2017 Michigan Basketball Player Comparisons

2017 Michigan Basketball Player Comparisons

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


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

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

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

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

Derrick Walton: Close to a Legit Star

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

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

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

Michigan 75, Indiana 63

Michigan 75, Indiana 63

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basketbullets: Bubble Watch, X Is Coming, Transition Triples

Basketbullets: Bubble Watch, X Is Coming, Transition Triples

Submitted by Ace on February 10th, 2017 at 12:19 PM

Bracket Watch: Still A Thing!


Derrick Walton is settling in for a potential tourney run. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Michigan's NCAA tournament hopes were hanging by a thread heading into Tuesday's blowout of MSU. In the aftermath, well, they're still hanging by a thread, but at least the thread hasn't snapped. The Wolverines are the fifth team out of the field in last night's update of the Bracket Matrix, making 31 of the 99 included brackets. They're moving in the right direction, however, making 17 of the 40 that were updated on Wednesday or Thursday. That update doesn't include today's revised brackets; CBS's Jerry Palm, who already had Michigan as an 11-seed, bumped them up to a 10-seed today—clear of the last four in.

As ESPN's Eamonn Brennan points out in his latest Bubble Watch post, Michigan can strengthen their case for an at-large bid on Sunday by weakening the case for Indiana, a fellow bubble team:

Despite last week's home loss to Ohio State, this could end up being a net-plus week for Michigan's once-long NCAA tournament odds. The Wolverines blitzed Michigan State by 29 on Tuesday, and on Sunday they travel to Indiana, which is not only vulnerable but one of the bubble teams the Wolverines need to drift away if they want to secure their own bid in the coming weeks.

Not that you need the rooting incentive, but Michigan State is another one of those bubble teams that Michigan is hoping to pass; while they did so on Palm's bracket, most have kept the Spartans a couple seed lines above the Wolverines. Michigan still needs to win more than their fair share of coin-flip-ish games down the stretch to have a realistic shot at the field; a victory on Sunday would go a long way towards making that a reality.

[After THE JUMP: getting X going, transition threes, lineage of poodles, etc.]

Michigan 86, Michigan State 57

Michigan 86, Michigan State 57

Submitted by Ace on February 8th, 2017 at 12:26 AM


Derrick Walton joined Jalen Rose and Gary Grant in the 1000-400-400 club tonight and had fun doing it. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

"I think he's playing the best basketball of his career," said Tom Izzo. "And I think this game was the most important thing in his life."

Derrick Walton wasn't going to let his team lose this one. His teammates, in a pleasant surprise, matched the near-manic effort Walton has played with for the last month.

"Before the game the guys just really banded together and told me they really wanted to get this one for me," said Walton. "They played like it, and I'm really appreciative of it all. Everybody played their heart out."

An increasingly impossible to predict Michigan squad blew the game open midway through the first half, ripping off a 32-10 run with highlights aplenty, including a DJ Wilson posterization of Kenny Goins and Duncan Robinson capping the half with a walk-off triple from Caris Corner. Moe Wagner dominated his matchup with Nick Ward, hitting all five of his first-half attempts and goading Ward into a Grayson Allen-style technical foul. Michigan forced 12 first-half turnovers, three of them shot-clock violations. Walton continued his spectacular run of play with 12 points, three boards, and seven assists by halftime. The second half was academic.

"Can't say enough about Derrick Walton right now, of just the tranformation in the last month," said John Beilein.


Wilson, Simpson, and MAAR all came through with big plays. [Campredon]

Walton's young charge also looked transformed. Xavier Simpson entered tonight with two made field goals in Big Ten play. Tonight, working within what Beilein said was a simplified package of plays, he played with newfound confidence, scoring seven points on 3-for-4 shooting and dishing out two assists in the best 12 minutes of his young career. Like his teammates, Simpson played with something extra for his senior captain from Detroit.

"This is [Walton's] last time playing Michigan State, so for him to get that win means a lot," said Simpson.

