Drew Montag, Basketball Editor
Drew Montag, Basketball Editor
2017 University of Michigan Football Season Predictions
10 August 2017
Yeah, it’s me, the “basketball guy”, back for more. It’s time for my annual attempt to predict how the University of Michigan’s football season is going to go.
I am very proud of my predictions for last season: I got all 12 games right (10-2 overall, 7-2 in the Big Ten), and I even predicted the correct bowl game scenario (no Big Ten Championship game, but a “New Year’s Six” bowl game). It’s the best I’ve ever done at predicting a football season.
This season, I’m feeling about the same level of optimism. There were a lot of graduations and departures to the NFL, but there’s a lot of talent coming back. It just might take some time to get everything squared away. There are four games that stand out this season, and only one of them is at home: Florida (in Arlington, TX), at Penn State, at Wisconsin, and home vs. Ohio State. I’m always worried about the first game of the season, especially if it’s on the road, so I’m picking the Florida game as a loss. We beat Penn State (handily) and Wisconsin (barely) in Ann Arbor last season, but it’ll be a lot tougher on the road. I’m picking a split (beat Penn State, lose to Wisconsin). That leaves our arch-rival, Ohio State. We got really close last season, and we probably would have won the game with some better officiating on the crucial 4th down spot in overtime, but that’s water under the bridge. I’m going to go out on a limb and pick Michigan to finally beat OSU this season. The other 8 games look pretty straightforward, including our other arch-rival (Michigan State), which leaves Michigan with a final regular season record of 10-2 again, but 8-1 in the Big Ten, which might just get us into the Big Ten Championship game. Win that, and we might be looking at the College Football Playoff. If not, we’re still looking at a “New Year’s Six” bowl game again.
Well, we won a ring. We survived a plane crash. We played to the best of our ability in a couple games. We put the world on notice. It was special.
– Moritz Wagner
The University of Michigan Men’s Basketball team’s 2016-2017 season is over, and it was an unexpected success. Michigan finished with a final record of 26-12 (10-8 in the Big Ten), which was good enough for a tie for 5th place in the Big Ten, but that’s not the whole story. UM caught fire in the 2nd half of the Big Ten season, and strung together 7 wins in a row to win the Big Ten Tournament, and make it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament. This was more than all but the most optimistic fans and “experts” predicted for Michigan. One of the biggest factors, and something I never mentioned during the season for superstitious reasons, was that no Michigan player missed a single game due to injury. This is a remarkable departure from the last few seasons, which have seen far too many significant injuries.
Before the season, I divided the games up into 3 categories (“Should Win”, “Should Lose”, and “Toss Up”):
If UM can win all 13 of the “Should Win” games, and half of the 12 “Toss Up” games, that would give them a record of 19-12 (9-9 in the Big Ten). That might be good enough to get UM into the NCAA Tournament, depending on how they do in the Big Ten Tournament.
So, how did they do?
That worked out to 20-9 (10-8 in the Big Ten), which was slightly better than I predicted. They did it by winning 2 “Should Lose” games to make up for the 2 “Should Win” games that they lost, and doing one game better than half of the “Toss Up” games.
There were quite a few significant games along the way:
South Carolina (11/23/2016) – As good as Michigan looked in the 2K Classic, they looked that bad in their very next game, a thorough butt-whipping in their 1st true road game. Of course, South Carolina made it to the Final Four, so the loss doesn’t look quite as bad.
Texas (12/06/2016) – A big win for Michigan, in an ugly home game. It was close and tense, but “a win is a win”.
UCLA (12/10/2016) – Another road loss, but a spectacular one. UCLA was ranked #2 in the nation at the time, and UM hung with them for the entire 1st half, which was a 50-50 track meet. UCLA pulled away in the 2nd half, but UM looked pretty good in an 18-point loss.
Iowa (01/01/2017) – Yet another road loss, in Michigan’s Big Ten opener. This was a close game, and Michigan had a chance to win it in regulation, but they let it slip away, then lost in overtime. Not a very good way to start league play.
Illinois (01/11/2017) – This game was the turning point of the season. It was yet another road loss, dropping Michigan to 1-3 in the Big Ten. The game was tied until Illinois went on a 17-2 run in the last 4:04 of the half, and that was the game. The game was a depressing loss, but there was a “silver lining”. The Illinois center, Maverick Morgan (great name!) called Michigan a “white collar” team in a postgame interview, and that woke them up. From that point on, Michigan went 15-6.
Wisconsin (01/17/2017) – Yet another road loss, but a close one. Since Wisconsin was ranked #17 at the time, this was a minor “moral victory”.
