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It was utterly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. 

The Michigan men’s basketball team was already leading by 20 points when sophomore wing Franz Wagner slashed across the lane and flipped up a runner over the outstretched hand of an Iowa defender. It fell to put the Wolverines up 22. Again, with just over a minute remaining, the basket bordered on trivial. 

And yet, it epitomized everything Wagner did well against the Hawkeyes on Thursday night.

Coming in, the game was rightfully billed as a matchup of two heavyweights — Michigan’s star freshman Hunter Dickinson and Iowa’s National Player of Year candidate Luke Garza. By the end though, much of the talk centered around Wagner. 

“No one wanted to stop him. You know Franz’s competitive nature,” senior forward Isaiah Livers said. “He sees any type of gap, he will drive it. … He has the best touch in the whole country.”

Wagner unleashed his full offensive repertoire en route to a team-high 21 total points on 9-for-12 shooting — his fourth consecutive game over 50% from the field. Whether it was hitting threes in front of the Iowa bench or using his long strides to get to the rim, Wagner looked virtually unguardable. 

Wagner added about 15 pounds of muscle and even grew an inch or two in the offseason. Now listed at 6-foot-10, 220 lbs, he has a significant size advantage on most defenders, which comes in especially handy on his patented drives into the paint.

“I think it’s harder for people to push me around when I’m driving to the basket,” Wagner said. “I get to my angles (more easily) that I want to take to the basket. … But it’s also something you gotta learn how to use. The first couple games of the season you (could) see me struggle with people taking charges and things like that. I’ve done a good job of being controlled but still being in attack mode.”

As a freshman, Wagner rarely initiated the offense. He was almost always the recipient of his teammates’ passes rather than the one dishing them out. This season though, he’s taken on more of a ball-handling role and shown flashes as a lethal facilitator — especially off ball-screen actions. 

In recent games, whenever Wagner was met with a hard hedge off a high pick-and-roll, he managed to thread a bounce pass to his big man rolling down the lane. On multiple occasions against Iowa, Dickinson was the beneficiary. 

“We had a really good meeting,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “The coaches will tell you, a strong emphasis of mine was we gotta get Franz better in ball-screen actions. Franz has always been the type of guy who loves getting in the gym and working on his game. … He’s accepted it, he’s got better and better with it. I’m not surprised. Someone who works on it, good things happen.”

The Hawkeyes were thoroughly outclassed by Michigan on Thursday and Wagner was a major reason why. He’s always had the necessary skill set to have offensive outbursts, but doing so efficiently and on a consistent basis was the next step in his evolution. 

Without Wagner, the Wolverines still have enough firepower to get by on most nights — but when he plays like he did against Iowa, they go to another level. 

“This is what was expected out of Franz Wagner out of everybody,” Livers said.

“When he’s aggressive and he’s locked in, we definitely are the best team in the country.”