Rushed Reactions: Michigan 84, Minnesota 77Posted by Chris Stone on March 11th, 2017
RTC’s Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) is providing on-site coverage of the Big Ten Tournament in Washington, DC.
Three Key Takeaways:
- Good offense beats out good defense once again. With 12:17 remaining in the second half and the score tied 55-55, Michigan’s Duncan Robinson caught a pass in the left corner, took one shuffle dribble to his right, and rose up to drain a three-pointer over a pair of Minnesota defenders. Robinson’s three was significant not only because Minnesota was unable to close the gap again after it went down, but because it was the latest remainder that in college hoops, good offense beats good defense. The Gophers came into the game with a top 15 defense based on adjusted efficiency, but Michigan’s top 10 offense was simply too good in getting to its desired spots and knocking down shots when the ball got there.
- Derrick Walton, Jr. can help carry Michigan in March. If there’s one March mantra that always seems to come true, it’s that good guard play is imperative to a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Well, Walton could be the latest senior point guard to add his name to a long line of those who have carried their teams into the second weekend and perhaps beyond. Walton was methodical, frequently directing traffic while calling for ball screens to attack Minnesota’s defense, en route to 29 points. He made sure to let the Gophers know about it, too, by talking trash on his way back down the floor.
- The Wolverines’ interior defense may still prove to be a problem. For as good as Michigan’s offense can look, its defense does not. For the second straight day, the Wolverines struggled to stop a team inside the arc. Michigan frequently gave up dribble penetration that often resulted in layups or dump-off passes for easy baskets. Minnesota center Reggie Lynch also had a field day, scoring 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. Add in 15 offensive rebounds for the Gophers and it’s easy to find the thing that could doom the Wolverines in a single-elimination tournament. It just wasn’t enough today.
Star of the Game: This award pretty easily goes to Michigan’s Derrick Walton. In addition to 29 points, he added nine assists and five rebounds. As Walton shot a couple of free throws near the end of the game, one Michigan fan hollered, “That’s the best point guard in the Big Ten right there.” With Maryland at home, there was nobody left to dispute his claim.
Quotable: The theme that was pervasive during the press conference of Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino centered around how difficult it was to adjust without guard Akeem Springs on a one-day turnaround. The senior suffered an Achilles injury during Friday’s win over Michigan State, throwing the Gophers’ traditional rotation into turmoil. “We’re a totally different team now with Akeem out,” Pitino said, before explaining that the coaching staff is going to have to teach a few players new positions. “That was tough to come back with Akeem going down,” he noted. “Regrouping is the best for us right now. We’ll be excited to go home and then get excited about Selection Sunday.”
Sights and Sounds: It was always a bit of an odd decision for the Big Ten Tournament to be played in the nation’s capital. With only Maryland located even remotely near the city, there were rightfully plenty of jokes made and questions raised about how many people would show up. With the Terrapins eliminated on Friday night, those voices got even louder. The Verizon Center, though, was reasonably full for the showdown between Michigan and Minnesota this afternoon. It wasn’t the same type of environment that surrounded last night’s Maryland contest, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the jokes would have you believe.
What’s Next: Michigan moves on to face the winner of Wisconsin-Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament final while Minnesota heads home to await its Selection Sunday fate. The Gophers will be in the Big Dance, but where they end up seeded is up for debate.