Illinois (01/21/2017) – Michigan wore their blue (away) uniforms for a home game, to show Maverick Morgan that they could be “blue collar”, and they kicked Illinois’ butts. The “revenge tour” was on!
Indiana (01/26/2017) – Michigan crushed IU 90-60 in Crisler, and fans were starting to get excited about the team.
Michigan State (01/29/2017) – Another close road loss. The game was close and tight until the final minutes. The final score (70-62) is deceptive. Not quite a “moral victory”, but it was encouraging.
Ohio State (02/04/2017) – This was the low point of the season. Just when it looked like UM was finally getting things figured out, they came out flat at home vs. OSU, and lost an ugly game to a mediocre team. They allowed 16 offensive rebounds, and that cost them the game. At this point, most fans, including me, jumped off the bandwagon. I wrote the team off as “no chance for the NCAA Tournament, think NIT instead”. Wrong.
Michigan State (02/07/2017) – This was the high point of the season, at least for me. A win over MSU is worth any 2 other wins. This win was another good old-fashioned butt kicking. UM led from start to finish, and got the lead up as high as 30, before putting in the scrubs and winning by “only” 29 points. Another “revenge” win.
Indiana (02/12/2017) – Michigan FINALLY won a true road game, in one of the toughest places to win: Assembly Hall. They didn’t just win, they won convincingly, and swept IU.
Wisconsin (02/16/2017) – Another big win, over a ranked (#11) team. Another “revenge” win. The fans were back, and thinking NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota (02/19/2017) – Another road game, another loss. This one was also close and tense, and went to overtime. The officiating was terrible, and Michigan shot free throws terribly, for the only time this season. Ugh.
Purdue (02/25/2017) – This game was Senior Night, and Michigan played their best game of the regular season, beating the Big Ten regular season champs. They were ranked #16 at the time.
Northwestern (03/01/2017) – Another road game, another loss. Northwestern probably had to win this game to guarantee their first ever NCAA Tournament bid, and it was a good, close, tense game. It was tied with 1.7 seconds left, and it looked like it was going to overtime, but NW threw a perfect full-court pass for a buzzer-beater layup. It could have been a crushing defeat for Michigan, but they shook it off nicely, winning their next 7 games.
Nebraska (03/05/2017) – Michigan bounced back from the heartbreaking loss at Northwestern with one of their best games of the season. They thrashed Nebraska on their Senior Night, winning by 36 points. Another (rare) road win!
Illinois (03/09/2017) – Illinois, again. This time, Michigan played them in the Big Ten Tournament, in Washington (DC). Any tournament game is a big deal, but this one was even bigger, since Michigan’s charter plane had a “rejected takeoff” during the 63-mph windstorm, and ended up sliding off the runway, through a security fence, across an access road, and into a field just short of a ravine. Everyone on board was basically safe, but there were some cuts and bruises, and everyone was shaken up. If the plane had slid into the ravine, there could have been serious injuries and even deaths. The team flew to DC the next morning, and got to the arena at 10:40 for a noon tipoff. Their game uniforms were trapped on board the crashed charter plane, so they played in their practice uniforms, with very little warmup. It didn’t matter: they crushed Maverick Morgan and his merry band again, 75-55. More revenge.
Purdue (03/10/2017) – Michigan was the #8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, so they had to play the #1 seed, Purdue, if they won their 1st game. Purdue was the regular season Big Ten champions, ranked #13, playing their 1st game of the tournament, since they had a double bye. Didn’t matter. Michigan beat them again, this time in overtime. At least they finally had their game uniforms.
Minnesota (03/11/2017) – Michigan played their 3rd game in 3 days, and they played well. They continued their “revenge tour” with a win over Minnesota. This time, they shot their free throws well.
Wisconsin (03/12/2017) – Wisconsin was the #2 seed in the tournament, and they were ranked (#24). Didn’t matter. Michigan finished up their “revenge tour” with a very convincing 15-point win (71-56), for the Big Ten Tournament championship and the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Oklahoma State (03/17/2017) – These two teams had the two best offenses in the country, and they matched each other shot for shot the whole game. Michigan managed to pull ahead in the final minutes, then hung on to win by one, 92-91. Whew!
Louisville (03/19/2017) – This was probably Michigan’s most impressive win of the season, although I’m partial to the 29-point win over Michigan State. Louisville was the #2 seed in the Midwest Region, and they were ranked #10. It was a close, hard-fought game, with Louisville ahead most of the time, but UM grabbed a small lead in the closing minutes, and hung on for the huge win. On to the Sweet Sixteen!
