Beating Wisconsin isn’t supposed to be fun. Wins over Wisconsin aren’t flashy shootouts like you might find on other days, they are grind-it-out 40 minute battles.

Want to beat the Badgers? Dig in, play defense and out work the most consistent team in the Big Ten. Michigan’s win over Wisconsin on Thursday night looked nothing like a typical Michigan win, it was a Wisconsin-style win that the Wolverines earned.

The Wolverines got off to a quick 8-2 start on Thursday night and it looked like just maybe we’d see another home blowout at the Crisler Center. Those dreams didn’t last long as Wisconsin settled into the game.

Zak Showalter took Derrick Walton’s ability to score away, and Ethan Happ played like what he is, one of the league’s best interior scorers. The Wolverines kept themselves in the game with timely three-point shooting and some big time moves by Moritz Wagner, but then opened the second half in a fog.

Coaches, pundits, fans and announcers love to preach about the importance of the first four minutes of the second half — and they aren’t wrong — and it looked like Michigan might throw another game away with how it started the second. The Wolverines turned the ball over and missed four jumpers in just over 2 minutes and found themselves down by 8.

Trailing 38-30 on its home floor with the season on the line, Michigan woke up, locked in and played Wisconsin’s game. The Wolverines allowed 38 points in the first 34 possessions of action, but held the Badgers to just 20 points in their final 28 trips up the floor — including 2-of-18 shooting to close the game.

Michigan won this game with its defense and picked up just enough second half contributions from two players who had been struggling. Zak Irvin snapped out of his slump with a banked in three-pointer at the shot clock buzzer and finished with 18 while senior big man Mark Donnal gave the Wolverines a terrific defensive shift off the bench that helped Michigan hold on.

Michigan’s offense wasn’t great, but Zak Irvin and Moritz Wagner got the job done. The Wolverines managed 1.03 points per possession, which is their third-worst mark in a win this season. The fact that Wisconsin outscored Michigan 36-24 in the paint will probably draw a lot of attention, but the fact is that the Wolverines managed to produce that 2-point scoring and actually outshot Wisconsin 52% to 45% inside the arc.

The story of this game was Michigan’s defense which held Wisconsin to just .93 points per possession. The Badgers shot just 44% inside the arc and 19% inside the arc. There’s no hiding that the Wisconsin offense had been slumping, and losing Bronson Koenig didn’t hurt, but Michigan should feel pretty good about its defensive performance.

Whether they were tactical, emotional or spiritual adjustments — probably a bit of everything — Michigan managed to change this game in the second half.

The Wolverines weren’t going to go down getting schooled by Happ and they were forced the double. The gamble paid off as it became very clear that the Badgers didn’t have the perimeter threats to beat Michigan as Hayes was 3-of-7, Brown was 0-of-5 and D’Mitrik Trice led Wisconsin in shot attempts and was 2-of-15. The double teams also led to unsettled situations and turnovers which jumpstarted Michigan’s offense to some easy points.

While Michigan had a number of sloppy giveaways in the first half, it turned the ball over just two times in the final 19 minutes of the game. Wisconsin’s 6 second half giveaways led to 10 Michigan points and were another key second half correction.

Suddenly there are some signs that this thing is starting to come together for the Wolverines. They’ve held three straight opponents below a point per possession, their best defensive stretch since the six games to open the season. They’ve also outscored Big Ten teams by 6.3 points per 100 possessions, that’s 4th best in the conference — better than Northwestern and Michigan State — and have added another quality bullet point to the resume.

There’s still plenty of season left and now this group has to finish the season with 4 of its last 5 games on the road, but a couple more wins and the Wolverines could have some real momentum headed into the postseason. Next up is a trip to The Barn, a venue where Michigan has fared as well as any Big Ten arena under Beilein. The Gophers are a defense-first team loaded with shotblockers that has won 4 games in a row, but also has shown its fair share of inconsistency.

