The Michigan Wolverines are a tough team to figure out at times. They have a number of capable scorers and rarely turn the ball over (9.1 per game is fewest in the nation). Yet the scoring can be erratic, along with the defense. This is evident by their middle-of-the-pack marks in the Big Ten in overall offense and defense.
But there’s two guys in particular who have stepped up big time in 2016-17 that are opening things up for head coach John Beilein – the emergence of Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson.
The German-born Wagner last year as a freshman averaged just 8.6 minutes per game and just under 3.0 points. It’s remarkable what added playing time and an improved role can do for any player. Wagner this year is having a sophomore surge, the opposite of a slump. His minutes per game are nearly tripled and the 12.2 points per game are 3rd on the team, right behind senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. in that department. He’s coming off a career-high 23 points against Nebraska and he’s now hit double-figures in 11 of the last 13 games played.
Not to be outdone, D.J. Wilson and his short shorts have drastically improved their totals from a season ago as well. The junior out of Sacramento is averaging close to 11 points per contest, putting him behind the aforementioned Wagner in the scoring column for the Wolverines. Through his first two seasons in Ann Arbor, Wilson in 31 games played averaged just 2.3 points. In 18 games this year, he’s nearly quintupled that. The answer? Same thing as Wagner – increased playing time. Wilson is playing just a tick under 30 minutes per game this season.
Individually, they are serious threats on the floor. But Beilein has to be just drooling at times when both the 6-foot-11 Wagner and the 6-foot-10 Wilson are creating havoc. More than anything, it’s their ability to step outside and knock down three-pointers with supreme confidence. Wagner (47.9 percent) and Wilson (46.5 percent) rank No. 1 and 2 on the team in three-point shooting among Wolverines that have played in every game this season. Some teams are fortunate to have one sharp-shooting big man, but two is embarrassment of riches.
Looking a little more inside their numbers – Wilson has developed more of a post presence early on, his 6.4 rebounds per game lead the team (Wagner with 3.4 – 4th on the team). Wagner is a lot more efficient when he’s on the floor, seeing just under 22 minutes per game and ranking 3rd in scoring for Michigan. Both are above-average free throw shooters for big men, particularly Wilson who is 24/28 on the year (85.7 percent | Wagner: 37/51, 72.5 percent). And going back to their outside shooting? They find a nice balance of field goal attempts inside and outside the arc. Both have attempted 131 field goals through 18 games, only 32.8 percent of Wilson’s attempts are from downtown, while Wagner’s ratio is at 36.6 percent.
It’s super encouraging to see if you’re a fan of the Wolverines. Coming into the season, it was a struggle to figure out where the scoring would come outside of Derrick Walton Jr. and the team’s leading scorer, fellow senior Zak Irvin. A front court tandem of Wagner and Wilson is helping keep Michigan right in the thick of things in the unpredictable Big Ten.
**Stats courtesy of ESPN and Big Ten