By popular demand, here’s a look back at Michigan’s win over Wisconsin. (Apologies for not running a standard recap on Sunday night, but the convergence of live basketball, post-game media and the NCAA Tournament Selection Show is a lot to juggle).
The most impressive aspect of Michigan’s performance was how it put the Badgers away down the stretch. Wisconsin is a team that doesn’t fold down the stretch and always seems to make just enough big shots to stick around. On Sunday night, they hit those shots for around 35 minutes, but then Michigan snapped the game open.
At 51-45 with just over 6 minutes left, it was a ‘here we go again’ moment as John Beilein called timeout. The Wolverines answered with a Zak Irvin three as the shot clock expired. Wisconsin would try to answer a few more times, but Michigan countered, countered and then put the game to rest.
The final 90 seconds featured transition dunks, layups and awkward windmill layups rather than the nervy moments that have played out down the stretch in just about every other game between these two programs.
Michigan’s 1.19 points per possession against the Badgers was one of the best marks that I can remember for a Beilein team against the Badgers (the 2012 home blowout is the only thing that comes close).
The Wolverines made most of their first half threes, then went cold before knocking in a few critical ones in the second half, but the two-point shooting splits tell the story. Michigan made 68% of its shots inside the arc, Wisconsin made just 39%. Even in its new and improved defensive state, this isn’t a U-M team that is known for its interior defense and the fact that it outscored Wisconsin 30-28 in the paint is a badge of honor and a legitimate sign of progress.
The halftime adjustment to slide DJ Wilson onto Happ worked better than I think anyone expected, as I wrote in the takeaways piece, it was his call to make the move. Wilson being able to provide serviceable defense at the five spot opens up a wealth of opportunities for John Beilein to tinker in the postseason.
The Michigan defense also continues to force turnovers and parlay them into easy offense. Wisconsin gave the ball away once every four times down the floor and Michigan scored 17 points off turnovers and 8 fastbreak points. Michigan has now forced turnovers on at least 20% of its opponents possessions in 5 of the last 6 games. The deflections and turnovers are a product of the fact that Michigan’s defensive rotations are on time and correct, something that felt like it might have been impossible in January.
The only complaint with Michigan’s performance would be on the defensive glass where it allowed Wisconsin to rebound 39% of its missed shots. The rebounding wasn’t always great, but there was also a lot of volleyball action where Happ or Hayes just couldn’t convert multiple tip-ins on the same possession. Wisconsin only scored 11 2nd chance points off of 14 offensive boards.
Michigan scored 1.15 points per possession and allowed .97 points per possession over its four games in Washington, D.C. That’s not only a hell of a week, it’s pretty much on par with its per possession totals in the Championship Game. This team is playing its best basketball heading into the post season — winning 10 of its last 12 — but single elimination means single elimination as Michigan State learned the hard way last year.
- Derrick Walton: When what would have felt like a career game two months ago feels normal, you’ve elevated your game exponentially. 22 points, 7 assists to 1 turnover and 6 rebounds by your point guard. Two months ago it would be a running gag if Walton hit basically any two-point shot, now you just expect him to make every stepback jumper in the book after four or five crossover dribbles.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson played two of the best games of his career in D.C. and this was one: 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and block while guarding an All-Big Ten center for much of the second half. He still has his moments where he shies away from contact, but to play this well against the Badgers after he was so bad in the first two meetings is an encouraging sign.
- Zak Irvin: About the only thing Irvin did wrong in this game was miss two late front-ends at the line. He was otherwise lethally efficient while holding the Michigan defense together at the same time. Irvin has gotten back to attacking the rim and it has worked out for him. He’s actually been good in this area all year, but he was 11-of-12 inside of 5 feet for the weekend in D.C. Irvin also had several great passes out of the pick-and-roll game including a beautiful lob to Wilson late.
- Moritz Wagner: It wasn’t a great night for Wagner despite knocking in his first three of the game (he missed his next four), but he finished with 7 points on 3-of-7 shooting. Safe to say he was exhausted by the end of the weekend, but I thought he also did a good job of banging with Happ when he was on the floor.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson’s only basket was a big one — a three to put Michigan up 10 in the final 5 minutes — and it was a play that Michigan players called for him rather than from the bench.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: This was the 2nd straight quiet night for Abdur-Rahkman, although he was limited with foul trouble in the first, but he’s developed a real chemistry leaking out into transition for Walton to find. I’d expect that to be critical against an Oklahoma State team that has terrible transition defense.
- Xavier Simpson: Simpson still has a ways to go, but he’s more aggressive and comfortable enough to stem the tide if a guard gets into first half foul trouble. That’s good enough for now, but it’ll be interesting to take a step back and look at his play down the stretch and try to figure out what it means for next year.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal played only 4 minutes and less than 1 in the second half — another sign that the DJ Wilson at the five is here to stay.