Michigan's dominance extended to almost every facet of the game. They went 22-for-32 from inside the arc, buoyed by Wagner's skilled play around the hoop and strong finishes from the guards. They shot 10-for-21 on three-pointers, led by a perfect 3-for-3 mark from Walton. They played with great defensive intensity, forcing 21 turnovers and holding MSU under 48% from the field. They kept the Spartans off the boards. And, yes, they played with more emotion; Wilson's technical stood out as a positive, while Ward's was very much the opposite.


A happy squad. [Campredon]

"Today was, like, perfect," Beilein said of the team's mental edge. "They were right there. They were angry. They were junkyard dogs—that was the whole idea, the picture of a doberman that I wanted them to go out and play like, I think it was a doberman but he had big teeth."

Beilein, like the rest of us, admitted he's never sure when the team is going to play with that bite. Tonight, in a rivalry game they had to win to keep any realistic shot at a tourney bid, they had it going full force. Whether it will carry over to Sunday's game at Indiana is anyone's guess. It's a start, at least, and if the whole team can continue to rise up to the standard Walton is setting, they may just make the late run they need.

"We don't think we've played as well as our talent shows," said Walton. "We've got seven games left and we can still do something special."

Basketbullets: At Least There's Walton

Basketbullets: At Least There's Walton

Submitted by Ace on February 6th, 2017 at 4:10 PM

Bracket Watch: The Other Bracket Looms


it us. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

The outlook is grim. After everyone but Derrick Walton sleepwalked their way to a loss against a mediocre Ohio State team, Michigan is 14-9 (4-6 B1G) and out of the projected NCAA tournament field. The Wolverines have to climb out of an increasingly big hole and they may have already missed their chance; KenPom says they've played the easiest conference schedule of any Big Ten team so far, and that's about to change in a major way:

Michigan only has three home games left; of those, a more confident and rested Michigan State squad is by far the most beatable. The Wolverines have yet to win a road game this season; they'll need to take at least two, and quite possibly as many as all five left on the docket, to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. They're 79th in RPI. I had to edit the second sentence of this post multiple times before it was family-friendly.

If they lose tomorrow night, NIT bracket-watching begins in earnest.

[After THE JUMP: Some good news! Really! Also some bad news.]

Michigan 90, Indiana 60

Michigan 90, Indiana 60

Submitted by Ace on January 26th, 2017 at 11:55 PM


Moe Wagner exploited mismatches in the post. [Eric Upchurch]

Michigan exploited multiple mismatches in the frontcourt to jump out to an early lead and used that as a springboard to a 30-point blowout of Indiana.

Let that sink in for a moment.

A shorthanded Indiana squad was faced with a choice: stick center Thomas Bryant on Moe Wagner and hope DJ Wilson wouldn't destroy 6'6" injury replacement Zach McRoberts, or put Bryant on Wilson and hope Wagner wouldn't feast on McRoberts in the post. They initially chose the second option. Wagner feasted, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the first half on 6-for-8 shooting. When IU tried putting Bryant on Wagner, it didn't go any better, as Bryant couldn't stay in front of the quicker German big man.

The Hoosiers couldn't exactly slow down Wilson, either. He did a bit of everything, attacking the matchup on McRoberts early, setting up his teammates with gorgeous passes, and providing great rim protection. He finished with 11 points, five rebounds, three assists, four blocks, and a steal; if anything, that undersells his impact.

"Don't forget, DJ and Moe are really evolving, yet," said John Beilein. "They are really playing the big crunch time minutes for the first time."

It was easy to forget that tonight.


Probably could've been the whole recap. [Upchurch]

After the big men softened up Indiana's defense, Derrick Walton took over, getting to the hoop time and again, and finishing when he got there, a great sign given his past struggles scoring at the rim. He led the team with 21 points (7-for-8 FG, 6-for-7 FT) and five assists.