Player Bullets:

  • Zak Irvin: Nothing is ever really straightforward with Irvin, so it was fitting that the shot which got him out of his slump was so ridiculous. It was no secret just how badly Irvin needed this performance, but I thought he worked his way into the game well. He had some strong takes to the basket early and didn’t force things that he didn’t need. Michigan needs Irvin to reach its ceiling and this game was a big reminder of why.
  • Derrick Walton: Walton didn’t shoot the ball well (1-of-8) and struggled to get his shot off over Showalter, but it’s hard to play a much better all-around game while shooting that poorly. He controlled the game as he handed out 8 assists, grabbed four rebounds and picked up 2 steals in the process. Maybe he forced some shots against tough defense, but he’s been so efficient lately that it would be a crime if he didn’t.
  • Moritz Wagner: Wagner made 3-of-6 triples including the late dagger, but he also had some great takes to the rim in the first half. He really carried Michigan in the first half, then seemed to get frustrated on both ends early in the 2nd before coming back in and making some critical plays to put the game away. It’s crazy to think that he scored 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting against one of the best big men in the conference, and there’s still so much further that he can develop on both ends of the floor.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-RahkmanAbdur-Rahkman hit arguably the biggest shot of the game, a three-pointer (+1) from his favorite spot on the floor the right corner that gave Michigan its final lead. Before that three though, he was really aggressive inside the arc (4-of-6 on twos) and scored on a number of curls and floaters around the rim and progressed into a reliable option whenever Michigan needed a hoop.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson’s two threes in the first half ended up being incredible important because they kept Michigan right there even when it seemed like Happ was scoring a layup every time down the floor. He’s still a weakness defensively, but I thought he help up fairly well against the Badgers and he also grabbed 3 rebounds in 20 minutes.
  • DJ WilsonWilson’s lone basket came on a dunk and he was pretty much invisible for 21 minutes. His most memorable play was the sloppy turnover to open the 2nd half and I’m guessing he’ll want to forget both games he played against Wisconsin this year.
  • Mark Donnal: Donnal played some critical second half minutes and provided what you’d expect from a senior big man off the bench. He had a big block and also grabbed 2 boards with a couple of other strong box outs. Michigan doesn’t need anything fancy from him and this was a step in the right direction.
  • Jon TeskeTeske had a humbled 2 minute shift against Ethan Happ that serves as a reminder of why he’s not quite ready: his 2 minutes featured: a foul, a turnover that led to a dunk, a fumbled pick-and-roll pass, a Happ spin move for 2, a turnover and another foul. Look, Happ is really good and he’s made other guys look silly (and Teske actually gave a couple minutes off the bench), but Donnal continues to be the more solid option as a backup.
  • Xavier SimpsonSimpson only played in the first half and had a nice dish to Mark Donnal that he fumbled. Beilein stuck with his experienced guards in the second and its hard to blame him given how previous games against Wisconsin have gone.
  • MLaw

    I will own up to thinking this team was done after OSU. I just didn’t see the fire this year that has saved many seasons in the past. I was wrong. Beilein still knows what he is doing and this team managed to pull out just enough to put themselves in a great position for the final five games. win 2 or 3 left and one in the BTT they will make it in without the play in.

    I am most happy for these seniors who have really taken ownership of this team. The future is bright with Wagner and Wilson, but this team can still make some noise on any given night. Excited to see how it ends, which I couldn’t say 12 days ago.

    • They are starting to click, but man you look back at some of those games — Virginia Tech, at Iowa, Ohio State — put those three in the bag and you are feeling *great* right now 20-6 (9-4) probably a 6 seed or something.

      But hey, every team is probably saying that at this point in the season.

      I think the 9-9 +1 BTT gets them in with no play-in game, but the next two are huge. A win at Minny would be a huge RPI boost and then you have to have to Rutgers game.

      • MLaw

        The Iowa game was the first one I felt like we would really want back at this point in the season, but OSU was the same way. The Virginia Tech game was early enough that it didn’t seem to be a disaster.

        The secret to our resume was that SMU win in New York. It was a marquee game even more than I expected. They may end up our best win, plus it was at a neutral site.

        • But the Virginia Tech game was won, such a frustrating loss that has to keep Beilein up at night.