Oregon (03/23/2017) – This was another nailbiter, against another high seed (#3) team that was ranked in the Top 10 (#9). It all came down to the final shot, at the buzzer, with Michigan down one point. It didn’t drop, and Michigan’s fairy tale run in the Big Dance was over.
Austin Davis (Inc.) – Austin was voluntarily redshirted this season, since UM had so much depth at center.
Brent Hibbitts (Inc.) – Brent only played in “garbage time” this season: 22 minutes in 10 games. He scored 3 points (on a 3-pointer), and he grabbed 4 rebounds.
Xavier Simpson (B-) – Xavier played in all 38 games, averaging 8.7 minutes/game. He scored 59 points, and dished out 37 assists. He didn’t shoot very often, or very well, but he did give Derrick Walton a rest every now and then. He did play pretty good defense.
Jon Teske (C-) – Jon played in 20 games, averaging 3.1 minutes/game. He only scored 5 points (1 basket and 3 free throws), and grabbed 12 rebounds. He was very tentative out there. Whenever he entered the game, the opposing center went right at him, backed him down, and scored over him easily. He just wasn’t ready this season.
Ibi Watson (C-) – Ibi played in 19 games, averaging 4.4 minutes/game. He scored 24 points, but he really struggled with his 3-point shooting: 1-for-18. He seemed pretty confident out there, but he just couldn’t buy a basket.
Fred Wright-Jones (Inc.) – Fred only played in “garbage time” this season: 18 minutes (lowest on the team) in 13 games. He scored 5 points, on a 3-pointer and 2 free throws.
Charles Matthews (Inc.) – Charles had to sit out this season after transferring to Michigan from Kentucky. He’ll have sophomore eligibility next season.
Moritz Wagner (A) – Moe was easily the most improved player on the team this season. He started all 38 games, and he was 3rd on the team in scoring, averaging 12.1 points/game. He cut way down on his fouls and turnovers from last season. His defense still wasn’t as good as his offense, but he got better as the season went along.
DJ Wilson (A) – DJ is another vastly improved player. He played in all 38 games, and started all but the first 2. He averaged 11.0 points/game, and he led the team in rebounding with 203, and blocked shots with 57 (more than the rest of the team combined).
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (B) – MAAR had an up-and-down season. He played in all 38 games, and started 37 of them. He averaged 9.1 points/game, but he had several mediocre games scattered among his normal productive games. When he’s “on”, he’s fine out there, but he disappeared several times this season.
Mark Donnal (C) – Mark regressed from his first 2 seasons, especially last season. It’s hard to believe that this is the same player who put up 28 points vs. Illinois last season. He almost acted disinterested out there at times. He played in all 38 games, and he averaged 3.9 points/game, but he also disappeared several times this season.
Sean Lonergan (Inc.) – Sean mostly played in “garbage time”, but he had a few brief appearances in significant game situations. Still, he only played 36 minutes in 17 games, and only scored 11 points.
Duncan Robinson (B-) – Duncan is another player who regressed from last season. He played in all 38 games, and he even started 3 of them, but he quickly lost his starting spot to DJ Wilson, and the rest of the season he came off the bench to provide “instant offense”. He averaged 7.7 points/game, which isn’t bad, but his 3-point shooting percentage was way down from last season. He also had a tough time staying in front of his man on defense, which limited his playing time.
Andrew Dakich (Inc.) – Andrew was voluntarily redshirted. It’s odd to see a senior be redshirted, but Andrew voluntarily “burned his redshirt” the last 2 seasons to help the team when injuries sidelined point guards. He’ll graduate on time, and play a “grad transfer” year somewhere smaller where he can start and contribute.
Zak Irvin (B+) – Zak was the 2nd leading scorer on the team (13.0 points/game), 2nd in assists (113), and 3rd on the team in rebounding (172). He had a terrible shooting slump in the middle of the Big Ten season, but he broke out of it, and played some of his best basketball down the stretch. He still had a habit of taking too many long 2-pointers, and playing “hero ball” in crunch time, but overall he helped the team more than he hurt it.
Derrick Walton Jr. (A) – Derrick led the team in scoring (15.5 points/game), led the team in assists (189), and was 2nd in rebounding (182). He had a mediocre start to the season, but from the “white collar” game on, he was the best player on the team, and one of the best in the Big Ten. He carried Michigan on his back for the last 10 games or so.
Michigan is losing at least 4 players from this season’s team:
There is also a chance that Sean Lonergan will use the “grad transfer” rule to play elsewhere next season. If so, I’m sure he can find a team that will let him play and contribute a lot.
