In the months leading up to the 2017-’18 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing a new series called the 'BTPowerhouse 25,' which features the Top 25 players in the Big Ten as voted by members of the staff. All players set to be on Big Ten rosters for next season were eligible during the staff vote with their top selection receiving 25 points and their 25th and final selection receiving 1 point.
Today's edition will take a glimpse at Moritz Wagner of the Michigan Wolverines, who checks in at No. 5 in the rankings. Wagner passed on the 2017 NBA Draft in order to be the unquestioned go-to option on the 2017-‘18 Wolverines.
'BTPowerhouse 25' - #5 Moritz Wagner:
- Eligibility: Junior
- Career Totals: 68 games, 1,166 minutes, 544 points, 206 rebounds, 24 assists
- 2016-’17 Averages: 23.9 min, 12.1 pts, 4.2 rebs, 0.5 asts, 0.4 blks, 1.0 stls
- Positional Role: Forward/Center
No one made more of a late-season improvement than Wagner and the Wolverines in 2016-’17. Michigan put together an average regular season, going 20-11 overall, including 10-8 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines were firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble as March Madness got underway with the Big Ten Tournament. However, when the Wolverines were taking off for the tournament in Washington D.C., their plane slid off the runway, causing them some nervous moments and throwing their whole tournament off kilter.
Michigan turned it into a unifying moment, rallying to win the Big Ten Tournament title and earning a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The run continued with a 92-91 first-round win over No. 10 Oklahoma State and a 73-69 upset of No. 2 Louisville. Unfortunately, Michigan’s magical March came to an end in the Sweet 16, where the team suffered a 69-68 loss to No. 3 Oregon.
Wagner experienced a similar late-season rise. The 6-foot-11 forward was solid all season, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition from the Big Ten coaches and media. But Wagner really broke out and put his name in the NBA Draft discussion with his postseason performance.
Wagner looked like a modern stretch big man in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 13.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, including scoring a career-high 26 points in the upset of Louisville.
Overall, Wagner averaged 12.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game during a breakout sophomore season in which he played 23.9 minutes per game. Wagner took his NBA Draft decision all the way to the deadline before announcing he was returning to Ann Arbor.
At 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot wingspan, Wagner’s difference-maker is that his skill-set allows him to be a matchup problem. Wagner moves very well for a big man and can handle the ball sufficiently when trying to create his own offense.
He’s also a solid shooter from deep, connecting on 39.5 percent (45-114) of his three-point attempts in 2016-’17. That’s still hard to defend for many NCAA teams who don’t have the frontcourt athletes to get out and defend someone with Wagner’s skill-set.
Wagner can shoot over the top of most of his defenders, while also showing the ability to beat them with one or two dribbles, should they close out too hard. He also became proficient in the pick-and-pop, something that will be made harder this year after the graduation of Michigan point guard Derrick Walton Jr.
Depending on the moment, another one of Wagner’s strengths is his attitude. He appears to be highly confident and can be emotional on the floor, which leads to personal scoring runs and big games. Feeding into that emotion should help Wagner now that he is Michigan’s go-to offensive threat.
Areas for Improvement
While Wagner’s strengths all rely on his ability to stretch the floor as a big man, it’s his inside skills that need some developing. Wagner weighed in at 231 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine in May, but he clearly needs to add some bulk in order to bang with some of the better big men in the Big Ten — and potentially in the NBA some day.
He doesn’t need to be huge, but adding a little strength will go a long way in helping him on the defensive end and on the glass. His rebounding needs to improve after he grabbed just 4.2 rebounds per game last season. While some of it is a lack of base and strength, he also doesn’t seem to attack the glass too enthusiastically. That can be an innate desire, but Wagner has the ability to improve his rebounding numbers significantly if he turns more of his attention to it.
Shot creation will also be tougher for Wagner now that Walton (15.5 points per game), Zak Irvin (13.0 ppg) and D.J. Wilson (11.0) are all gone. A lot more defensive attention will be placed on Wagner, and he’ll need to find a way to create one-on-one. Michigan had open three-pointers all over the floor last year, but those shots aren’t going to be as easy to find for Wagner and the Wolverines this time around.
Wagner should be one of the better players in the Big Ten all year long. He’ll need to be for Michigan to be successful after the departures of Walton, Irvin and Wilson.
Wagner’s offensive prowess alone is enough for him to earn first-team or second-team all-conference honors, depending on how many wins the Wolverines can accumulate.
If Wagner can fill out his all-around game by improving his rebounding numbers and defensive ability, he will go a long way in improving his NBA Draft standing. It’ll be interesting to see how the NBA Draft picture turns out, as Wagner likely won’t be in the public eye as much as he was last March. But if continues the rapid growth that he showed last year, he could find his way to the end of the first round in 2018.
‘BT Powerhouse 25’ Rankings:
- #26-31 - Players That Just Missed The Cut
- #24 - Juwan Morgan (Indiana Hoosiers)
- #24 - Dakota Mathias (Purdue Boilermakers)
- #23 - Jordan Bohannon (Iowa Hawkeyes)
- #22 - Anthony Cowan (Maryland Terrapins)
- #21 - Reggie Lynch (Minnesota Golden Gophers)
- #20 - Kevin Huerter (Maryland Terrapins)
- #19 - Carsen Edwards (Purdue Boilermakers)
- #18 - Robert Johnson (Indiana Hoosiers)
- #17 - Isaac Haas (Purdue Boilermakers)
- #16 - Tyler Cook (Iowa Hawkeyes)
- #15 - Justin Jackson (Maryland Terrapins)
- #14 - Jaren Jackson (Michigan State Spartans)
- #13 - Corey Sanders (Rutgers Scarlet Knights)
- #12 - Jae’Sean Tate (Ohio State Buckeyes)
- #11 - Tony Carr (Penn State Nittany Lions)
- #10 - Scottie Lindsey (Northwestern Wildcats)
- #9 - Amir Coffey (Minnesota Golden Gophers)
- #8 - Jordan Murphy (Minnesota Golden Gophers)
- #7 - Nick Ward (Michigan State Spartans)
- #6 - Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern Wildcats)
- #5 - Moritz Wagner (Michigan Wolverines)
- #4 - to be continued...