Wolverines get ready for Purdue in Big Ten Tournament Championship

Sunday, March 4, 2018 - 3:39am

Junior forward Moritz Wagner will likely look for his 3-point shot against Purdue's switching defense.

Junior forward Moritz Wagner will likely look for his 3-point shot against Purdue's switching defense. Buy this photo
Katelyn Mulcahy/Daily

The Michigan men’s basketball team has righted its wrongs on its way to the Big Ten Tournament Championship game.

The Wolverines beat Ohio State in their final home game, avenging perhaps their most heartbreaking loss of the season — the Buckeyes came back from a 20-point deficit to beat Michigan in December.

Then, in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines beat Nebraska, avenging their most lopsided loss of the season — the Cornhuskers beat Michigan by 20 in January.

Now the Wolverines have beaten every team in the Big Ten, except one: Purdue. The Boilermakers beat Michigan by a combined five points in the teams’ matchups this season.

The two games were arguably two of the best performances the Wolverines have had this season, but they still came up short.

The Daily breaks down some key plays from the teams’ most recent game — in West Lafayette — and takes a look at what Michigan could do to overcome Purdue in the third meeting.

Isaac Haas is a very large man. He’s 7-foot-2, 290 pounds to be exact.

With that being said, it is very hard to prevent him from doing what he wants. And what he wants is to catch the ball with his back to the basket, turn over his left shoulder and use his right hand to shoot from in close.

Against the Wolverines, Haas did that early and often. In fact, he did so on the very first possession of the game, as shown in the video above.

When all was said and done, Haas scored 24 points in this game on 10-for-14 shooting. Eight of those made shots and 16 of those points came in the same fashion, over his left shoulder with his right hand. 

One time throughout the whole game, Michigan forced Haas to turn the other way, using his left hand for the hook shot.

It wasn’t pretty…

That was it. That was the one time the Wolverines made Haas go the other way, and he left it about a foot short.

Of course, it is much easier said than done. If Michigan overplays too much to one side, Haas will turn around, force the defender behind him and just dunk it. 

And it can’t be overstated just how large Haas is. Even if a team plays perfect defense against him, he has the ability to overpower the defenders to get to his right hand.

But if the Wolverines do want to stop the big man, forcing him to his left hand may be a good way to do it.


Defensively, the Boilermakers were one of the first teams to switch all ball screens against Michigan. In the first matchup between the two, the Wolverines struggled against the look. Junior forward Moritz Wagner struggled in the post against smaller guards, and Michigan’s main offensive response was to shoot over top of Haas and Purdue’s backup center Matt Haarms.

In the second matchup, the Wolverines got more creative with attacking the switch.

In the second half, Michigan went on a bit of a scoring tear. Much of that came off of ball screens with the ball hitting the bottom of the net via different strategies.

Here, Wagner does take advantage of his smaller matchup. He did this against Michigan State on Friday too, setting up shop in the right midpost, faking patience and then spinning quickly to his left and slicing to the basket.

It’s a move that combines Wagner’s quickness with his size advantage over whatever guard has switched onto him. He’s exhibited it many times throughout the season, so look for him to use that move, especially if he’s being guarded by P.J. Thompson — like he is in the video —  or Carsen Edwards.

This basket is a direct result of the one in the previous video. In fact, it came on the very next possession.

Wagner sets another ball screen for sophomore guard Zavier Simpson, and Thompson switches onto him again.

But Thompson remembers what just happened, so he makes an impromptu switch with Vincent Edwards, who is late, and Wagner drills an open three.

Now, this is a somewhat rare occurrence. The Boilermakers are usually a sound defensive team. But I included this clip because it shows what Wagner’s post threat can do to a defense that switches ball screens. If he can make his physical presence felt in the post, then the smaller guys will feel less comfortable, and it could open up Wagner’s perimeter game.

In their two matchups with Purdue, it seems the reverse may be true for the Wolverines’ guards.

It stands to reason that if a quick guard is matched up with a bigger, slower defender, they should try to drive straight past him. That, too, is easier said than done, and in both games against the Boilermakers, Michigan’s offensive success has come more from shooting over top of big men. 

Of course, that strategy works when you’re on fire, and senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was as hot as he’s been all season in West Lafayette.

Here, he gets the switch off a ball screen, and like the first game, he simply shoots over top of Haas.

This isn’t the most sustainable form of offense, but if it works it works. Abdur-Rahkman scored 26 points in this game, and 18 of them were from beyond the arc.

Theoretically, the shooting should also make Haas take a step further out, giving the guards an even greater advantage if they choose to drive to the hoop.

But Haas is still an athletic big man. The Wolverines attacked Haas on several occasions, but many of their shots were still contested, and not as many as they’d like went in.

Simpson has shown he can make some shots like that, and Abdur-Rahkman has sometimes done the same. But Haas still has the ability to affect shots even when it seems a guard has him beat.

Michigan’s success, or lack there of, in slashing past Haas to the basket could be a big factor in this game.

All in all, the Wolverines and Boilermakers played in two of the most entertaining Big Ten games of the season. Both teams have big men who pad the stat sheet — albeit in different ways — and players around them who can shoot the lights out or go off for 30 points of their own. Both teams also play tough, disciplined defense.

This one has all the ingredients for another entertaining matchup.

Except this time, it’s for all the marbles.