Michigan Basketball: Three Takeaways from the Nebraska win

Mar 12, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan Wolverine head coach John Beilein (R) talks with Michigan Wolverine guard Zak Irvin (21) during a timeout against the Purdue Boilermakers during the Big Ten Conference tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 12, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan Wolverine head coach John Beilein (R) talks with Michigan Wolverine guard Zak Irvin (21) during a timeout against the Purdue Boilermakers during the Big Ten Conference tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan basketball had a narrow victory against Nebraska on Saturday. Mo Wagner, Zak Irvin, and Derrick Walton star for the Wolverines.

Michigan basketball went into Saturday’s game against Nebraska sporting two straight losses and a conference record of 1-3. The Cornhuskers came with a plucky team, a squad emboldened by close losses against ranked foes UCLA and Indiana.

The Big Red aren’t as good as previous Wolverines opponent Maryland, but they were arguably better than a Illinois team that had blown out Michigan Wednesday.

Nebraska to be a good test for Michigan, but it never led in the ballgame. The Wolverines overcame a lackluster defensive effort with a return to efficient offense.

Moritz Wagner led the charge from behind the arc and added yet another punctuation dunk to his highlight reel. Zak Irvin, despite not shooting well, had one of his best games of the season. Derrick Walton Jr., quiet for much of the game, poured in 16 of his 20 points in the final seven minutes.

Michigan is at the bottom of the Big Ten standings, but the victory against the Cornhuskers has stopped the bleeding. The win gives the Wolverines some swagger heading into Tuesday’s contest against Wisconsin in a difficult environment against a ranked opponent.

On to to the takeaways.

Dec 17, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Moritz Wagner (13) fights for the ball with Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks guard Logan McIntosh (3) forward Isaac Taylor (35) and guard Dontae Caldwell (20) in the first half at Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 17, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Moritz Wagner (13) fights for the ball with Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks guard Logan McIntosh (3) forward Isaac Taylor (35) and guard Dontae Caldwell (20) in the first half at Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Mo Wagner played poorly against Illinois. Unlike a majority of Michigan games this season, the German simply wasn’t a factor.

So when Wagner hit his first 3-pointer after using a pass fake to free himself, there was a sense that the sophomore wanted to atone for his performance against the Illini. He did more than that, establishing himself as the high point man for Michigan while routinely punishing the Cornhuskers post players. Wagner finished with 23 points, 6 rebounds and a steal in addition to 2 blocks.

MORE: Michigan manages to squeak by Nebraska

It all starts with Wagner’s 3-point jumper. Shooting a 47 percent clip from behind the arc, the big man has the green light to fire away. So when Wagner starts hitting, it frees him up to drive to the basket.

Check out the monster throw-down at the 8:26 mark in the first half.

Wagner has a couple of options when he receives the ball in the high post. With his improved shot, there is always the threat of him stepping back to launch a 3

Wagner can also hand the ball back to Duncan Robinson, setting a screen that frees Robinson for a shot. The Nebraska defense overreacts to both options, so the German uses a drop-step to get to the cup.

Wagner’s basketball smarts continues to improve along with his post moves and handle. The Wolverines will definitely welcome his ability to create offense from the post, a rarity for Michigan bigs in the John Beilein era.

December 10, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Zak Irvin (21) passes the ball against the UCLA Bruins during the second half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

December 10, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Zak Irvin (21) passes the ball against the UCLA Bruins during the second half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

For much of his Michigan career, Zak Irvin has had the ball in his hands. The Indiana native is the Wolverines’ go-to guy with the shot clock winding down, even if this doesn’t play to his strengths.

That’s not to say Irvin doesn’t have handles, check out how he sheds a Nebraska defender.

Yet Irvin’s strength involves minimal dribbling. His signature shot at Michigan has been a dribble or two into a pull-up elbow jumper, and he has fared poorly when forced to create a shot solely of his own making.

Recently, however, Michigan has played to Irvin’s strengths by taking the ball out of his hands. With a long frame and big strides, the former Indiana Mr. Basketball is a great cutter. The first play of the game was an Irvin layup, set up by him stepping in front of his man in the lane.

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Irvin is also great at coming off screens, receiving the ball, and going right to the basket for layups. His straight line ability draws defenders, allowing the small forward to hit teammates for easy buckets.

He already has seven games with 5 or more assists this season, compared to just five last year. The Irvin-Wagner pick-and-roll is especially effective in producing quality looks. Irvin going to the basket also leads to free throws, where he is an 80 percent shooter.

Irvin continues to struggle from deep, but if the rest of his play remains consistent, it won’t matter on a Michigan team full of shooters. The senior finished with 21 points, 7 assists, and 5 boards.

Dec 17, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks guard Thomas Rivera (2) dribbles defended by Michigan Wolverines guard Derrick Walton Jr. (10) in the first half at Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 17, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks guard Thomas Rivera (2) dribbles defended by Michigan Wolverines guard Derrick Walton Jr. (10) in the first half at Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Walton’s first points against the Cornhuskers seemed to be a good omen. The senior stepped into a 3-pointer, launched as Jeriah Horne ran into him, and sank it. Walton stepped to the line and hit the ensuing free throw for the rare four-point play.

This was with 13:56 left in the first half. After that, the Detroit native seemingly disappeared. After getting in foul trouble, Walton sat the bench as Xavier Simpson got extended run.

Things didn’t look much better as Nebraska threatened with seven minutes left. Walton stepped to the line with the Cornhuskers down three. He missed both free throws, remaining scoreless since the four-point play.

Nebraska then pulled within one after consecutive buckets. Walton, finally coming to life, hit a decisive 3 that sparked a Wolverines run. Seemingly tired of a bad performance, the senior kicked into another gear. Walton hit a pull-up jumper on a fastbreak, then hit a bomb from deep as Nebraska went to a zone. Determined to leave a mark on the game, he then stole the ball on Nebraska’s next possesion and made the ensuing free throws.

Despite logging under 30 minutes, Walton finished with 20 points, 3 assists, and 3 boards. Walton will be key in Tuesday’s game against Wisconsin, as he will be charged with facing up against a hot shooting Bronson Koenig.

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