Team 101

Five Key Plays: Purdue at Michigan

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Michigan beat Purdue to move to 9-7 in Big Ten play, here is a look at Five Key Plays from the win.

Michigan beat Purdue to move to 9-7 in Big Ten play, here is a look at Five Key Plays from the win.

1. Moritz Wagner takes over

From the opening jump, Moritz Wagner went right at Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan. He attacked off the bounce, he cut to the rim, he scored in the post and he buried pick-and-pop threes. I’m not really sure what Purdue’s game plan was to stop Wagner, but of his first 20 points all but 3 of them were right over, through or around the expected Big Ten Player of the Year.

“Obviously Wagner had a great game. He was the difference not only in the first half, but I thought the whole game,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said after the game. “His ability to stretch the defense and our ability to find him and match-up. Obviously he’s a very skilled guy, he can shoot the ball and drive on you. He had a great game.”

As Painter went on to point out, Wagner has done this kind of thing against other centers in the league all year. The difference on Saturday afternoon was that he was able to do it so consistently and mistake free while remaining on the court and out of foul trouble.

2. DJ Wilson to Moritz Wagner on the pick-and-roll

Senior Day was meant to be a celebration of what Michigan’s departing players had accomplished, and Derrick Walton certainly had his moment, but this play gave us a mini glimpse into the future.

Coming out of a timeout late in the first half, Michigan dialed up a high ball screen with DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner. How many teams in the country are running pick-and-roll action with their power forward and center? I can’t imagine that there are many. Wagner slipped the screen and Wilson cooly dropped the pass in over the top as Wagner finished at the rim for a layup.

Wilson isn’t going to be running Michigan’s offense next year, but this is just another flash of potential to remind us just what his ceiling could be moving forward.

3. Abdur-Rahkman steps up, Wilson to the five

Michigan has two ways to jump start the offense when its traditional means falter: Duncan Robinson shooting threes off the bench or Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman putting his head down and getting to the rim. In the first half, Michigan went with Robinson, in the second it was Abdur-Rahkman.

There was also some higher-level chess moves going on between Matt Painter and John Beilein at this point. Painter had started switching every screen one through five to try to take away from Michigan’s pick-and-pop action. Walton generally likes to shoot the three over the switched big, but Abdur-Rahkman attacks, which is just what we saw.

“We went with DJ (Wilson) playing the center just because they were switching screens and to give us some likeness to what we had with Moe when he was in foul trouble,” Beilein explained.

All four of these baskets by Wilson and Abdur-Rahkman were generated because Purdue couldn’t really figure out how to defend ball screens — a couple of these look like a half-hedge and a half-switch, never a winning recipe — and Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas couldn’t defend in space. Watch Purdue’s five man in every play and he’s either getting beat off the bounce or standing somewhere guarding nobody.

4. Great defense leads to offense

Michigan missed its first 7 three-point attempts of the second half and was allowing Purdue to hang around just a bit, but the defense kept on playing — something we might not have said in January.

Xavier Simpson makes the ensuing three-pointer after this stop, but the stop is really the key. Michigan looks like a well-drilled, legitimate defense.

The Wolverines apply a great double-team on Caleb Swanigan and force him to pass the ball out of the paint. Then Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman runs Ryan Cline off the line while Duncan Robinson not only stops Cline’s penetration, he is able to run Spike Albrecht off the line. Eventually Purdue gets a contested Carsen Edwards three-pointer and Duncan Robinson elevates for the rebound over Caleb Swanigan.

There were so many things that happened defensively in this sequence that would have sounded preposterous a couple months ago.

“Duncan in particular had one (great defensive rotation). I talked earlier with several of our guys. There was this pause in rotation that was killing us: ‘Where do I go?’,” Beilein said. “There was one where we ran a guy off the line, and Duncan made the perfect play to blow it up. His defense is getting better every day.”

As for the three-point make by Simpson, it had been weeks in the making.

“Xavier (Simpson) hitting that three in the corner—that young man is in the Davidson Player Development Center like every day,” Beilein said. “He’s just shooting and shooting and shooting. For him to see that ball go in like that was big for us.”

5. Derrick Walton puts the game away

When Michigan needed a big bucket late, it went to Derrick Walton. The senior point guard had a critical and-one layup with 4 minutes left and then hit a circus three-pointer after Purdue cut the lead to just 6. The shot at the shotclock buzzer probably had no business going in, but it was that kind of day for the senior.

“I silently thanked God because there was no reason I should have made the shot,” Walton said afterward. “It was probably one of the worst possessions we had all game.”

I’ve seen plenty of consternation about Michigan’s decision to slow the offense down late after getting the big lead. It’s true that Purdue cut a 22-point deficit to 6 in a matter of minutes, but some of that frustration is misplaced. Michigan’s offense might not have been perfect — and there were some ugly possessions — but it was still grinding out baskets.

Purdue came back not because of the Wolverine offense, but because Michigan stopped playing defense.

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.

After Walton’s three, Michigan finally turned around and got a couple of stops to finally put the game away.

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