          • MLaw

            Oh I remember that. I started celebrating before the end of the game just like the team probably did. That was a lesson in playing through the end of the game that they needed to learn.

            This team has some close losses that if they turned around the result we would be talking about this as a great bounce-back season for Michigan. Kenpom really likes Michigan and they have the ability to be a complete team if they all pull together at the same time.

          • MaizeBlue10

            If they had won the OSU game, we may be seriously talking about winning the conference if they beat Minny. Crazy to think but truth to that.

          • AC1997

            This year’s team is so much different than last year. Last season they won every game they were “supposed to win” but couldn’t beat any good teams. This year they’ve been competitive in every single game (even when it was ugly) except @USC, @UCLA, and @ILL. You could argue that they’re 2-7 in close games.

            For a while we were furious at that performance and thought they were cooked. Maybe another way to look at it was that they were a few possessions away from having a great season. VaTech, Iowa, and OSU stand out. Wish they had 2 of those as wins.

          • MaizeBlue10

            I think your second paragraph is an excellent point. The way they’re playing now, you can look back and argue they’re closer to having a great year than bad one.

            My biggest disappointment this year has been why couldn’t this team, with tons of experience, close out games when they held a late lead. Also, I want to say this was only their second win when trailing at any point in the second half.

          • Fab 5 Legends

            Agree, Virginia Tech L @ home was the most frustrating loss of the season…they went on a 10-2 run to end the game, something like that…@Iowa we had too but that’s the big ten – get a win @ Minn or nwestern and we will have a nice seed in the tourny

  • MaizeBlue10

    Tip of my cap to MAAR. Every game he’s not the top performer or lead guy, but man he just seems to pick up some big buckets.

    The story of the game is Irvin and Moe plus Walton and Donnal’s stretch. Yet, you may be able to cut up his buckets tonight and argue they were all big for each point in the game.

    • MLaw

      I wonder if he takes charge of the team next year as the “alpha dog”. It will be an interesting story for the off-season.

      • MaizeBlue10

        If nothing else, he may need to be the alpha dog for late shot clock situations. With Walton and Irvin gone, either he or Matthews will have to take that role.

        • AC1997

          I love MAAR and wish they ran more offense through him at times, but he is quiet and streaky. I like how much he’s improved his shot this season and I think he’ll be a key cog next year. But to say he’ll be the leader is optimistic. Same with Wilson – he is too reliant on other people for his success and still gets lost and quiet at times. Great role player, not a leader. This will be Wagner’s team – for better or worse.

      • The worry is that he just hasn’t emerged as a passer.

      • Fab 5 Legends

        I think Wagner/Wilson will be the vocal points of next year’s team…not sure what you have in Matthews yet…Rahkman will also be key player

        • Yeah, the bigs could be really special next year. Then you have Matthews with slashing ability (but can he shoot?) and bring in a bunch of guys who should be able to shoot it. Very odd roster for Beilein.

          • Fab 5 Legends

            Extremely odd lol usually his offense works through the PG and wings but with the talent down low – you have to think they will work the offense around them – considering X is a pass first PG, it will not be like Walton/Burke/Morris era…next batch of guards seem like scorers, then again it’s high school – X also dominated offensively offensively – BIGTEN different animal

          • AC1997

            I think Matthews will be a fascinating player to watch – and critical for next season as Watson clearly isn’t ready. Having Duncan around to balance those wing minutes will help ease the shooting concerns. Besides, if there’s one thing you can count on Beilein to do is maximize his players’ shooting ability.

            MAAR couldn’t shoot when he got to Michigan. He’s at 39% this season. Wilson couldn’t shoot and he’s at 38% this season. Matthews has had a full year in the program to work on it. I think he can hover around 30% next year – good enough for defenses to respect him.

          • AC1997

            Next year’s result will be determined by how X / Poole / Brooks perform at the PG spot. Even this season didn’t get going until Walton settled in and to have three unproven PGs driving the offense is scary.

            MAAR, Matthews, Robinson, Wilson, and Wagner will be a solid group. Livers should be able to play a few minutes at the 4 and contribute. Teske/Davis should be fine eating up the 15mpg that Donnal gets now.

