. That marked his ninth field goal in ten attempts; he had 20 points, five assists, no turnovers, and no fouls. Up to that point, Michigan had been content to let their big men try to handle Happ on their own, as they'd done much more successfully in the game in Madison. It wasn't working. John Beilein adjusted (thanks to UMHoops' Orion Sang for saving me the transcription work):

“We looked at our numbers last time that we played this — Northwestern just double-teamed him the whole game and it was a point per possession, and when we didn’t double team him last time it was 0.6. So we said we can have it in our package, but we’re not going to do it unless we need it. Not all of those were post-ups — he blew by Mo a couple times. Mo’s 21 points, I’m really happy about that. He’s got to improve his defense too, he got sloppy a few times. He’s just got to get better there. Happ is really good. Part of where Wisconsin is so successful with us and others is there’s just so little low-post game in college basketball. … It’s unique for people to guard.”

“(Happ’s) good. He missed some shots from four or five feet. He didn’t miss them this time. He’s a good player. But we weren’t going to change just to change knowing we had our package, and save it for the second half. Just save it for the second half and see if we need it.”

From that point forward, Happ went 1-for-3 from the field with one assist and three turnovers. He also committed five fouls, two of which came on the offensive end of the floor. His fourth foul came after Moe Wagner and Zak Irvin combined to force a miss; Happ was visibly frustrated after unnecessarily hacking Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman on the rebound.

Eric Coughlin of the Detroit News tweeted a useful chart displaying how Michigan's defensive adjustment—and Wisconsin abandoning the pick-and-roll—had an enormous impact on Happ's output: 

Mark Donnal looked overmatched in the first half; in the second, with some impressive help defense from Zak Irvin, he more than held his own. Irvin's offensive resurgence would've been for naught if Michigan didn't make, and execute, a mid-game scheme change on defense. It led to one of the most unexpected plays in recent memory:

My coverage of Donnal has been rather harsh at times; last night was his most encouraging game in a long time. Yes, he struggled to guard Happ one-on-one in the first half, but so did all of Michigan's big men; Jon Teske's disastrous two-minute stretch put a serious damper on the #FreeTeske movement. Donnal's seven minutes in the second half were impressive, even more so because he made a positive impact without taking a shot, which isn't exactly his norm. In addition to the block on Happ, he had a nice tipout offensive rebound and perhaps the most forceful blockout of his career:

If that's the version of Donnal we get going forward, there won't be any more controversy about who should back up Wagner.

[Hit THE JUMP for MAAR the quiet killer, updated bracket watch, and more.]

Michigan 64, Wisconsin 58

Michigan 64, Wisconsin 58

Submitted by Ace on February 16th, 2017 at 10:26 PM


The knockout blow. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Derrick Walton pump-faked, got Wisconsin's defense to collapse, and found Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman, who hit a corner bomb through contact for a four-point play that gave Michigan the lead. While perhaps not expected, it wasn't the least likely thing in the world.

Then came the following sequence: Mark Donnal blocked Ethan Happ, Michigan got out on the fast break, and Zak Irvin's three-pointer hit nothing but net. Suddenly the Wolverines were up seven.

Um, okay!

A few minutes later, Irvin found himself one-on-one on Ethan Happ, who'd dominated every defender Michigan threw his way. Irvin held his ground, though, and Moe Wagner picked off Happ's attempt to kick the ball back out. Adbur-Rahkman rewarded his center with a feed on the ensuing fast break, and the force of Wagner's dunk knocked Wisconsin's Zak Showalter to the ground. Crisler got as loud as it's been all season.

"I've been guarding fours and fives since I was a freshman here," said Irvin. "I guarded [Frank] Kaminsky as a freshman when we played Wisconsin. So it's really nothing new. Ethan Happ is a great player, I give him all the credit, but I think we really just wanted to win more."