Irvin and Walton will definitely be missed, and the other 3 guys played important roles either as backups or practice players, but Michigan has another good recruiting class coming in:
I hate to say too much about incoming freshmen until I’ve seen them play in an actual game or two. It’s easy to get excited about high school seniors, but they are usually a lot less exciting as college freshmen. Ibi Watson and Jon Teske are this season’s prime examples.
In addition to the 3 incoming freshmen, there will be 2 more new players on next season’s roster:
In summary, the future looks very promising for Michigan for next season and beyond.
Be sure to look for the first article for next season on the Monday before the first game.
The (#23) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played one game last week in the NCAA Tournament in Kansas City (MO), and they lost it. They were the #7 seed in the Midwest Region. On Thursday (03/23/2017), Michigan lost to the #3 seed, Oregon, 69-68. The loss eliminated Michigan from the tournament, and left them with a final record of 26-12 (10-8 in the Big Ten).
The game was every bit as close as the final score would indicate. Michigan played one of their worst games in the last 2 months, but still had a shot at the game-winning basket as time expired, but it didn’t drop. Game, and season, over.
In the 1st half, the game was tied 8 times, and there were 8 lead changes. Oregon’s biggest lead of the half was 5 points, Michigan’s biggest lead was 4. Oregon led by 2 points at halftime, 35-33. The 2nd half was much the same. There were 8 more lead changes. Oregon’s biggest lead in the 2nd half was 6 points, Michigan’s biggest lead was 3 points. Michigan had that lead (68-65) with 2:02 left in the game, and it looked like they were going to pull the game out again in the closing moments, like they have so many times in postseason play. Instead, they didn’t score again. An Oregon player missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw attempt with 1:49 left, but Michigan couldn’t grab the rebound, and Oregon made a basket instead. Michigan missed their last 3 shots, and Oregon made one more basket, and that was the game.
The stats for the game are mediocre. Michigan didn’t shoot very well overall (25-for-58 = 43.1%), they shot 3-pointers fairly well (11-for-31 = 35.5%), but they did shoot free throws perfectly (7-for-7 = 100.0%). They lost the rebounding battle, but not badly (36-31), but they also lost the turnover battle (8-5), which is a big surprise. While 8 turnovers isn’t bad at all, they were the difference in this game.
Who Looked Good
Derrick Walton Jr. carried Michigan on his back again, in his final game as a Wolverine. He scored 20 points, had 8 assists, and even grabbed 5 rebounds. He was the player who took the last “win or lose” shot at the buzzer, and it was a good and reasonable shot, it just didn’t go in. Bummer.
Zak Irvin also played hard in his last game as a Wolverine. He scored 19 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and had 3 assists. He hit crucial shots in “crunch time” to keep Michigan in the game. It was good to see him go out on a high note.
DJ Wilson had an interesting game. He scored 12 points, all on 3-pointers. He shot 3-pointers pretty well (4-for-8), but missed both of his 2-point attempts, including a point-blank uncontested layup in the closing minutes that could have sealed the game. Still, it’s hard to complain about his effort and his defense.
Duncan Robinson scored 8 points, which was good, but didn’t help out much on defense.
Who Looked Not-So-Good
Moritz Wagner picked a bad time to have an “off” game. He only scored 7 points, and he only played 24 minutes. He got open for 4 good 3-point attempts, and he bricked all 4 of them. He missed a contested layup on Michigan’s first possession, and he never seemed to get in sync after that.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman also picked a bad time to have an “off” game. Unlike Wagner, he played a lot (38 minutes), but he only scored 2 points on 1-for-6 shooting (0-for-4 from 3-point range). He had 3 of Michigan’s 8 turnovers, and was also out of sync for the whole game.
Mark Donnal played 4 minutes, and didn’t take a shot.
Xavier Simpson played 5 minutes, and didn’t take a shot.
Who Else Played
No one else played.
Who Didn’t Play
The Big Picture
The season is over. No more “Big Picture”.
It was a good season that far exceeded expectations. It could have been ever better.
The season is over, so nothing is “Next”.
Check back next week for the last article of the season, including a Season Wrap-Up, Final Grades, and a Look Ahead.
The (#23) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played two games last week in the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis, and they won both of them. They’re the #7 seed in the Midwest Region. On Friday (03/17/2017), Michigan beat the #10 seed, Oklahoma State, 92-91, then on Sunday (03/19/2017), they beat the #2 seed, (#10) Louisville, 73-69. The two wins raise Michigan’s record to 26-11 (10-8 in the Big Ten), and put them into the Sweet Sixteen!