Seemingly everyone who hit the floor got into the act. Duncan Robinson scored 13 off the bench; Zak Irvin added 12 points and three assists; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman also had 12 and played exemplary defense on Hoosiers star James Blackmon. Michigan shot 63.3% from the floor, their best mark in a Big Ten game since 2006.

Indiana shot the ball well themselves, finishing at 54.5% from the field. The Hoosiers couldn't keep up, however, because of their 16 turnovers. Those were part a product of good, aggressive defense—Michigan had seven steals—and part some really sloppy play on IU's part.

"We did have some great [defensive] possessions," said Beilein. "We created turnovers by just being active."

Put it all together and this was a laugher that Tom Crean could hardly bring himself to talk about; his postgame presser lasted all of a few minutes.

"There's no excuse for it," Crean said of their defensive effort.

While one coach sulked, the other was loose and excited, knowing his team has laid down a blueprint for success over the last few games.

"It's just a great feeling for those guys knowing this is how we're going to win going forward," said Beilein.

"The world corrects itself at some point, and basketball does too," he added.

From his lips to the basketball gods' ears, hopefully.

Basketbullets: Pick-and-Roll Defense, Shot-Blocking

Basketbullets: Pick-and-Roll Defense, Shot-Blocking

Submitted by Ace on January 16th, 2017 at 3:58 PM

The Defense, For A Given Definition Of The Term


Slicing through M's defense with little resistance. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Do you have a stick? Throw it. Congratuations, you have hit a horrifying Michigan defensive stat.

The Wolverines may have pulled out a victory against a Nebraska team playing without its only viable post player, but they didn't do it by solving any of their problems on defense; the Huskers scored 1.21 points per possession, a hair below the average performance against M's defense in conference play. Michigan is now 185th in adjusted defensive efficiency; their worst finish under John Beilein was 120th in his first year in Ann Arbor.

Through five conference games, Michigan has the worst Big Ten defense by 8.9 points per 100 possessions; B1G opponents are making 52.7% of their twos and 55.3%(!!!) of their threes—and they're rebounding 34.7% of their misses. Michigan is great at not fouling and above-average at stealing the ball; they're somewhere between below-average and terrible at everything else.

Dylan has a post today that goes into further, gruesome detail on Michigan's defense, with one area of focus being the collapse of their pick-and-roll defense:

Michigan’s pick-and-roll defense has completely fallen apart. In the last six games, the Wolverines have allowed .986 points per possession (including pass outs) in the pick-and-roll game. Compared to seasonal numbers across Division I, that would rank 336th nationally.

Only the first half of the Nebraska game is available on the YouTubes, which is probably for the best. This actually came out better than I expected and it's still far from good:

The issue, as Dylan mentions in his post, doesn't appear to be the scheme; no matter how Michigan approaching defending the high screen—usually either with a soft hedge or ICE technique—they're allowing baskets because of individual player breakdowns. Passes into the post, like in the first play, are too easy to make. Blown rotations, like in the second, lead to wide open three-point attempts. Michigan commits the cardinal sin of allowing the P&R ballhandler to split the hedge at the 0:34 mark, something that occurred at least once more in the second half.

They did a little better towards the end of the half, as you can see in the video, but I also forgot to include this abomination:

It was more of the same in the second half. There are two common threads: Michigan has zero rim protection, which allows opponents to attack without fear, and their help/rotation off the ball is awful. I grew up on the suffocating team defense of the mid-aughts Pistons. This is the opposite of that. The problems are so widespread that it's impossible to suggest one or two solutions that could turn things around.

[After THE JUMP: That said...]

Michigan 91, Nebraska 85

Michigan 91, Nebraska 85

Submitted by Ace on January 14th, 2017 at 5:21 PM


Derrick Walton, who called a players-only meeting last night, led M's late charge to close out a much-needed win. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

If Michigan's players think John Beilein is the problem, they aren't showing it. Last night, in preparation for today's must-win game against Nebraska, Derrick Walton called a players-only meeting at the team hotel.

