Stopping all of this has proven quite difficult. [All photos: Bryan Fuller]
Generally, opposing coach press conferences after losses are brief and uninformative. After the Moe Wagner-Derrick Walton pick-and-pop obliterated Purdue's defense to the point they had to entirely change strategies, however, Matt Painter went into great detail on the problems posed by Michigan's offense, specifically those that result from facing two big men that can shoot.
To set this up: Purdue started the game with Caleb Swanigan defending Wagner. Michigan exploited the matchup by forcing Swanigan out to the perimeter, usually with high screens. Wagner feasted.
Wagner went 9-for-12 in the first half, hitting 5-of-6 twos and 4-of-6 threes. Michigan fielding a lineup with five viable outside shooting threats wreaked havoc on Purdue's defense and their rotation. 7'2" center Isaac Haas usually plays 20 minutes per game, often pairing with Swanigan to form an imposing frontcourt duo. Here's what happened when Purdue put both big men out there:
If Michigan's big men can't shoot, Swanigan wouldn't be in no-man's land, and Haas would be in position to block Simpson's shot into the tenth row if he manages to get into the paint anyway. The threat of Wilson and Wagner instead opened a cavernous lane for the quick point guard to bolt through.
As a result, Haas played only seven minutes in the first half, and just two with Swanigan also on the court. The adjustment Painter had to make in the second half forced his second-best player off the floor almost entirely:
We just went and switched everything, knocked them out of their [pick-and-pop] action. The downside of that is now you have your bigs guarding their guards and they can break you off the dribble. Then you have to help, now you’ve got to get to their shooters. When you have a good point guard and you have bigs that are skilled that can shoot and spread you out, you have to pick your poison. We can flip it on them, but when you don’t score the ball at the rim—and I thought we had a lot of opportunities for Haas in there, missed dunk, layups, a hook, that he normally makes—if we could’ve made those plays, we could’ve lived with all of it, because we wouldn’t have been out of the game, and now we put them in a bind because they’re eventually going to foul us and get out of the game. But if we can’t keep you in the game because [of defense], that gets hard for us. We just decided at half that we had to switch, and then when Donnal came in the game we could play Isaac [Haas]. But obviously we didn’t play well enough to be able to get back in.
Haas played four second-half minutes, entering the game after Michigan inserted Donnal and exiting at the first stoppage after Beilein lifted Donnal and put DJ Wilson at center. The combination of Wagner and Wilson in Beilein's offense rendered the second-best player on the Big Ten's best team effectively unplayable.
[Hit THE JUMP to see how Michigan took advantage of Purdue's new defensive tack.]
Adjusting To The Switch
Sure, that also works. [Fuller]
Between early second-half fouls for Wagner and Michigan missing some open looks, it looked like Purdue's halftime defensive adjustment was a success, at least initially. The Wolverines started the half 1-for-6 from the field before Wagner hit the bench with his third foul. If future opponents with a similar big man situation try the same strategy, however, they're liable to get burned. Michigan created good looks with those six shots:
- DJ Wilson misses a pick-and-pop three-pointer with 5'10" Purdue guard PJ Thompson trying to get in a late shot contest.
- Wagner misses a three-pointer over 6'8" forward Vince Edwards.
- Walton misses a jumper after getting switched onto Swanigan. Wagner gets an offensive rebound because Thompson (who, again, is 5'10") got switched onto him.
- Wilson misses a decent look off a drive against Swanigan.
- Wilson gets a layup off a baseline cut.
- Walton misses an open pull-up three when Swanigan sinks too far into the paint.
Here's that Wilson layup, which I had to upload to YouTube because Gfycat is having issues today.
