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.
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
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) February 25, 2017
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...
Michigan's adjusted offensive efficiency is now 120.3 - the team that made it to the title game a few years ago was 120.2
— bauncey chillups (@bauncechill) February 26, 2017
...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.