Nothing But ‘Net – Week #22 – 03/27/2017 – End Of Season

Quick Look

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).

What Happened

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.

Stats

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

Brent Hibbitts, Sean Lonergan, Jon Teske, Ibi Watson, and Fred Wright-Jones didn’t play in this game.

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.

What’s Next

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.

Go Blue!

M FOOT BALL 2017- A PEEK AHEAD AT THE WOLVERINES SHOWS A PEAK AHEAD FOR THE WOLVERINES-PART 1.

It is time to move ahead from last year’s disappointing season. With all its high points on and off the field, the season ended with a painful thud. Three critical losses late in the season again provided no run at the B1G playoff or title. This and no national final four or title, together with no bowl victory, put to rest optimistic M fan expectations as they evaporated at seasons end.

LAST SEASON’S WOES, FINAL CALL: No matter that the Wolverine three late season losses were close. The Ohio State University victory drought continued at the hands of the Wolverines yet again, in what appeared a very winnable chance. The fact that this one occurred in double overtime did not alter the fact that it produced another very big ouch. That there was a controversial spot favoring the OSU offense didn’t matter either. The Wolverines did not score or defend well enough to win with everything on the line in crunch time in their most important outing of the season.

Then there was the final game in the Orange Bowl that ended with a controversial FSU off-side non call, perhaps preventing one more M offensive stab at victory. The real bugaboo was the Wolverine gift of the winning TD with 40 seconds on the clock. At clock zero, it was 33-32 for the wrong side. Another big ouch.

The season’s early promise became a miasma as those earlier promising season expectations evaporated. The harmful loss to Iowa that started the skid was simply inexplicable.

It is now time to drop kick our attention forward and attempt to estimate and evaluate what might lie ahead in this, Coach Harbaugh’s critical third year at the Michigan helm. It is the most critical of his Michigan tenure.

GOALS: Any attempted probe into the state of the football program early pre-season is always of questionable value, because the basis for much of its prognosis is what happened the prior season. Any prediction of a team’s future football fortunes is even more “iffy” for those programs attempting a spring to the top of the heap.

It is still true the Wolverines have made many significant steps forward under Harbaugh, with very few compensating steps backward, as their trajectory has mainly been forward and upward and all signs point to a continuance and improvement of rising fortune through achievement of goals.

It is easy to state goals pro-season. The difficult part is for the team to achieve them. The fun for fans is in watching them being achieved.

A LITTLE DEEPER INTO THE HARBAUGH ERA: It does not require too big a leap of one’s imagination to expect program progress to continue at an accelerating rate. High among those expectations are the things still unachieved, such as shots at a BIG Championship, and the pot of golden rewards that lie at the end of a successful National Championship Playoff rainbow. You know what they are. The team knows what they are. Harbaugh has established a culture and motivation that is superior. But first things come first. A critical first goal this year is participating in the Big Ten Championship Game. No Wolverine team heretofore has won the privilege.

Competing for these goals is boilerplate every year, but in Harbaugh’s third year expectations will rise.

These are his players, his coaches. They are not as experienced as last year’s edition, but it there are a number of sophomores with athletic talent, and college ready bodies, expected to contribute immediately. Foremost among that group is DE Rashan Gary who leads the group. He will be a prime time player this year. There are at least nine others in his class that played enough last season to be considered experienced this year. WR Eddie McDoom is an example. They will be bolstered by another fine recruiting class this year.

This year’s class had eleven early entries, with WR Donovan Peoples-Jones projected as perhaps the best athlete in the 2017 class, and perhaps even on the team. He will probably receive significant playing time this year if he can best the considerable competition in the position group. Cesar Ruiz is an able bodied, versatile OL that may be able to contribute, even fight for a starting spot. Many of this class will contribute to the two deep. We will get clues as to their identity as spring practice unfolds.

The perceived success of Wolverines this 2017 season to a large extent also depends on success in chasing the rainbows listed above, but this year it is overwhelmingly important that they whip OSU. It has to be done. There will again be a vapor of Scarlet and Gray smugness in the air this fall that can’t be tolerated in M Stadium. That has to be overcome this year. Hmm….maybe that aroma is more pungent than a sniff of smugness!

They must beat all three “States”: MSU and PSU and especially OSU in addition to competing for championships this season.

This is an important season for both this team and its coach. It is important that they surpass last season, which trended so well but finally failed in achievement of their prime goals, and it will be a difficult one. The schedule is tough, but MSU and OSU are at home.

All the aura of success that Harbaugh is managing off field must be equaled on the field to maintain. They must win against the best, home or away to compete for championships. There is work still to be done, and it won’t be easy. But we should expect additional success in year three.

THE QUARTERBACK POSITION: The QB positon has to continue to evolve, especially pass accuracy, and a total mastery of the long ball. This will have to happen with a brand new set of receivers. The fact that Wilton Speight threw for 2,538-yards last season, with 18 TDs, and only 7 interceptions, can’t be ignored.

Still he has to win the job again, and depth must be developed. Obviously, Speight is the experienced frontrunner, but Wilton Speight, Redshirt Brandon Peters, Jon O’Korn, and others will battle for the starting slot, and give no quarter. The QBs that do not achieve starter status may be asked to step in at a critical time during the season, after any offensive snap. It is very important every year that they are well schooled and ready.

