By Joe Stapleton | 2013-14 Season | Posted on March 6, 2014 at 11:11 am
It’s been close to a month since the last Bracket Watch. Since then, Michigan has reeled off four wins in a row. The Wolverines completed the season sweep of Michigan State, won on a last-second shot in overtime at Purdue and most recently clinched the outright Big Ten title with a road victory over Illinois. (Photo: Dustin Johnston)
There’s no doubt about it: Michigan is trending up. The Wolverines are projected right on the two-three seed border and trending toward the 2-seed range. Conventional wisdom holds that Michigan needs to beat Indiana at home in order to inch its way closer to 2-seed range.
Michigan’s non-conference opponents aren’t performing at the highest level – Duke, Stanford and Iowa State have all dropped games recently – but Michigan is poised to leapfrog several of those teams (potentially Duke and Iowa State) on the s-curve. At this point their struggles help the Wolverines, who have the No. 5 ranked strength of schedule, more than hurt them.
If Michigan beats Indiana at home on Saturday, they are all but guaranteed a three seed. A few wins in the Big Ten Tournament, combined with some solid finishes from its non-conference opponents, could land Michigan a two seed. There’s more discussion on just what’s possible for Michigan’s seeding in the bracket debate. For now, things are looking up for the Wolverines.
After the jump we have an in-depth look at Michigan NCAA tournament resume, predictions from notable bracketologists as far as Michigan’s potential seeding and a discussion of how other Big Ten teams are faring in the most recent bracket projections.
By Dylan Burkhardt | 2013-14 Season | Posted on March 6, 2014 at 9:26 am
Michigan closes the regular season by hosting Indiana yet again this year. Last year’s loss to the Hoosiers certainly motivated the Wolverines’ NCAA tournament run, but the sting of defeat never quite disappeared after Jordan Morgan’s tip rimmed out in the final seconds.
There won’t be as much on the line this season as Michigan wrapped up the Big Ten Championship outright on Tuesday and Indiana’s bubble hopes appear to have popped with a home loss to Nebraska on Wednesday.
But the Wolverines are still playing for NCAA tournament seeding, revenge from last year’s disappointment and the chance to send Jordan Morgan off with one more victory. Here’s a closer look at where Indiana’s main rotation players are most effective.
Note: All shots are from Big Ten games only because Indiana played LIU Brooklyn, Chicago State, Samford, Nicholls St., Kennesaw St. and North Florida in non-conference play. I also ran these numbers before Indiana’s loss to Nebraska (a service to Yogi Ferrell who was 4-of-14, but a detriment to Troy Williams who made 3-pointers number 2 and 3 in Big ten play).
Where Indiana Shoots
Indiana’s offense problems are quickly apparent from a high level examination of its top five shooting options. The Hoosiers just don’t have very many diverse offensive weapons.
Ferrell is the only Indiana player to make more than 18 threes in Big Ten games and Sheehey is the only other legitimate three-point threat. Three of Indiana’s top five offensive threats attempt over 60% of their field goals in the paint. The Hoosiers are easy to guard because they are one dimensional.
Indiana doesn’t have a corner three point threat either. While the corner three isn’t a closer shot, as it is in the NBA, it’s still critical for offensive spacing. The Hoosiers are just 17-of-43, 39.5%, on threes from both corners in conference play. The lack of a corner three-point threat means that Indiana’s offense can’t space the floor and opposing defenses can pack the lane and over-help at the basket.
Lost in the hype surrounding Nik Stauskas making his definitive case for Big Ten Player of the Year on Tuesday night in Michigan’s 84-53 blowout of Illinois was the strong play early on of Derrick Walton. Outside of two-point shooting, the freshman had a great night. Walton only hit one of his four two-point attempts but hit his only attempt from beyond the arc for nine points. Along with his seven rebounds (two offensive) and five assists to no turnovers, this was probably Walton’s best performance since Michigan’s win over Ohio State. The Detroit native asserted himself early in this one, hitting this 3-pointer in the first play barely two minutes into the game. The breakdown for Illinois here is pretty obvious — Rayvonte and Kendrick Nunn just blow a switch on the off-ball screen Derrick Walton sets for Caris LeVert. LeVert cuts back door instead of using the screen, and both Nunn and Rice follow LeVert toward the basket. Walton simply fades to the 3-point line, receives the pass from Jordan Morgan and hits the open three. The second play shows how Walton continues to be in the right place at the right time for long offensive rebounds, as a LeVert three attempt bounces back out to him. Walton smartly slows things down and allows the offense to reset — and then turns on the jets. Rice falls asleep on a gentle nudge from LeVert at the top of the key, and Walton takes advantage by driving on him and his help, Nnanna Egwu, before hitting the and-1 layup. Finally, Walton corrals his second offensive rebound of the night with great anticipation.
By Joe Stapleton | 2013-14 Season | Posted on March 5, 2014 at 10:26 am
It’s alright if you still can’t believe it. Even John Beilein couldn’t quite wrap his head around it after the game. (Photo: Dustin Johnston)
I’m not talking about Michigan winning its first outright Big Ten championship since 1986. While it’s hard to believe it’s been that long, Michigan fans have been coming to terms with this possibility for a few games now. In fact, at this point, it was expected that Michigan wrap up the title race, if not in this game then in the next one.
What Beilein couldn’t quite understand, and what could possibly be difficult for any diligent basketball observer to understand, is what Michigan did in the first half of its 84-53 shellacking of Illinois on Tuesday night in Champaign.
The Wolverines scored 52 points in the first half, more than Illinois’ past four opponents had scored the entire game. Michigan’s effective field goal percentage was a staggering 87.5, aided by its 11-for-14 shooting from beyond the arc. The whole thing had an element of the unbelievable to it; how could a team possibly play this well?
“Right now, I’m trying to put it together, how we could have played that well tonight,” Beilein told reporters after the game, standing on a court his Michigan team had so decisively conquered just an hour or so earlier.
Of all the blissfully incomprehensible occurrences during Michigan’s romp through Champaign, it was Nik Stauskas whose myth grew the most legendary. Stauskas scored 24 points on 11 shots, including seven made 3-pointers. The sophomore was utterly unstoppable against a team that prides itself on, well, stopping people. The Illini are ranked 14th in the country in defensive efficiency and had shut down Michigan State, Nebraska, Minnesota and Ohio State in their last four games.
Michigan’s game at Illinois on Tuesday night was supposed to be a defensive struggle. It turned out to be a victory lap.
Facing an Illinois defense that had held its last four opponents under 50 points, Michigan was unfazed. The same Michigan team that been outscored by 61 points in the first 10 minutes of its last six games, wasted no time taking control. The Wolverines scored 52 points in the first half and it took Illinois all 40 minutes to match Michigan’s first half total.
In a season that’s been defined by close victories, Michigan flipped the script in its biggest moment yet. The Wolverines led by as many as 33 points and left no doubt in an 84-53 victory. The 31 point margin marked Illinois’ worst loss in Assembly Hall (now the State Farm Center) history.
Michigan is the class of the conference and Nik Stauskas is the league’s best player. Stauskas could barely miss, connecting on 8-of-11 shots – including a career high seven threes – and finishing with 24 points in 31 minutes.
For the first time since 1986, Michigan will sit alone at the top of the final Big Ten standings.