Both games were tight, tense, and exciting, and in both games Michigan had to hang onto a slim lead in the closing minutes to win the game. We knew that Oklahoma State (OSU from now on, but not THAT OSU) had a great offense, but it was kind of a surprise how well they defended Michigan in the early going. It was also kind of surprising how poorly Michigan defended them in the early going. For a game that got into the 90s, it was low scoring for much of the first half. With 12:10 left in the half, it was tied up 11-11. OSU went on a quick 9-2 run, and Michigan was down 7 (20-13) with 9:52 to go. It was still a 7-point OSU lead (27-20) with 7:22 left in the half, when Michigan finally woke up and went on an 8-0 run, to lead 28-27 with 5:03 to go. The teams traded baskets and free throws for the rest of the half, with neither team ever leading by more than 2 points. Michigan led at the half, 41-40.
OSU was hot to start the 2nd half, and they quickly pulled out to a 6-point lead (52-46) with 15:51 to go in the game. Michigan fought back, and tied it 59-59 at the 13:04 mark. It was still tied (64-64) with 10:52 left, when Michigan pulled away for good. They got the lead up to 8 points (76-68) with 6:47 to go, but let the lead shrink to 2 points (79-77) with 4:12 left. They pushed it back to 7 points (88-81) with 0:23 left, and that should have been enough, and it was, but just barely. OSU put on a frantic comeback, including a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to finish within 1, but Michigan made just enough baskets and free throws down the stretch to win. Still, a win is a win, especially in the NCAA Tournament, where the only rule is “survive and advance”. You don’t get any “style points” for winning big.
Louisville is exactly the wrong kind of team for Michigan to beat. They play “bully ball”, like the vintage Michigan State teams of the last 20 years, and they have 4 solid front line players that Michigan had to contain, somehow. Louisville manhandled Michigan for most of the game, and they led for most of the game. They scored much more easily than Michigan did, and they bottled Michigan up with their interior defense. There were several times when it looked like UL was going to run away with the game, but Michigan hung around. Louisville pulled out to a quick 6 point lead (12-6) with 15:17 to go in the 1st half. They pushed it up to 7 points (21-14) with 9:59 left. Michigan scrapped and worked really hard to finally get it tied (28-28) with 1:40 left in the half, when UL went wild. They hit 2 quick 3-pointers, along with a couple free throws, and held Michigan scoreless, so they led by 8 (36-28) at halftime. Things did not look very promising.
The 2nd half was even for the first 6 minutes, and UL still led by 7 (47-40) with 13:49 to go in the game. Michigan finally got their game in gear, and pulled to within 1 point (50-49) with 10:33 to go, tied it (51-51) with 9:16 left, and went ahead by 2 (53-51) at the 8:54 mark. It was still tied (55-55) with 7:12 to go, when Michigan pulled ahead for good. They got the lead up to 6 points (67-61) with 1:18 left, and hung on for the big win. The last minute was very tense, but Michigan played with confidence and poise, and deserved to win.
The stats for the OSU game are pretty impressive. Michigan shot very well overall (29-for-56 = 51.8%), they shot 3-pointers very well (16-for-29 = 55.2%), and they shot free throws very well (18-for-22 = 81.8%). They got crushed on the boards (40-21), but they won the turnover battle (4-10). OSU had 16 offensive rebounds, which was almost enough to win the game, but Michigan’s 3-point shooting made just enough of a difference. Michigan’s 16 made 3-pointers tied the Big Ten record for NCAA Tournament games.
The stats for the UL game are not nearly as impressive. Michigan shot pretty well overall (28-for-57 = 49.1%), they shot 3-pointers pretty poorly (6-for-17 = 35.3%), and they shot free throws well enough (11-for-14 = 78.6%). They lost the rebounding battle (37-30), but they won the turnover battle (6-11). The turnovers and poor 3-point shooting (5-for-20) cost UL the game.
Who Looked Good
In both games, 4 of Michigan’s 5 starters hit double figures. This scoring balance is crucial.
Derrick Walton Jr. was the hero of the OSU game, with 26 points and 11 assists, for a huge double-double. He hit 6-for-9 from 3-point range. He also had 10 points (on terrible shooting: 3-for-13) vs. UL.
DJ Wilson had a great week. He scored 19 points vs. OSU, including a couple clutch free throws in the closing seconds. He also had 4 big blocked shots. He had 17 points vs. UL, including 4 clutch free throws in the closing seconds, and 3 blocked shots. He played great defense against the monster UL front line.
Zak Irvin quietly had a great week. He scored 16 and 11 points, and hit some big shots in both games. He was efficient on offense, and did a nice job on defense.
