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


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.


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."]




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.



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:


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.


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.



February 27th, 2017 at 2:09 PM ^

I didn't want Michigan in the 8-9 or 7-10 game, but I would love to see them in the 8-9 game as long as they are in the same region as grossly overrated Gonzaga.  Gonzaga plays a shitty schedule in a shitty conference and this version of Michigan should beat them to get to the second week.


February 27th, 2017 at 2:46 PM ^

Gonzaga has a better adjusted offensive rating on KenPom, and a much, much better adjusted defensive rating; they're the #1 team in his system by a full three points per hundred possessions.  They would be an 8-10 point favorite over Michigan.  (They're also #1 in Sagarin, and an 8 point favorite on a neutral court).

Don't judge this year's Gonzaga team by the past.  This is the best team they've had since Stockton was there -- at least.

UofM Die Hard …

February 27th, 2017 at 3:44 PM ^

and Im usually a non Gonzaga believer. I get to see them a lot being over here in Seattle and this team is the best in the nation in my opinion.  I will be having them going very deep in my bracket...maybe winning it all. 


And onto Michigan, I was on that fire Belien bandwagon after all that white collar stuff...eating crow right now....good on him and the staff to push these guys.

This is a dangerous team


February 27th, 2017 at 5:57 PM ^

they have an McDonald's All-American who is a potential lottery pick sitting on the bench to illustrate on how deep their team really is. He has been super productive whenever he's on the floor which is scary because their starter is an All-Conference in Karnowski.  The players are full of transfers from P5 conference teams.

Their staying power as an elite or great basketball program is nothing short of amazing.


February 28th, 2017 at 1:54 AM ^

a believer that the stats (kenpom, sagarin and tempo free opponent adjusted stats) will generally win out over the "eye test" from fans like us, so I was a big believer in Gonzaga.

I decided to watch them Saturday night in the glow of excitement from the Purdue game, and while it was obviously their worst game of the year, they do not scare me stylistically.  I like the matchup problems our bigs present for teams with big, slow, traditional post guys.  Karnowski should have major problems with us.  And they're not super quick on the perimeter which is our biggest defensive weakness.  Williams-Goss is really good but I think Walton matches up decently with him.  They're both strong guards but not necessarily quick so a push in that matchup is reasonable and would be a win for us.

I'd still like to get a 6-7 seed but wouldn't mind seeing Gonzaga compared to the other 1 seeds.


February 27th, 2017 at 4:28 PM ^

I agree Gonzaga has had a really solid year and are a legit top-5 team, but they've also played (per Kenpom) 8 games against top-100 teams (including 2 each against BYU and St. Mary's), with the best team being #7 Florida (which was in the mid-20s when they met up).  By comparison, Arizona has played 15 games, with a couple duplicates in-conference.  Hell, recent bubble team Michigan has played 21 top-100 teams and will add at least 1 more, maybe 2, to end the year.  

Gonzaga does play in a mediocre conference; the WCC looks to be getting 2 bids into the tourney (Zags and St. Mary's); that seems like the ceiling for that conference (it's basically been some combo of St. Mary's, BYU, and Gonzaga for years now).  That doesn't mean they aren't an elite team; the SEC is usually blah but both Florida and UK are national-caliber programs more times than not.  But the question about Gonzaga is always how much you can read into the limited number of times they've played top teams, especially since this year, for example, they beat Florida by 5, ISU by 2, and Arizona by 7 in the first month of the season and have played exactly 1 ranked team since then.


February 27th, 2017 at 7:07 PM ^

are you tired of hearing that Gonzaga plays in a bad conference?  St. Mary's is a good team but has played almost no one.  BYU is an average team.  The rest of the conference is bad.

They beat U of A without Trier (still a great win).  They beat Florida early when they weren't playing very well.  Iowa State is not that great of a team.

I have only seen them play once and it was this weekend.  They didn't look that good after the first few minutes, but I won't judge them by one game.

If Michigan is an 8 or 9 seed, which 1 seed would you rather face; Kansas, UNC, Villanova or Gonzaga?


February 27th, 2017 at 11:12 PM ^

when you're beating the lower rung teams by 30+ points. In my opinion, Gonzaga would have won the B1G 2 weeks ago. They're legit. Give me UNC if I had to choose. 

(I chose UNC before they laid a massive stinker tonight. I just think they're overrated.)


February 27th, 2017 at 3:09 PM ^

The 1 seed we want to play is Kansas. They lose arly a lot, and are the ones that are actually grossly overated. They've had some crazy luck. Don't have huge athletes. Kenpom has them at 8th right now. Obviously still good, but weak for a 1 seed.