"The coaches don't need to say so much," said Walton. "We talked about this last night as a team at the players meeting last night. They make the calls. They make the adjustments. They make the subs. It's on us to make the plays out there."

"As Coach [Beilein] says, there's a point where he can only say so much. It's up to us to make plays and get stops."

The defense may have remained abominable, but with the offense hitting on all cylinders and the team's two seniors coming up big down the stretch, Michigan made just enough plays and got just enough stops to get their second Big Ten win.

Both teams showed little ability to stop the other. Moe Wagner exploited Nebraska's nonexistent pick-and-pop defense to score a career-high 23 points, making four-of-six three-point attempts. When the Huskers finally adjusted to the pick-and-pop, Derrick Walton took over, hitting three second-half three-pointers from virtually the same spot on the floor before icing the game on the line on his way to 20 points. On the other end, Michigan had no answer for Tai Webster, who scored a game-high 28 points on 12-for-20 shooting, operating off the high screen.


Defense: optional. [Campredon]

While the Wolverines never trailed, it was a tight game throughout. Michigan's lone double-digit lead, after a Wagner triple early in the second half, lasted all of one possession. Each time they threatened to blow the game open, Nebraska hit back, usually with a drive from Webster. After a quiet first half, Husker guard Glynn Watson Jr. kept them within striking distance late, scoring 20 of his 22 points in the second half. With his best half of play since the SMU game, however, Walton—with some help from fellow senior Zak Irvin, who made all seven of his second-half free throws—kept the Huskers at bay.

"That consistency is what we're both trying to get for [Walton]," said Beilein. "That's what he's capable of."

DJ Wilson was the fourth Wolverine in double-figures, needing only seven shots to get his 11 points, and Duncan Robinson came off the bench to hit a couple critical shots. As usual, Michigan took excellent care of the ball, and they forced some timely turnovers that proved to be the difference.

"Going forward, I think, a meeting like that, where you see guys so passionate about wanting to win—[we] really did it justice tonight," said Walton.

"There's only so many games left."

Maryland 77, Michigan 70

Maryland 77, Michigan 70

Submitted by Ace on January 7th, 2017 at 5:40 PM


Maryland outmuscled Michigan in the first half. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Michigan struggled to get started against a good defensive team. On the other end of the floor, they made a mediocre offense look excellent.

Sound familiar?

Unlike Wednesday night's game against Penn State, Michigan didn't have it in them to finish off a comeback effort against Maryland. The Wolverines fell behind by as many as 11 in a first half marked by pathetic post defense and wayward outside shooting. Maryland center Damonte Dodd, filling in for injured starter Michal Cekovsky, scored 11 of his career-high 15 points in the opening half. Michigan's post players didn't fare much better on the perimeter—and, in this case, didn't get much help, either:

Michigan connected on just 3-of-11 three-pointers, meanwhile. A nine-point halftime deficit would've been larger if not for a strong closing effort by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who scored three buckets—all in the paint—over the final five minutes and change. He'd finish with 12 points and four steal in the best game he's had in a while.

After being limited by foul trouble in the first half, Moe Wagner had a stellar offensive showing, pouring in 15 of his 17 poitns in the second stanza; he took Maryland defenders off the dribble by alternating his spin and behind-the-back moves, hit pick-and-pop threes, and worked through contact. While Wagner had gained Michigan an edge in the paint, however, they lost it on the other end with shoddy perimeter defense; the Terps went 6-for-9 from beyond the arc—several of them open looks off of dribble penetration.

The Wolverines were able to get within two points on three different occasions only for Maryland to respond. On Wednesday, Michigan won a game they should've lost. Today, they lost a game they should've lost. There are signs of promise—today, from Wagner, MAAR, and Xavier Simpson—but this team so rarely puts it all together that it's becoming harder and harder to hold out hope for a strong run through Big Ten play.