Moritz Wagner provides offensive spark for Michigan

Orion Sang

After leading for more than 38 minutes, the Michigan basketball team coughed up its lead late in the second half to lose in heart-breaking fashion against Virginia Tech, 73-70.

Without the early second-half efforts of Moritz Wagner, though, it was entirely possible the Wolverines would’ve been trailing much earlier.

The sophomore forward was the only source of Michigan offense for the first six minutes of the second half. After the Wolverines jumped out to a nine-point halftime lead behind hot shooting — in particular from Zak Irvin — it was Wagner who took his turn carrying the load.

Wagner’s first basket came after a two quick baskets by the Hokies cut Michigan’s lead to five. He received the ball with his back to the basket, before pivoting quickly and spinning past his defender to lay it in with his left hand.

A minute-and-a-half later, the Wolverines’ lead had shrunk to two, but Wagner was there to respond. In what has become a common sight, the sophomore ripped through the lane, blowing past defenders for another off-hand layup.

Then, after Virginia Tech’s Zach LeDay cut the Michigan lead to two once again, Wagner countered, laying it in after diving to the basket and receiving a pass from Derrick Walton.

Michigan coach John Beilein said recently that Wagner’s improved perimeter shooting has opened things up for him on the court, and that sure seemed to be the case against the Hokies.

“(Wagner) was actually surprising off the bounce,” LeDay said after the game. “We knew he was a shooter, we knew he could roll to the basket and finish but we didn’t know he was off the bounce like that.”

“We knew he was a shooter, we knew he could roll to the basket and finish but we didn’t know he was off the bounce like that.”

But despite the success in attacking the Virginia Tech big men during that personal 6-0 run, Wagner was quiet the rest of the way, going scoreless after a free throw with 12:24 left. He would finish the game with 11 points on 5-6 shooting, his third-highest point total this season.

It was yet another game in which Michigan’s starting ‘5’ failed to play over 20 minutes — he’s only gone over that mark once, against Mount St. Mary’s last Saturday — though the reasoning this time may have been impacted by factors beyond his control.

Wagner has been subbed out early and often this season, usually after committing a quick foul to start the game, but there was no such case against the Hokies. Wednesday, the starter in foul trouble just so happened to be DJ Wilson, who played just 11 minutes and eventually fouled out.

Wilson’s length, athleticism and instincts help make up for any of Wagner’s shortcomings on defense, part of the reason why the two have seen the floor together often this year.

Without his normal frontcourt partner, though, Wagner was left to defend against the quicker and smaller Hokies with mostly Duncan Robinson at the ‘4’ and the trio of Walton, Irvin and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman in the backcourt.

And with Michigan simply looking for stops against Virginia Tech in the second half, that may have been the nail in the coffin for Wagner’s playing time (it certainly didn’t help that Wagner was dealing with an illness all day, either).

“Scoring points wasn’t as big as trying to stop them,” Beilein said after the game. “Right now, Mark’s a better defender. In defense of Mo, Mo’s been sick all day, didn’t feel good. He was doing alright taking the ball to the basket.

“We drew him up (a play) at the end, that’s where the walk call was … Huge call in the game, when he walked (while) driving down the lane. We were trying to drive their big right to the basket like we did a couple of times. Unfortunately, that was a walk call and a huge turnover in the game.”

Wagner should have no trouble recovering from his illness. The harder task will be earning the trust of his coach on defense, in addition to cutting out the quick foul problems that have plagued him early in games this year. But if Wagner improves quickly enough in those areas, his playing time could spike.

After all, the Wolverines — and now LeDay and Virginia Tech — already know just how dangerous their ‘5’ can be on offense.

“Moe’s a tough player to guard inside,” Robinson said. “I think we’ve got to utilize him more moving forward. And I think he definitely showed his capabilities tonight — or a glimpse of it — and I’m sure you’ll see it a lot more moving forward.”

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Completely agree, we need Wagner & Donnal to get more touches…what ever happened to pick and roll, and dump it in to the big, or some basic cutters and feed them the ball going to the rim…we continue to settle for jumpers and we work the ball around the 3pt line too often…Beilein needs to adjust – our wing play has not been impressive

    • Switching every screen pretty much negates the pick and roll, at least the roll part. Michigan actually was doing a pretty good job of attacking the rim for most of the game. They did a lot pretty well for most of the game. Just a trainwreck down the stretch.

      • bobohle

        I also think when they get rattled or pressured the players revert back to the old stuff which they think they are most comfortable with.

      • Fab 5 Legends

        gotcha, i only caught the ended of the game – it seemed like they were doing the same thing in the South Carolina game.

        I think we will be alright come BigTen season…Beilein is a fantastic coach in my opinion…he will adjust and considering like you mentioned we were attacking the rim most of the game…i think they got the message…would have loved to see Irvin attack the rim in Ann Arbor, game on the line….ref would help on a foul call…imo….

        Similar to that Ohio state/Michigan football game…you know if it was in Ann Arbor we would have got several of those calls :)

  • bobohle

    I agree Wagner needs to be in the game more with more touches. I also think it’s time to give Teske some of Donnal’s minutes. For being a senior Donnal is not where he needs to be in his development plus consistency. He does not look in basketball shape either. One thing that bothered me from one Of JB’s pressers last week was he stated Watson and Simpson needed to work on fundamentals taught at basketball camps. He recruited them. Shouldn’t he have known that going in? Did anyone else notice Wilson arguing with JB after his fourth or fifth foul last night?

  • bobohle

    Does anyone else notice that Zak shoots the ball from the base of his palm like a shot put instead of his finger tips. This should be correctable but difficult to do if he’s been doing it from the beginning.

    • Fab 5 Legends

      Hes been doing that since his freshmen year…even how the shot comes from an angle to generate power…its weird but im sure as you mentioned hes being doing that all his life…its hard to change something that has been working in high school even though its not working all that well in college…hes the definition of a streaky shooter

  • Mattski

    Would like to hear some discussion re: coaching philosophy about getting stops down the stretch versus continuing to score points. Because if a team that thrives on a loose, freeflowing style is suddenly clutching its breeches. . .

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Hard to compare Morgan/McGary to Donnal/Wagner & Trey Burke/Tim Hardaway/Stauskas to Walton/Irvin and Wagner/Donnal….but i felt those guys perfected the pick and roll game….Trey would find Morgan all the time for easy bunnies, Stauskas game was at another level his sophmore year with Morgan setting him screens…our offense ran very smoothly…

    this current crop has to try to emulate…i know its not fair to compare because that talent was superior but Beilein offense worked like magic….