This demonstrated the primary problem with trying to switch everything, as Painter explained in detail after the game:
When you get into that, when you switch, your dribble containment is your issue. When you have bigger people guarding smaller people, and then you’ve got your smaller people trying to knock out the post, maybe trying to help weak side… you guys really want to hear all this? [Me, internally: Hell yes.] So when you do that, that serves as your problem, because now you’ve got to be able to contain the dribble. So you’ve switched and you’ve knocked out this action that’s hurt us, but now you open a new can of worms. So now when they start driving, if you don’t give help and you stay with the shooters, now the ball’s just right at the rim off the drive. So now when they post it, we did a good job of knocking them off the post, they never threw the ball inside to the big guy outside of one time. But you’ve got to hold your low man so they don’t throw it over the top, so you hold your low man and they throw a skip [pass], well now you’re in a closeout. If you have the matchup you like, you’re fine, but you’ve been switching a bunch, so sometimes you get unlike sizes. That’s the downside. Switching stops your action, but it doesn’t give you the best [matchups].
Michigan instantly created a couple mismatches by having Wagner set a pick for Walton, forcing a switch. Vince Edwards ends up guarding Walton, and while Edwards is a good defender, he still needs help in the paint against a much quicker player. Michigan clears out for Walton to drive, creating that dribble containment issue. Swanigan, who's switched onto Wilson, is rooted in the paint as the help defender (the low man holding, as Painter would put it). When Walton drives and kicks it to Wilson in the short corner, Swanigan isn't quick enough to close out and prevent an open jumper without ceding the baseline drive, which Wilson happily takes.
Switching also tends to lead to mistakes on defense. Wilson got another dunk when Swanigan left him to help on a MAAR drive, Purdue got stuck with two defenders on three Michigan players, and when those three players essentially scattered, nobody picked up Wilson on the baseline.
This fully operational offense is very exciting both for Michigan's postseason prospects and their outlook for next year. Simpson has come on strong; the spacing provided by the sharpshooting bigs will leave him plenty of space to drive and create (see: the first section of this post). Charles Matthews adds another off-the-dribble threat in Irvin's stead, and he's had a full redshirt year to hone his outside shot and learn Beilein's system. Barring unexpected attrition, next year's offense should be pretty darn good, and I'll note here that while Wagner and Wilson are on NBA radars, it's more for a year from now, especially since this year's draft will be loaded with quality big men. (And no, going back to Germany is not Wagner's best path to the NBA.)
Speaking of reasons to be excited for next year:
I rarely ask questions in the postgame presser, but I had to ask Beilein about the prospect of Wilson-Wagner pick-and-rolls; I don't remember seeing them run that action before. As it turns it, Beilein drew that one up in the huddle:
That was a late shot clock deal in the first half where we had seven seconds on the shot clock. We just drew that up. We had seven seconds, we were looking for a corner three for Derrick, and if it wasn’t there inbound to DJ. I had nothing else to draw up, so I said, Moe, set a screen and slip it, and maybe DJ will see you over the top. Getting DJ to play left to right would be really good for us, because he does play well that way.
I'd love to see more of this, if not this year—Walton as the primary ballhander is working quite well, after all—then next year. Wilson has the capability to be a nightmare in that play; he can shoot, he can drive, and it's really hard to close off a passing lane when the passer is 6'10 with an even bigger wingspan. Michigan could run it the other way around, too. After the Boogie Cousins trade, they even have an NBA team they can look to for inspiration.
The Final Rotation?
Mark Donnal played only six minutes on Senior Day. The key to Michigan's second-half surge that pushed the lead to 22 points was lifting Donnal, who'd just allowed two Haas buckets and an offensive rebound, and moving Wilson to center. Wilson held his own on defense, forcing a miss on Haas' only attempt before Painter replaced him with Swanigan, and his presence at center opened up the offense the same way Wagner did in the first half. Beilein:
We went with DJ to play the center, just because they were switching screens and just to a give us a little like what we had with Moe when he was in foul trouble. That was big. Xavier hitting that three in the corner. That young man is in the Davidson Player Development Center every day. Every day, he’s just shooting and shooting and shooting. For him to see that ball go in like that was big for us. I think that we got enough rest during that time for Derrick, for Muhammad, for Zak, that really helped us. That play off the bench of Xavier and Duncan in particular was really good.