Moritz Wagner had one very good game (career-high 26 points) vs. UL and one quiet game (6 points, in only 14 minutes) vs. OSU. He sat for most of the 2nd half vs. OSU, in favor of a shorter, faster lineup with DJ Wilson at center, but he carried Michigan on his back in the 2nd half of the UL game. He shot an amazing 11-for-14 vs. UL, with only one 3-point attempt (which he made).
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman also had one good game (16 points vs. OSU) and one quiet game (6 points vs. UL). He was a key contributor in the OSU game.
Who Looked Not-So-Good
Michigan got very little bench scoring this week.
Duncan Robinson scored 8 points vs. OSU, and 0 vs. UL.
Mark Donnal scored 1 and 3 points.
Xavier Simpson played 2 minutes vs. OSU and 4 minutes vs. UL, and failed to score in either game.
Who Else Played
No one else played.
Who Didn’t Play
The Big Picture
Unless they have a lousy/cold game, Michigan has proven that they can play with the big boys. There isn’t a team left in the tournament that they can’t beat, but they will need a combination of luck and skill to keep advancing. That’s the nature of a “lose and go home” tournament: you’re only as good as your last game. One “off” game, and you’re done.
Still, Michigan has already way overachieved for this season. Everything from here on is gravy.
On to the Sweet Sixteen! The next round of games is in Kansas City (MO) for the Midwest Region, with the winner going on to the Final Four. On Thursday (03/23/2017, 7:09 p.m. EDT, CBS), Michigan plays (#9) Oregon, the #3 seed. If they win, they will face the winner of the (#1 seed) Kansas vs. (#4 seed) Purdue game, on Saturday (03/25/2017, Time TBA, CBS).
Oregon will be another tough game. They’re 31-5, with several impressive wins along the way (UCLA, USC, and Arizona) and a couple less-than-impressive losses (Georgetown and Colorado). They’ve got 6 players who are 6’9″ or taller. They are beatable, but Michigan will have to play another great game to get by them.
Here’s the complete bracket.
Check back next week to see what happened, and why.
The University of Michigan men’s basketball team played four games last week in the Big Ten Tournament in Washington (DC), and they won all four, and won the tournament championship. They were the #8 seed. On Thursday (03/09/2017), Michigan beat the #9 seed, Illinois, 75-55; on Friday (03/10/2017), they beat the #1 seed, (#13) Purdue, 74-70 in overtime; on Saturday (03/11/2017), they beat the #4 seed, Minnesota, 84-77; then on Sunday (03/12/2017), they beat the #2 seed, (#23) Wisconsin, 71-56. The four wins raise Michigan’s record to 24-11 (10-8 in the Big Ten).
Amazingly, the biggest story in Michigan basketball this week isn’t that they won the Big Ten Tournament, but that they survived the plane ride to get to Washington. They tried to fly to DC on a charter jet on Wednesday morning, but there was a major clear-air windstorm at that time, and the plane never left the ground. Instead, it skidded off the runway, through a fence, over an access road, and came to rest close to sliding into a ravine. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, but it was close. If the plane had skidded another 100 yards or so, and gone into the ravine, it could have easily burst into flames, with serious injuries or even deaths.
Of course, everyone on board was shook up, and the team held a players-only meeting to vote on whether to try again the next day or just stay in Ann Arbor and forfeit. They voted to fly the next day, and that flight went smoothly. Still, they only got to the Verizon Center at 10:40 for a scheduled noon tip-off, which was moved back a whole 30 minutes to 12:30.
The fun didn’t stop once the team got to the arena. Because the FAA had to investigate their aborted takeoff and accident, they couldn’t retrieve their luggage from the wrecked charter plane, and all their game uniforms (white, blue, and maize) were in the hold. So, they had to play their first game, against Illinois, in their practice uniforms, with almost no warm up time. It was the worst possible situation, but it didn’t appear to slow Michigan down at all.
The key to all four games this week was a fast, solid start, and the Illinois game was just the first example. They jumped out to a quick 11 point lead (15-4) at the 14:41 mark, built it up to 20 points (31-11) with 7:23 left in the 1st half, and kept Illinois at arms-length for the rest of the game. They did let Illinois creep within 7 points (33-26) with 3:26 to go, but they built the lead back up to 11 points (40-29) at halftime. The lead was still 11 points (45-34) with 16:18 to go, when Michigan pushed it up to 18 points (54-36) with 13:20 to go. The lead never got below 10 points the rest of the way, and Michigan finished the game with an 8-0 run to make it an even 20 points. It was a stirring victory, coming after so much adversity and distraction.