This is Harbaugh’s forte. No doubt they will be ready. More Pep has been added to the mix

COACHING CHANGES AND COACHING RESPONSIBILITY CHANGES: I like the coaching additions and responsibility alterations they have made. Pep Hamilton has been added to the staff as Jed Fisch left. The additions and alteration are:

Pep Hamilton: Pep brings a wealth of QB coaching experience from the pro level as well as college as he replaces Jedd Fisch. I expect he will be solid there. He is M’s new Assistant Head Coach /Passing Game Coordinator.

Greg Frey: He was last at Michigan as Rich Rodriguez’s OL coach. He has been named Tackles and Tight Ends Coach. Does his presence mean some change in the blocking style of the OL, and maybe a little more spread? I like the split in the coaching of the OL. It may give the overburdened Drevno a little respite.

Jay Harbaugh: is now the Run Game Coordinator and Co-Special Teams Co-ordinator. Former RB coach Tyrone Wheatley has returned to the pros. There are some slings and arrows directed at Jay because he has no playing experience as a running back. My physician does not share my illnesses, but I expect help to effectively address the situation effectively through training. Jay will do the job.

Tim Drevno: He remains Offensive Coordinator/OL coach. He will coach the center and the two guards.

To accomplish their goals any year, the Wolverines have obstacles to surmount, and rebuilding an effective offensive line is one of them. It appears this task is at the top of the heap this season. Improved pass protection and a consistent running game are both necessary to success.

THE OFFENSIVE LINE: This year the offensive and defensive lines are depleted. Experienced and versatile starters Sophomore Left Guard Ben Bredeson returns, as does Mason Cole. Right Guard may be manned by hefty and athletic Freshman Michael Onwenu (350 plus). It is possible that Freshman Cesar Ruiz vies for a spot on the in the two deep. Maybe can compete for a starting position. He has the physical tools. I doubt he will be at center because Mason Cole is experienced there. There is speculation Cole might vacate center. There will be a constant battle pre-season and maybe into the season as the search for the best five for the best five intensifies.

RUNNING BACKS: The style of the RBs will change with the graduation of the hammer that was DeVeon Smith at the position. It looks like the frontrunner at TB at this time is Sophomore Chris Evans. He gained 7-yards an attempt last season, and sometimes he is lightening in a bottle. Ty Isaac is back for his 5th year. He progressed last year and has size and talent. Junior Karan Higdon had six TDs last year and should be improved this year. Kingston Davis has transferred.

Kareem Walker will challenge for time. His light went on in the December Bowl practices. A healed Drake Johnson would be most interesting, but has not yet been cleared yet for a sixth year to the best of my knowledge.

Freshmen O’Maury Samuels is especially quick and Kurt Taylor. He had an outstanding junior year in HS (1,631-yards). At FB, Kahlid Hill will be back for his 5th year. He had 16 TDs last season. He can catch passes.

WIDE RECEIVERS: This is probably the most interesting position group on the team at this time. The oft injured and now recovered Drake Harris, and Maurice Ways have to find gold at the Last Chance Mine, or they will be passed by. They will be pressed by sophomore’s Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford. McDoom is fast and Crawford is faster. They are both now fairly experienced. Eddy McDoom had considerable experience last season, producing effective end arounds etc. Truth to tell he was more effective on the ground than receiving as that was the way he was utilized. But he can shine as a receiver, too.

The 2017 recruits are an outstanding group, with Freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones considered by most to be hyper talented.

Tarik Black has star potential in this own right.

Brad Hawkins spent a year maturing in prep academy, where he put up outstanding receiving numbers. He is 6’2″ and 205 lbs. H

Martin and Collins also are gifted receivers.

If it turns out that the offensive line can effectively pass protect, I think that by the end of the season this wide receiver position group will be the strength of the offense.

Junior Grant Perry is missing a golden opportunity for football advancement by being in the doghouse for alleged transgressions after last season’s win in East Lansing. His football future remains in limbo. Hope he can work through it. The future looms exceedingly bright for this hyper talented group. Experience is coming their way to blend with their talent.

TIGHT ENDS: Redshirt Junior Ian Bunting will obviously get more opportunities for catches with the progression of Jake Butt to the pros. At 6’7″ and 250 lbs. Bunting is a talented load, along with stable mate Tyrone Wheatley. At 6’6″ and 276 lbs., Wheatley packs a punch, and owns good hands. I expect both these guys to explode this year.

And there is more. Sophomore Nick Eubanks, 6’5″ and 236, but will fight this spring for playing time.

The Wolverines did not land a TE recruit in 2017, but collared a talented 6′ 8″; 236 lb. walk on who has room to grow, Carter Selzer. After a pair of Glasgow walk on successes, and another one in progress, one not cannot help appreciating walk-ons. Besides Selzer, the Wolverines have a number of them this year. If one or more rises it will be noted.

Devin Asiasi, who saw extensive playing time last year as a freshman, has transferred to UCLA for personal reasons. He needs to be closer to home. There are no hard feelings on either side of this transfer.

Part 2 will present defensive comments later in the week.


Go Blue!

Nothing But ‘Net – Week #21 – 03/20/2017 – On To The Sweet Sixteen!

Quick Look

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!

What Happened

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.

Stats

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

Brent Hibbitts, Sean Lonergan, Jon Teske, Ibi Watson, and Fred Wright-Jones didn’t play this week.

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.

What’s Next

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.

Go Blue!

Nothing But ‘Net – Week #20 – 03/13/2017 – Big Ten Tournament Champions!

Quick Look

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).

What Happened

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.

Stats

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

Brent Hibbitts, Sean Lonergan, Ibi Watson, and Fred Wright-Jones didn’t play this week.

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.

What’s Next

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.

Go Blue!