Simpson's emergence, Robinson playing passable defense(!), and Wilson looking viable at center doesn't bode well for Donnal down the stretch. Rotations tend to tighten up come tourney time; Donnal is the player who looks most likely to drop out, so long as Wagner can keep himself out of serious foul trouble. When Beilein was asked about Donnal's limited role in his final home game, this was his response:
He’s had some great moments here at Michigan. He’s got four years, he’s got the Big Ten championship ring, hopefully he’s got three out of four NCAA tournaments. He’s played in every game, I believe, almost every game since he was a sophomore. He’s been a great representative for us. He’s quiet. He’s not as assertive, maybe, as he will be maybe later on in life. But he is really a model student. He’s done a great job representing this university. He’s not going to be in the Hall of Fame someday, but he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame in terms of just having a guy who’s a good teammate and working hard every day in practice.
While Donnal has been a solid contributor to this program, he might not have much of a role on the court in his final days at Michigan. If Wilson is comfortable at center and Simpson continues to show he's capable of playing double-digit minutes, there's very little need for Donnal unless foul trouble strikes.
Another Wagner/Wilson Section So I Can Post A Bunch Of Quotes
There were too many great quotes on Wagner (and Wilson, too) from Saturday's postgame to not include a section of them.
Poor Damn Matt Painter:
Yeah, I wish I’d have went with Vince Edwards [on Wagner] and just had them switch right there [earlier in the game]. See, I have the same respect for DJ Wilson, too. If you go watch tape, DJ Wilson’s a better three-point shooter than Wagner. He’s made more. They’re very similar, I shouldn’t say he’s better. They have a very, very similar skill set, where they can do both things. So it wasn’t like they weren’t going to flip it and bring him up into there. But [Wagner] was the guy with the hot hand, so…
Painter's answer ended there, with him trailing off.
Beilein on Wagner:
He’s committed to doing whatever it takes to help us win. He’s with the top, the Novak type of guys that want to win and do whatever it does to help us win. He’s made big steps there, and that’s tough. Haas is a big boy, Caleb is so skilled. He did a great job.
[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.
Walton on his pick-and-pop chemistry with Wagner:
That's just my guy, man. 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 make sure he got the ball in space. Whenever I had two guys on me I made sure I found him. He does what he does. He makes plays for us.
More Walton on Wagner:
Moe’s a problem. That’s all I can say. He’s a problem. He’s a gnat on defense and he’s a problem on offense. He gives people fits. I’m just happy he’s on our side. He worked so hard this summer and last year when he was pretty much not playing. To see him have an output like this, I feel like I’m a part of it, because he worked so hard, just seeing him do what he did this past summer. He’s got so many skills, I don’t think you can put him in a box [in terms of] what he’s capable of doing.
He’s got a little chippiness to him. He’s not afraid to let you hear about it. That’s a guy that, me personally, that’s how I grew up playing. Seeing another guy with that fire makes you follow suit. He adds a different dynamic. If you’ve got so many guys who can go off, Zak, myself, Duncan of course, but when he gets it going, it’s so electric because he gets everybody involved when he talks. He’s always talking, regardless of how he’s playing, so one thing I can say about it is he’s consistent with it. When he gets it going, it gets electric.
Walton on Wagner's skill set:
European? It’s so awkward but it’s very effective. When you all get a chance, please ask him why he thinks he’s Kevin Durant. He said he thinks he’s Kevin Durant. He’s so dynamic. He can put it on the floor, he can shoot it, he can play with his back to the basket, he’s got great touch—to me, he’s one of the best players I’ve played with. He’s got a lot to him. I think I’m pretty skilled, but he’s on a different level. He’s good. He’s really good. Honestly, that’s all I can say. You’ve got European flavor with some American type of grit. It’s hard to contain him. (Reporter: "NBA good?") You’re not getting me with that (laughs). But I think he’s got a future. Of course he has a future in the NBA. He’s gonna be really good.
Deployed: "moritz wagner is german durant" tag.