By the next day (Friday), Michigan finally had their game uniforms, and they got a good night’s sleep in DC. They didn’t start out as fast against Purdue as they had against Illinois, but they did a good job of managing the game. They kept the score close, and it was tied 20-20 with 8:59 left in the 1st half. Purdue went on a quick 7-0 run to lead 27-20 at the 6:16 mark. They pushed it up to 9 points (32-23) with 4:44 to go, and it was looking like they were getting ready to run away with the game. That’s when DJ Wilson took over. He went on a personal 10-2 run, including two jumpers and two 3-pointers, to pull Michigan back within one point (34-33) with 2:15 left in the half. Michigan finally regained the lead, and they were up 4 points (38-34) with 0:01 left when a Purdue player hit a 55-foot shot at the buzzer to make it a one point game at halftime, 38-37.
The second half was close and tense, with neither team able to pull away. In the 2nd half alone, there were 8 ties and 7 lead changes. Purdue’s biggest lead in the half was 3 points, and Michigan’s biggest lead was 4. Purdue led by 3 points (66-63) with 0:33 left, but Michigan managed to tie it up 66-66, and force overtime.
Overtime has not been kind to Michigan this season, with losses at Iowa and Minnesota, but this time was different. Michigan never trailed in the overtime, built up a 5-point lead (72-67) with 0:20 left, and made enough free throws to win the game. This was a huge win over a Top-15 team, and it was the toughest of the 4 games Michigan played in the tournament.
The semifinal game on Saturday was against Minnesota, a team that beat Michigan in their only meeting of the regular season. That game, in Minneapolis, was an embarrassment of bad officiating and bad free throw shooting by Michigan. Michigan had something to prove, and they proved it. Once again, Michigan had a quick start, and opened up a 10 point lead (15-5) by the 16:17 mark. They pushed the lead up to 16 points (29-13) with 10:41 left in the half, and kept the lead around 8-10 points for the rest of the half, leading by 11 (47-36) at halftime. Minnesota came out strong in the 2nd half, and managed to tie the game up 55-55 with 13:11 to go. That was as close as they got. Minnesota never led in the 2nd half, and Michigan pushed the lead back up to a more comfortable 9 points (72-63) with 5:18 to go. Minnesota had one last run in them, and they got within 3 points (78-75) with 0:53 left, but Michigan closed the game on a 6-2 run to win by 7. The better team won, and they proved that they had been robbed in Minneapolis during the regular season.
It’s tough to play 4 games in 4 days, and several of the Michigan players looked a step slower on Sunday in the championship game vs. Wisconsin. On top of the normal fatigue from playing so many games in a row, several of the Michigan players got bumped and bruised in the plane accident. This was their 2nd game against a ranked opponent in 3 days, but they dug deep and found a way to win. For the 3rd time in 4 games, they started out fast and strong, opening a 6-point lead (19-13) with 11:10 to go in the 1st half. They stretched the lead to 10 points (30-20) with 5:25 left in the half, and they looked ready to run away with the game, but Wisconsin had other ideas. They went on a 7-0 run to make it a close game again, 30-27, with 2:41 to go. Michigan built the lead back up to 6 points (33-27) with 1:27 left, but Wisconsin scored the last 5 points of the half, including (sigh) another long buzzer-beating 3-pointer, so Michigan only led by one point (33-32) at halftime.
Michigan played great defense to start the 2nd half, and held Wisconsin without a field goal for the first 8 minutes of the half. Wisconsin’s only points during this stretch were a pair of free throws, while Michigan scored 11 points, to make it a 10 point lead, 44-34. Even once Wisconsin started scoring, Michigan answered each time, increasing their lead to 11 points (51-40) with 7:06 to go. Wisconsin got as close as 6 points (51-45) with 6:19 to go, and within 7 (59-52) with 2:59 left, but Michigan went wild in the last 3 minutes and outscored Wisconsin 12-4 with an assortment of steals, dunks, and layups. It was a decisive victory, and very satisfying.
The stats for the Illinois game are decent. Michigan shot pretty well overall (30-for-56 = 53.6%), they shot 3-pointers well enough (9-for-25 = 36.0%), and they shot free throws well, but not enough of them (6-for-7 = 85.7%). They won the rebounding battle (28-26) and the turnover battle (7-14). All those extra possessions really helped.
The stats for the Purdue game are probably the ugliest that Michigan has had in a win this season. They didn’t shoot very well overall (25-for-60 = 41.7%), they didn’t shoot 3-pointers very well (6-for-25 = 24.0%), but they did shoot free throws well (18-for-23 = 78.3%). They actually won the rebounding battle (38-37), despite the monster front line for Purdue, and they won the turnover battle (13-16). Winning the rebounding battle was the key to winning the game, instead of Michigan’s usual winning formula of just outscoring the opponent.
