It’s easy to attribute Michigan’s NCAA Tournament bid to a single shot: sophomore guard Kam Chatman’s already legendary 3-pointer against top-seeded Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Friday.
Chatman, deservedly, walked away from the weekend an unlikely star. He had made just seven 3-pointers on the season before a case of mistaken identity left him with the ball in his hands and time ticking down, and his game-winner left fans around the country with an early taste of the madness March is known for.
But two other shots were equally instrumental in shoehorning the Wolverines into the 68-team NCAA Tournament field.
One shot came Thursday against Northwestern on a play that Michigan coach John Beilein calls “Magic,” a set for redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson to find space around the perimeter. Many might have expected Beilein to call Robinson’s number, but the audacity of the play call stood out.
Michigan perfectly executed the sneaky set, in which Robinson inbounded the ball from the sideline, gave it to junior forward Zak Irvin curling along the baseline and then took the outside route on a screen from sophomore forward Ricky Doyle to give himself enough space for a shot after Irvin gave the ball back.
Without Robinson’s trey and Beilein’s play call, Chatman would never have been in a position to play hero the next day.
“I think Stan Van Gundy was probably the coach of Orlando at the time, and I was just there watching an NBA game one time,” Beilein said on “Inside Michigan Basketball,” his weekly radio show, on Monday. “The Magic needed a 3, and Orlando ran this play for J.J. Redick. So I looked at it, and I said, ‘We’ve got to run that play.’ To this day, we’ve called it Magic.”
Beilein said he first installed the play three or four seasons ago for Tim Hardaway Jr., now with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. But the Wolverines hadn’t used the play before Friday, when Beilein drew it up for Robinson during a frantic, late-game timeout.
“It’s not even out there on a scouting report the last three or four years,” Beilein said. “We drew it up, we practice it once a week, at least — it seems like Duncan makes it every time. But when (Northwestern center Alex) Olah came out on him, Olah was huge. And Duncan, when we looked at the shot, the ball went a good three or four feet above the backboard, and Duncan’s shot usually arcs out below the backboard. So he had to put extra on it, and he just buried it.”
It was a lot of faith to put in Robinson, a transfer from Division III Williams College. The moment wasn’t too big for him — nor was his shot the next day against Indiana, which tied the game at 69 to set up Chatman for the game-winner moments later. That Robinson 3, while equally instrumental, came on a more orthodox play call.
Beilein discussed yet another non-Chatman shot that the Wolverines simply couldn’t have done without on Monday: Irvin’s overtime jumper with time winding down against Northwestern, which came just minutes after the unexpected Robinson 3.
“He loves that moment,” Beilein said of his decision to give Irvin the ball for the overtime period’s final play. “I had dialed him up two or three plays before in the Northwestern game, and he missed the shot, and he wasn’t having a great night. And I said to myself, ‘Why do I keep dialing him up? I’ve got to do something else.’ ”
Luckily for Michigan, Beilein’s idea to stay away from Irvin in the final moments didn’t stick around for long.
“When we wanted to run that last play, (Northwestern) knew what we were running,” Beilein said. “It’s a play we run once or twice, at least, a game. I said, ‘Who do I trust out there right now to make this shot or make the right decision?’ Because (Doyle) was open rolling to the basket as well. He was wide open. I said, ‘It’s Zak.’ So I went to him, and it certainly paid off.”
Michigan is hoping no such late-game drama is necessary Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, as it takes on fellow 11-seed Tulsa in a First Four play-in game. The Wolverines’ bus embarked on the three-hour drive Monday night — a trip that could end Wednesday night with a loss or last through Sunday if Michigan can get through Tulsa and then No. 6-seed Notre Dame on Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y.