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.]
Bubble Watch Rooting Guide
It's time to start this up. This has you covered through the weekend. Your rooting interest is in bold; the other team is the bubble team.
Arkansas at South Carolina (6:30, SEC Network)
Iowa State at Kansas State (7, ESPN2)*
Wichita State at Southern Illinois (7, ESPN3)
Georgia Tech at Miami (8, WatchESPN)**
Creighton at Seton Hall (8, CBSSports)
Indiana at Minnesota (9, BTN)
Oklahoma State at TCU (9, ESPNU)
Illinois State at Missouri State (9, ESPN3)
Nevada at Air Force (9, ESPN3)
Utah at Oregon (9, ESPN)
Middle Tennessee at Western Kentucky (9, CBSSports)
Kent State at Akron (7, ESPNU)
Cal at Stanford (10, FS1)
Clemson at Miami (noon, WatchESPN)^
Northern Iowa at Wichita State (noon, ESPN)
Missouri at Tennessee (1, SEC Network)
Wake Forest at Duke (1, WatchESPN)
Virginia Tech at Louisville (1, WatchESPN)
Kansas State at Texas (2, Longhorn Network)
Texas Tech at West Virginia (2, ESPN2)
Michigan State at Purdue (4, ESPN)
Florida State at Pitt (4, ESPN2)
Ole Miss at Arkansas (6, SEC Network)
TCU at Iowa State (6, ESPNNews) — uh, flip a coin?
Middle Tennessee at Marshall (6, no TV)
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (8, ESPNU)
Xavier at Marquette (8, CBSSports)
USC at UCLA (10, Pac-12 Network)
Georgetown at Creighton (3:30, FS1)
Loyola-Chicago at Illinois State (4, ESPNU)
Syracuse at Georgia Tech (6:30, ESPNU)#
Utah at Oregon State (8:30, ESPNU)
*This one could really go either way. ISU is just above KSU on the matrix; the loser of this one will be the team to root against down the stretch.
**Another game with two bubble teams, but Miami is closer to solidifying a spot in the field than GT is of working their way in.
^Yes, another game involving Miami that could go either way. A split seems ideal since Clemson has a lot of work to do, more so than GT.
#Dammit, ACC, why are you making this so difficult?
Post Defense Options: Go DJ?
M fared better than expected in the post against UW at Kohl. [Patrick Barron]
Guarding leading Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Ethan Happ in the post will be one of Michigan's biggest keys to defeating Wisconsin. The Wolverines managed to hang close at the Kohl Center a month ago in large part because they got away with mostly single-teaming Happ and still limiting his efficiency; despite grabbing four offensive boards, Happ went 5-for-13 from the field, 1-for-2 from the line, and had three turnovers offset his three assists.
It'll be very interesting to see if Michigan takes the same approach—letting the big men fare for themselves—this time around. Against Indiana bigs Thomas Bryant and De'Ron Davis on Sunday, the Wolverines double-teamed more frequently with mixed results. Bryant and Davis combined to go 7-for-9 on two-pointers and 7-for-8 from the line; they also committed four turnovers and only dished out two assists. Those assists, both from Bryant, came when a double-team failed to close off passing lanes into the paint. When the doubles were well-timed and well-placed, however, they wreaked havoc. For example:
Of note: two of Happ's turnovers in the first game came when he attempted skip passes out of (rare at the time) Michigan double-teams, which they deployed in the unsettled moments after Happ pulled down offensive boards. When Happ went to work on post-ups, though, M stuck with one-on-one defense, and while Happ wasn't as effective as usual, he missed a couple makeable bunnies after establishing strong position.
I went back through both the first Wisconsin game and Sunday's Indiana game to see how each Michigan big man fared against Happ and Bryant/Davis.
Michigan defenders vs. Ethan Happ
Moe Wagner: 2/6 FG, 1 assist, 2 turnovers
Mark Donnal: 1/1 FG (an and-one), 1 assist, 1 turnover
DJ Wilson: 1/5 FG, 1 assist
Jon Teske: 1/1 FG
A couple notes: one of the FGs against Wagner was a blown rotation by a wing off a high screen and the assist on DJ Wilson came when M was full-court pressing late.
Michigan defenders vs. Thomas Bryant/De'Ron Davis
Moe Wagner: 4/4 FG (1 and-one, 2 additional shooting fouls), 4 turnovers
Mark Donnal: 3/3 FG (one and-one)
DJ Wilson: 0/2 FG
Jon Teske: N/A (his near-block came as a help defender against Juwan Morgan)
These are small sample sizes, of course. Wagner has been very boom-or-bust as a post defender; he gives up buckets because he's not yet strong enough to keep bigger centers from establishing position but he often makes up for that by being disruptive. Donnal is a walking target; both UW and IU went right at him when he entered the game and profited greatly.
The intruiging alternative to putting Donnal on Happ is giving that assignment to DJ Wilson, even if Donnal is on the floor. Nigel Hayes is only shooting 46% on twos in Big Ten play (Happ is at 53%); while it's not an ideal matchup since Hayes is more athletic, M might be able to get away with putting Donnal on him for short stretches. Meanwhile, Wilson has been the team's most effective post defender; he's the only one who consistently challenges and alters/blocks shots.
More Derrick Walton Love
Derrick Walton's senior-year breakthrough is getting noticed league-wide; he's now getting first-team All-B1G consideration. A big part of that has been his ability to create his own looks from beyond the arc. Per hoop-math, 18 of his 61 made threes have been unassisted; the next-most on the team is Zak Irvin's six, and I probably don't need to tell you those have been far less efficient shots. The play above, from Sunday, is reminiscent of sophomore-year Nik Stauskas, who just happens to be Walton's closest comparable from Alex's post earlier today.
To build on the transition threes section from last week's Basketbullets, Walton's rebounding is contributing to Michigan's lethal fast break. The Wolverines are up to 13th in transition eFG%. Those transition opportunities can be further broken up into categories: after defensive rebounds, after steals, and after opponent made baskets. Michigan is 22nd in eFG% in transition following a steal, 341st (in a very small sample) after an opponent make, and tied for 11th after a defensive rebound.
A big part of that is Walton's ability to make plays like this:
That doesn't happen if one of the bigs is pulling down the rebound. Walton's being able to crash the glass and make an immediate outlet gets the fast break going.