            It all comes down to the PG play next year. Cross your fingers for X to make the leap to respectability.

          • Fab 5 Legends

            There will be some guys that will definitely have to wait their turn in a Beilein rotation. As you mentioned MAAR, Robinson, Wagner, Wilson, Matthews will all play…you would assume X/Teske to develop and get some burn after a year getting minimal minutes…wait and see what happens with Brooks, Watson/Poole, Livers/Davis…not enough time to go around in Beilein 7/8man rotation he typically plays…

          • AC1997

            Totally agree. Even when Beilein had 6 future NBA players on his roster along with Spike, Morgan, and Horford he kept a pretty tight rotation. I always roll my eyes during preseason when people predict a deeper bench. I think 8 is his magic number, with a 9th getting a few minutes.

            Next year you know the 5 starters and Matthews. You know you’ll need a backup center (Probably Teske). You know we need a back-up point guard so Brooks probably has a good shot at those minutes. That’s 8.

            But next year they don’t have as much positional flexibility with Irvin leaving. So they might need Livers to play a few minutes at the 4. I think Poole and Watson will have longer odds at getting minutes. Davis will get the McLimans 3rd center role.

          • WannaBeABaller

            A lot of us said the same thing at the end of last season, before the roster hemorrhaging. Hopefully that does not happen again!

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Fantastic win, team is really on a high…seniors stepping up, happy to see Irvin play well (he’s had a bad senior year, he’s got to finish strong, today was great step – Walton shot not goin in, Irvin is) Wagner/Rahkman playing great…this team is really meshing at the right time…with several important games up next we can really get a nice seed in the ncaa tourny…@minn, @nwestern, home to purdue all ncaa tourny builders…let’s keep it going! Go Blue!

  • Champswest

    Not a bad 3 game winning streak especially when it came against MSU, IU and Wisconsin.
    We have a lot of weapons and don’t need to have the same one or two guys carry us every night.

    • ChiMan

      You know, it just sort of hit me that this is our first three game win streak in the conference this season and it’s been against IU, Sparty, and Wisconsin. I’m just going to let that sink in for a moment!

  • Nice to see Caris, Josh, Jordan and Tim back at a game.

    • AC1997

      I should know this…..but who is Josh?

  • Keith

    By my calculations:
    1st half PPP: Wisc 1.00, Mich 0.97
    2nd half PPP: Wisc 0.86, Mich 1.09

    What a big swing!

  • MN Man

    Is anybody worried about Wagner leaving early this year? I’ve seen his name start popping up in mock drafts. A strong end to the season could mean him jumping early. If Jon Leuer can drop 20 for the Pistons depsite playing 0 defense, I can see Wagner doing the same.

    • What mock drafts?

    • Fab 5 Legends

      good point…but i dont see that happening, unless he takes Michigan for a nice run in the NCAA tourny…i think next year its his team, and will be #1 target and another year of polishing his talent and he will leave as a junior if he continues to improve

  • Harry Huntoon

    Duncan Robinson on defense against Wisconsin: 1st Half: Gave up a back door lay-up to Iverson, had two post-up stops, one against Brown, one against Iverson. (Gave up 2 points)…2nd Half: Gave up a rebound and a post up against Iverson; had two defensive one-on-one stops against Brown and Trice. He switched frequently in the 2nd half causing a turnover to Happ and had another switch and stop at the rim. It’s time to change the narrative on this guy…He gave up 4 points on defense in 20 minutes, caused a turnover and had 3 rebounds. Its hard to shake a reputation but he is doing it and no one is noticing.

    • Keith

      I agree – and I think next year it’ll get him a starting spot back. Wagner/Wilson/Robinson/Matthews/Simpson. His shooting will be key to provide spacing for what I dream will be a killer P&R combo of Matthews and Wagner.

      • bobohle

        Don’t forget MAAR.

  • Barth Applefeld

    Michigan won with defense! Music to everyone’s ears. I think this team has turned a corner, but will time will tell!