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Recapping the Big Ten Tournament Championship

What a wild ride! The Michigan Wolverines have defended their 2017 Big Ten Tournament championship by knocking off No. 8 Purdue 75-66. Moe Wagner was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2018 Tournament. Michigan will ride a nine-game winning streak heading into the NCAA Tournament. Let’s recap how it all went down.

Thoughts on No. 5 Michigan

Recapping the Big Ten Tournament Championship
Zavier Simpson’s all-around play catapulted Michigan to its second straight Big Ten Tournament title (Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press).

The unsung hero of this game for the Wolverines is point guard Zavier Simpson. Simpson left his fingerprints all over the game, scoring 10 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out five assists. Simpson dissected the Purdue interior defense, leading either Wagner or Jon Teske to the basket with pinpoint passes. Simpson’s patience and craftiness allowed him to penetrate the lane and find scoring opportunities in the paint.

Wagner, hindered by foul trouble most of the night, poured in 17 points on 63.6 percent shooting from the field. His perimeter game proved to be too great a mismatch for Purdue’s lumbersome big men. Wagner shot 50 percent from three-point range as Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms struggled to defend him on the perimeter.

The star of the first half for the Wolverines was sophomore center Jon Teske. Teske slowed down Haas after a fast start and poured in 12 first half points. He consistently found space in the interior of Purdue’s defense and feasted on easy dunks while working through the pick-and-roll. Teske ended the game with 14 points on six of nine shooting.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s consistent play on the wing was crucial throughout this tournament and will be critical moving forward into the big dance. Abdur-Rahkman has found his three point shot and that added dimension to his offensive game forces defenders to play him closer. This allows Abdur-Rahkman to work through high screens and gain easy access into the lane.

Abdur-Rahkman added 15 points on 50 percent shooting and recorded four assists. He knocked in three shots from beyond the arc as well.

One potential issue to note is that freshman forward Isaiah Livers went down early in the second half with a high ankle sprain. Thanks to the Big Ten Tournament being scheduled early, Livers will have more than a week to rest and recover. While Livers may only average four points per game, his aggressive on-ball defense is key for Coach John Beilein’s team.

Michigan’s stock heading into the NCAA Tournament should spike after their second Big Ten Tournament championship. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, they entered the title game as a projected number five seed. That projection ought to increase to either a four seed or potentially a three seed.

thoughts on no. 3 Purdue

Recapping the Big Ten Tournament championship
Isaac Haas’s big game was not enough to save Purdue’s title hopes (Julie Jacobson/AP).

Purdue entered this contest having defeated Michigan twice during the regular season. Purdue is a senior-heavy team, rolling out four senior starters (with Carsen Edwards being a sophomore). Regardless of their experience, Purdue fell short of their goal of bringing a Big Ten Tournament championship home and enhancing their resume in the process.

Michigan’s strategy heading into the game was to concede the obvious height advantage to Haas and Haarms. Rather than double-team the big men in the post, Michigan focused on limiting Purdue’s open looks from three-point range. Purdue feasted on Penn State from behind the arc, making 52.4 percent of their attempts from three.

It was a different story against Michigan’s top 10 defense. Purdue only made four three-point attempts throughout the entire game. Michigan’s perimeter defense limited Big Ten first team All-American Carsen Edwards to 25 percent shooting from the field and 12 points. Edwards struggled to find clean looks from the perimeter all night.

Regardless of Michigan’s defensive strategy, Haas had himself a day. He poured in 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds.

Dakota Mathias had difficulty finding space on the perimeter as well. Coach Matt Painter likes to run Mathias through numerous off-ball screens to free up the sharp-shooter. Michigan’s defensive communication and switching allowed the Wolverines to clamp down on these plays and contain Mathias throughout most of the game.

Purdue can only wait and see where the selection committee places them. The Boilermakers will most likely land a two seed or, at worst, a three seed.

Featured image by Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press.

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