Michigan went deeper into March than many fans thought they would. The turn around from January 1 to March 23 provided nigh-and-day differences. Unfortunately for Michigan fans the 2017 season was stopped at the Sweet 16. The Oregon Ducks out rebounded and out-grind the Wolverines on route to a 69-68 victory.
Michigan did not play their best basketball. It may even be fair to say their play slightly regressed with each passing game in the NCAA Tournament. Despite their ability to get the open look they wanted, with the ball in the hands of the player they wanted taking the final shot, Michigan’s Final Four hopes were squashed. The hottest streak of Derrick Walton Jr’s career (and his Michigan career as a whole) ended with a game winning three pointer falling short.
That last shot was fitting for the type of game this was. This is what we learned about the Michigan Wolverines in their final game of the season.
Rebounding was the difference
Michigan was out rebounded all tournament. They ran into some teams with length and athleticism inside which overpowered with forwards on the glass. Michigan fans knew this might be an issue coming into the game, or at least they should have.
Getting out rebounded comes with the territory of the offense Michigan played late in the year. When you have two forwards who can shoot and are a threat to take players off the dribble like Michigan does, you sacrifice your inside presence. It also does not help neither D.J. Wilson or Moritz Wagner are exceptionally physical on the glass and could be classified as below average rebounders.
Michigan and their head coach John Beilein was fine sacrificing some offensive rebounding to help bolster their transition defense. When you play an athletic team like Oregon, a team used to playing a fast pace offense, cheating in transition is not always a bad thing.
But the game came down to an offensive rebound grabbed by Oregon’s Jordan Bell in the final minutes of Thursday’s game. Bell was the most productive player on the boards for either team and it was not close. Michigan was out rebounded 36-29 and allowed Oregon to grab four more offensive rebounds than they grabbed themselves.
While the differential may not be staggering, the one that matter came in crunch time. Zak Irvin, who played an amazing game, had an opportunity to grab the miss, but went too far under the basket and did not have the position Bell had. Irvin was Michigan’s leading rebounder grabbing eight boards, but a ninth could have flipped the outcome of this game.
Moritz Wagner is human
The best way to describe Moritz Wagner’s outside shooting performance against Oregon would be saying he looked like he had his talent stolen by one of the aliens from Space Jam. As cliche as that sounds, its was like the stretch forward some fans thought might depart for the NBA this offseason was swapped out with someone who had never shot a basketball before.
Wagner did nothing for the final 12 minutes of the game as he was relegated to the bench for most of the second half. It looked like his post-game would be his go-to offense early on. Instead, the size of Oregon’s guards posed a problem for Wagner. Oregon’s length in the back court provided them with the ability to switch a guard comfortably onto Wagner down low.
Wagner has never been a bashful shooter. This game was a prime example of his lion heart bravery, tossing up bricks from beyond the arch on back-to-back possessions in the first half. His trip to the bench was warranted, although Duncan Robinson was not his vintage sharpshooting self for parts of the game.
The turnover margin.....enough said.
Michigan had done a great job holding onto the basketball this tournament. Early on it looked like the Wolverines were going to literally give the game away due to their inability to hold onto the ball. They were able to calm down and avoid a double-digit turnover game. Instead it was their inability to generate turnovers in this game that hurt them.
Michigan lost the turnover battle by a minus three margin. If this was football, that would be atrocious, but in basketball it is nothing major unless you are Michigan. The Wolverines defensive struggles plagued them all season until March. Michigan did have their defensive points per possession number slightly under one for a quick moment late this season. Their defense was based almost solely off generating turnovers.
When you cannot get stops and you cannot take advantage of turnovers, you will not win. Michigan did just that. Four Oregon players scored in double digits.
Derrick Walton Jr is a stud. It is unfortunate his tenure at Michigan ends with a missed shot that could have sent his team to the Elite Eight. Zak Irvin left it all out there in his final game as well, playing better than he had all year. D.J. Wilson had one of his better games shooting and Michigan fans cannot be upset with that.
Luckily for Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman he still has eligibility remaining because that is not the game you want to end a career on. MAAR gave his team next to nothing tonight. Any “Moritz Wagner to the NBA this season” talk can probably also end. Wagner showed he has a lot of work to do before he can make the leap professionally.
You can wonder why a timeout was not called in the final seconds of the game. You can hate on the lack of a rebounder on this team. It is truly unfortunate Michigan’s season ends without them playing their best basketball. It is over now, so enjoy the rest of the tournament.