L'Carpetron Do…

February 27th, 2017 at 12:38 PM ^

I think this team is more SkyNet than Death Star. Extraordinarily dangerous when self-aware.

Hope they close it out this week and make a nice run in the B1G tourney.  There are still glitches in the system but they can truly blow shit up if they play with that awareness and intensity.  


February 27th, 2017 at 12:39 PM ^

What a strange season this has been so far. From thinking we could have a potential Final Four team after the wins in NYC at the beginning of the year to thinking that we might be lucky to make the NIT half way through conference play. I'm not sure what to think at this point, but I'm going to enjoy the rest of the ride.


February 27th, 2017 at 4:34 PM ^

After watching most of the games this season and and the craziness it has become obvious to me what this team is. We throw labels around at other teams but never on our own. I think this team is the basketball equivalent of Indiana football's #CHAOSteam. I love the momentum we've had lately but I still think they're equally capable of putting up a stinker (see Rutgers) .

I'm hoping for higher highs and higher lows but I'm going to cap my expectations just in case and just enjoy the games.


February 27th, 2017 at 12:44 PM ^

Biggest losses:
MSU—By 29 to Michigan
Indiana—By 30 to Michigan
            Purdue—By 12 to Michigan
            Marquette—By 18 to Michigan
            SMU—By 22 to Michigan
When we're on we're really fucking on.
But I wish we could save some of that scoring and spread it around for road games.


February 27th, 2017 at 12:48 PM ^

Has there been any previous analysis of Michigan's defense when in slowdown mode?  I feel like it has happened before where the other team becomes super-efficient in that situation, but my memory sucks. 


February 27th, 2017 at 12:55 PM ^

i don't think we've punched our ticket just yet.  we need one more win.  three losses would mean one understandable loss (n'western) and then a loss to nebrasketball and a nuetral site loss to a team from the bottom of the B1G.  if other teams make big bubble moves up, that puts us on the bubble.


February 27th, 2017 at 12:56 PM ^

Think we need one more win to be 100% in, mostly because losing out would mean a loss to Nebraska and a loss to a team that is mediocre at best and likely actually has a bad resume like psu or something.  

I'd almost prefer just one win (over nebraska) and dropping to a 10 or 11 seed than 2 wins (nebraska plus first team in the tourney or win out in the regular season and loss in the btt) because 2 wins is likely the 8/9 game and I'd much rather be in a 7/10 or 6/11 game even as the 10 or 11 seed over the 8/9 if the goal is to get into the sweet 16.  


February 27th, 2017 at 2:14 PM ^

I agree that anyone sweats getting in coming off 3 straight losses, but I also don't see this team losing 3 straight games to NW, Nebraska, and a PSU/OSU type of team.  

I actually see this team winning 2 games in the BTT, and if that's the case they could sniff a 7-seed.  I mean, the current 7-seeds on BracketMatrix are Maryland, South Carolina, Oklahoma St, and Iowa State.  Those are all teams with similar enough resumes to Michigan that if one loses early on in a conference tourney and Michigan does well this last stretch, they could jump them.


February 27th, 2017 at 12:56 PM ^

This is lovely.  All you damn Beilein haters can't say anything, go cry that we're going to have him for another 4 years.  

Maybe we will be like those random UConn teams that are just not that good and have 10 losses and then win the Championship.  If Zak finds his shot then we're unstoppable.  Go Blue.

AA Forever

February 27th, 2017 at 1:11 PM ^

Only if you're judging us against the Big Ten leaders, who are not that great in the national picture this year. We haven't played a real top team this year other than UCLA, and we know how that turned out.

But Irvin will be the key to us winning more than 1 game. He has been the weak link in the offense this year, but if he is efficient, we will not be easy to beat.


February 27th, 2017 at 2:16 PM ^

I like the enthusiasm, but this team is incredibly stoppable even with a good Irvin performance.  What it does have, unlike last year, is a clear leader offensively (Walton) and crack shooting at multiple positions, including on the front line, and that can mess up a lot of brackets in March.


February 27th, 2017 at 3:17 PM ^

"incredibly stoppable"?

Michigan has been held below a point per possession twice: at South Carolina, and vs. Texas.  They have a few games in the 1.0 - 1.1 range, and a lot above 1.1, including 1.31 vs. SMU, 1.31 @ UCLA, 1.3 vs. Nebraska, 1.52 (!) vs. Indiana, 1.30 vs. MSU, 1.17 @ Indiana, and 1.26 vs. Purdue.