The stats for the Minnesota game are much better. Michigan shot well overall (29-for-54 = 53.7%), they shot 3-pointers well (8-for-23 = 34.8%), and they shot free throws well (18-for-22 = 81.8%). They lost the rebounding battle badly (38-24), but they won the turnover battle (8-11). Michigan won the game by shooting 3-pointers better, holding Minnesota to 3-for-13 shooting.
Finally, the stats for the Wisconsin game are the best of the week. Michigan shot very well overall (27-for-48 = 56.3%), they shot 3-pointers well (10-for-23 = 43.5%), and they shot free throws well, but not enough again (7-for-9 = 77.8%). Once again, they got hammered on the boards (32-25), but they won the turnover battle (9-15). Michigan won the game by shooting 3-pointers better, again. Wisconsin only shot 6-for-15. Michigan’s defense is getting very good at running opposing shooters off the 3-point line.
Who Looked Good
Derrick Walton Jr. was THE MAN this week. He was Michigan’s leading scorer in 3 of the 4 games (all except the Purdue game), and he was voted the tournament MVP. He single-handedly kept Michigan in a couple of the games when he took over when momentum was starting to swing away from UM. He hit several big shots, many of them contested 3-pointers, and he was magnificent from the free throw line, hitting 22 of 23 attempts. He missed his first free throw attempt, then made 22 in a row, including 10-for-10 vs. Minnesota. He scored double figures in all 4 games (19, 12, 29, and 22 points), and he had 9 assists vs. Minnesota. His 29 points in the Minnesota game is a new career high. He was awesome. He got robbed when he was named 2nd team All Big Ten.
Zak Irvin was the only other player to hit double figures in all 4 games (18, 13, 13, and 15 points). He played good, solid defense, and he was Michigan’s leading rebounder in the tournament (7, 7, 5, and 7 rebounds). He was also named to the All Tournament team. It was great to see him back in form.
DJ Wilson had a great tournament. He hit double figures in 3 of the 4 games (11, 26, 7, and 17 points), and was the leading scorer in the big Purdue win. He had lots of big rebounds (6, 8, 2, and 6 rebounds), and he played great defense, especially guarding the rim and helping on double teams against the multiple huge guys on Purdue and Wisconsin’s front lines.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had a good tournament. He only hit double figures in 2 of the 4 games (17, 10, 2, and 7 points), but he helped out in all 4 games with rebounds, assists, and steals. He played good, solid defense, and was the “glue” that held the team together.
Moritz Wagner had one very good game (17 points vs. Minnesota) and 3 so-so games (6, 5, and 7 points). He appeared to be dealing with a sore back, presumably from the plane accident.
Who Looked Not-So-Good
Mark Donnal had a quiet week. He scored 0, 3, 4, and 0 points, but he did give Wagner valuable rest periods to take care of his sore back.
Duncan Robinson wasn’t much of a factor in 3 of the 4 games. He scored 2, 5, 10, and 3 points.
Xavier Simpson also didn’t contribute much this week. He scored 2 points in the Illinois and Minnesota games, and was held scoreless in the other 2 games.
Who Else Played
Jon Teske played for 1 minute in the Purdue game, and got brutalized by the huge Purdue front line. That was it for him.
Who Didn’t Play
The Big Picture
Since they won the Big Ten Tournament title, Michigan got the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. They also improved their seeding from 8 or 9 to 7. They’re playing their best basketball of the season, and they have great momentum and confidence going into the tournament. If they can keep playing like they did in the Big Ten Tournament, they can make a nice deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
On to the Big Dance! Michigan is the #7 seed in the Midwest Region in Indianapolis (IN), and they’ll play their first game on Friday (03/17/2017, 12:15 p.m. EDT, CBS) vs. the #10 seed, Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State finished the regular season with a record of 20-12 (9-9 in the Big 12). They had a couple good wins (Georgetown, Wichita State, Arkansas, Oklahoma [twice], West Virginia), and no bad losses. They’ve got decent height, and a nice mix of youth and experience. Michigan can beat them, but they’ll have to play their “A” game.
If they get by Oklahoma State, they’ll face the winner of the game between the #2 seed (Louisville) and the #15 seed (Jacksonville State), presumably Louisville. That will be quite a challenge for Michigan, since Louisville is better than any of the teams that UM has played so far this season.
Here’s the complete bracket.
Check back next week to see what happened, and why.