On the strength of that second-half run, Michigan got a much-needed victory over a ranked team, and it didn't come in a fashion anyone expected. Happ was unstoppable for most of the evening, scoring 22 points on 10-for-13 shooting and dishing out six assists. Walton, who'd carried the scoring load for much of the last month, had eight assists but only mustered five points. DJ Wilson helped erase Nigel Hayes on defense, but he was invisible on offense; the two seemed to cancel each other out.


Irvin's improbable banked-in three may have snapped his slump. [Bryan Fuller]

Coming to life after a couple midrange jumpers and a banked-in three from the top of the key, Irvin broke out of his slump at the perfect time. Irvin's 18 points were the most he's scored since dropping 20 in the first game against Wisconsin nearly a month ago to the day. His passing and defense were also critical components of tonight's win.

"I made the pull-up in the beginning of the first half," said Irvin. "That's usually my go-to shot, so I got to see that one go down, had a lot of confidence after that. The bank shot, you know, it's three points, so I'll take it any way I can get it, to be honest with you."

The win seemed unattainable only a few minutes into the second half. Wisconsin had fought off an 8-2 Michigan run to start the game, riding Happ to a one-point halftime lead. They stormed out of the gate in the second with a 7-0 run featuring a Happ assist and a bucket that brought him to 20 points with 17:35 to play. The Wolverines countered with six quick points, however, and after the teams traded a few buckets, Irvin found the bank open late and Happ committed his second foul. Irvin would score eight more points; Happ would go scoreless for the duration, harried by more frequent double-teams, and eventually foul out of the game.


MAAR's four-point play lit up the building. [Campredon]

Michigan got huge baskets down the stretch from Wagner, who drilled a late pick-and-pop triple over Happ to get to a team-high 21 points, and Rahkman, who needed only eight shots to net his 12. Even though the Wolverines missed a couple front-end free throws in the bonus, Wisconsin couldn't draw closer than five points after the final media timeout, and that only came after a comical five-shot possession that burned most of the remaining clock. Fittingly, it was Irvin who capped the scoring at the free-throw line.

"We knew our backs were against the wall going into this stretch that we have," said Irvin. "It still is. This helps us out, beating Wisconsin, but we can't let our foot off the gas. We've got to keep our foot on the gas. We know Minnesota is going to be a tough environment, and we'll be ready for it."

Basketbullets: Bubble Viewing Guide, Defending Happ, Transition Off Rebounds

Basketbullets: Bubble Viewing Guide, Defending Happ, Transition Off Rebounds

Submitted by Ace on February 15th, 2017 at 3:28 PM

Bracket Watch: Safely In For Now


Get pumped up for a tourney run? [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

While they still have work to do to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament, Michigan made their way back into the vast majority of projected fields after their back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Indiana. The Wolverines are on 92 of the 110 brackets comprising the current Bracket Matrix (updated yesterday evening), putting them as an 11-seed and, critically, avoiding the First Four for now.

The projection for the remainder of the season has also improved. Following the Indiana win and Wisconsin's home loss to Northwestern (yes, that's a thing that really happened), KenPom's algorithm bumped Michigan from a slight underdog to a slight favorite in tomorrow night's game against the Badgers. With games at Rutgers and Nebraska still on the schedule, Michigan is the outright favorite in three of their last six games, and I'm still not sold on Minnesota being as tough an opponent as the numbers suggest.

Friendly neighborhood bracketologist CrislerSpidey ran the win probability numbers for the rest of the season a couple days ago. At that point, Michigan was more likely to finish with a winning conference record than a losing one, and the projections have become slightly more favorable since then:

Tomorrow night's game is, of course, a huge one for M's tourney chances. Wisconsin's offense has been in a statistical nosedive for the last five games, almost exactly coinciding with Michigan's (relative) defensive renaissance. They're vulnerable; Michigan played them close at the Kohl Center; it'd be a much-needed quality win.

[Hit THE JUMP for the bubble rooting guide, how to slow Ethan Happ, and more.]