Michigan is an elite offensive basketball team.  They are not "incredibly stoppable."

Can they have an off night?  Sure.  Can they lose games? Absolutely: their uneven defensive play, combined with the vagaries of opposition three-point percentages, has turned them into CHAOSTEAM.  Do they have in-game droughts?  Yes.  But their non-drought performances are so good that they are running the 8th-most efficient offense in the country despite all of that.


February 27th, 2017 at 3:48 PM ^

I was responding to this statement by the OP

If Zak finds his shot then we're unstoppable.

The problem for this team all year hasn't been offense; as you noted, they are an elite unit.  And while offensively they are elite, basketball is played on both ends of the court, and in some of those games Michigan lost they struggled on the defensive end (.98 to USC while UM didn't crack .75, 1.6 to UCLA, 1.21 to Iowa, 1.13 to MSU, 1.08 to OSU, 1.11 to Minnesota).  My point was that Irvin scoring doesn't suddenly making Michigan unstoppable; chances are, he'd just replace the efficiency they already enjoy from guys like Robinson and Wilson.  College offenses are getting better, but an efficiency rating of 120 is already pretty elite; there's not much more to gain.  

But defensively they are significantly off the pace of, say, that UConn team, which had a top-10 defense to go along with their top-40 offense.  So when I say they are quite stoppable, I mean  that they haven't consistently shown an ability to stop the opposition from scoring, even though I do believe they are making significant strides after cratering to start the conference season.  Hell, right now they are probably a top-50/60 defense nationally, and that's probably good enough to keep them in a lot of games.  But even in wins against Purdue (1.08) and Wisconsin (0.94), it's not like they are choking teams out as much as blitzing them on offense and necessitating some playcall changes.


February 27th, 2017 at 4:32 PM ^

Got it.  I concur completely.  In terms of advancing through the tournament, they're definitely stoppable. :-)  This team will go as far as its defense can carry it... they may be able to win a single game 1.3 - 1.25 ppp, but I don't know that they can count on doing that six times in a row.

I misinterpreted your statement; please accept my apologies. :-)


February 27th, 2017 at 4:51 PM ^

No problem.  I should have made it clear that I was thinking on the defensive end.  

And yeah, when you aren't missing all that often (like they have basically for the last month), you can absolutely see them take off and go on a deep run.  And I'm actually higher on their defense than I have been in years, at least since Morgan was on the court.  There isn't an elite, shutdown defender out there, but they are really long inside and it's interesting to see the wrinkles Beilein and Conlon have employed against these teams like MSU, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Purdue who would like to make it muckier.

Brian Griese

February 27th, 2017 at 12:59 PM ^

I can't think of an odder team than this one. When they're on, I think even Maizen would agree that there are not 15 teams better than them in the country. Off and they look like an SEC bottom-feeder. On top of that, it doesn't seem like you get many performances in-between either. I'm not sure how this will parlay into March, but I'm excited to find out.


February 27th, 2017 at 1:27 PM ^

Improved D plus our lack of turnovers helps us in a tournament setting.  Beilein seems to be the kind of coach who excels in tournament settings as well. His offense is tough to prepare for in general, he tends to unveil offensive wrinkles late in the year, he's a great game planner on short time and makes good in game adjustments.  I'm hoping we get better (aka non B1G) refereeing as well. 


February 27th, 2017 at 3:13 PM ^

The 2013 team played at a high level for most of the year.  They had one bad game at PSU - that doesn't make them weird as most teams are bound to lay a clunker or two during the course of the 30 game regular season.  

This UM team looked like world beaters in November and then for whatever reason dropped off in December and January only to come back in Feb to look once again like a damn good team.


February 27th, 2017 at 7:41 PM ^

was they were playing darn good teams.  They lost twice to IU, who won the Big Ten regular season title was a #1 seed in the ncaa's and made the sweet 16.  The lost at MSU, who finished tied for second in Big Ten regular season, was a #3 seed in the ncaas and also made the sweet 16.  They lost to Wisky twice.  Wisky finished tied with UM for 4th in the Big Ten and was a 5 seed in the NCAA  tourney.  


February 27th, 2017 at 1:00 PM ^

For a long-haired internet blogger, you show an alarming lack of understanding of exactly WHY the Death Star's defense was so easily penetrated. Watch Rogue One again and get back to us on why the analogy doesn't fit, that is, unless B1G coaches actually are inserting fatal flaws deep inside their teams to get back at their ADs for killing their wives and daughters or something...