The Enigma

The Enigma

Submitted by Ace on April 5th, 2017 at 12:01 PM

Unorthodox. [Eric Upchurch, Marc-Gregor Campredon, Joseph Dressler]

Zak Irvin made six hundred field goals at Michigan. Each one seemed like a minor miracle.

I say this out of admiration. Pick up a basketball, head to the park, and try to replicate Irvin's shot. To do this, stand pigeon-toed while holding the basketball low and in front of you like a hot casserole just out of the oven; with your hands on the sides of the ball, swing it above your head on a path that passes by your left front pocket; as the ball rises in front of your face, rotate your hands so your shooting hand is under the ball; lock your elbows at a 90-degree angle; flick your wrist to release at the apex of your jump; hold your follow-through at a 45-degree angle. It'll look something like this:

You won't make it. Certainly not the first time, and probably not on the hundredth, either.

Perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise that Irvin's career was for a long time defined by its inconsistency.

After Irvin's freshman year, it was difficult to keep expectations in check. On a 2013-14 team loaded with NBA talent, he excelled in the role of unabashed gunner off the bench. He hoisted 146 three-pointers and made 43% of them, seamlessly replacing Nik Stauskas, who'd become the team's star, as the instant offense freshman who promised a whole lot more in the future. 

Irvin's game, however, was extremely limited. He recorded all of 13 assists in 37 games. His defensive rebound rate was lower than Spike Albrecht's. Nearly 75% of his shots came from beyond the arc; according to hoop-math, all ten of his makes at the rim were assisted.


Basketbullets: The Shot Fake, DJ The Lion, Secondary Scorers

Basketbullets: The Shot Fake, DJ The Lion, Secondary Scorers

Submitted by Ace on March 21st, 2017 at 3:31 PM

Player Development At Ludicrous Speed, Part One

Moe Wagner considers how to shred his defender to bits. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

John Beilein's acumen at player development is, by now, unimpeachable. He has turned Michigan into one of the top producers of NBA talent in the country without the steady stream of high school All-Americans who end up at the likes of Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky. After last weekend, Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson—a late import to the 2015 class and an oft-injured three-star wing*—are firmly on the NBA radar after two and three years on campus, respectively. Following the Louisville game, Beilein reminded us just how far those two have come in only a year's time:

Moritz, he averaged two points a game last year. He’s 19 years old. You got to watch this guy. D.J. averaged the same. There’s a process that people go through to develop their teams, and [the Big Ten] had a lot of good seniors last year who graduated and a lot of guys waiting in the wings. It may have not showed in November, December. It’s showing in March.

The year-to-year progression is remarkable; so is the seemingly game-to-game progression. Here's Beilein after the Purdue victory at Crisler less than a month ago:

[Wagner] is learning that fine line between shooting a three and driving it. I can’t wait to work with him more on selling his shot fake before he does, sometimes he just rips and goes. He’s almost like a forward or a guard in how he plays. But he had a really good post move inside. He and DJ have to bottle this thing up, that they can shoot from the outside, but to help teams win, they’re going to play professionally if they have a post-up game. They’re not going to just be these 6’10” shooters. They’re going to need to grow in that physical part of it. He’s got a good mix of that. If we can put that third part in, that he can shoot, he can drive, and he can effectively post up and hold position, he could become very special.

We saw a whole lot more than a pair of 6'10" shooters last weekend. That shot fake Beilein wanted to see Wagner utilize? He busted it out on arguably the biggest possession of the year:

Wagner also obliterated Louisville from the high post. His career-high 26-point output against the Cardinals couldn't have looked more different from his previous best, the 24-point performance in that aforementioned Purdue game. The latter featured Wagner raining in threes off pick-and-pops with a couple post buckets standing out as notable exceptions. The former saw him working with his back to the basket against smaller defenders and using that three-point threat to take bigs off the dribble; he only attempted (and made) one three-pointer.

*[HT to Maize.Blue Wagner for posting a thread of the current team's commitment posts.]

[Hit THE JUMP for DJ's development and the late-season surge from MAAR and Irvin.]

Big Ten Tournament Champion Michigan 71, Wisconsin 56

Big Ten Tournament Champion Michigan 71, Wisconsin 56

Submitted by Ace on 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

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."