Michigan basketball is going as far as Moe Wagner can push, and that was clear as ever in the Wolverines’ Big Ten Tournament win over Nebraska on Friday. They’ll play Michigan State on Saturday for the right to play in the conference championship game a day later.
They wouldn’t be here without their junior center. Wagner had 20 points and 13 rebounds against the Huskers, a complete effort to avenge Michigan’s 72-52 loss to Nebraska in January. He wasn’t the only one responsible for Michigan’s success, as Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman poured in 21 points and Duncan Robinson had 16.
But Wagner’s all-around performance can’t be ignored. He did everything for John Beilein’s team, including score its first 8 points of the day. Wagner only had 2 points in Michigan’s January loss to the Huskers, and he was on a dang mission on Friday.
Wagner was everywhere, and Nebraska’s defense didn’t have an answer
I mean, how many college centers can do this?
You have to respect @moritz_weasley's shot.
That being the case, a pump fake can lead to a @umichbball highlight finish.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 2, 2018
Wagner dragged his defenders out to the 3-point line and hit shots when they wouldn’t follow him.
Wagner was 9 for 16 from the field, including 2 for 4 on 3-point attempts. Wagner has helped carry the load for this Michigan team all season, and he’s going to be an essential part of whatever comes next for the Wolverines. Speaking of that, the No. 1-seeded Spartans are now on the horizon after their 63-60 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament’s first game on Friday.
This is what Michigan’s center does. His 14 points and 7 rebounds per game lead the team, as does his 40 percent shooting mark on 3-pointers. He takes as many shots as anyone on the team while leading it in true shooting percentage (62) and effective field goal percentage (61). Wagner is Michigan’s engine.
Michigan State is up next, and Michigan will need everything it can get from Moe Wagner
Michigan is one of three teams that can say it beat Michigan State this season, doing so by a score of 82- 72 in East Lansing in January. No one’s topped the Spartans since, though Wisconsin came close on two occasions.
It’ll be Wagner’s toughest test yet, as Michigan State tough big men such as 6-foot-8, 250-pound Nick Ward at center and 6-foot-11 NBA draft darling Jaren Jackson Jr. at power forward. Ward is physical enough to match up with anyone, and Jackson’s athleticism and length are problems for anyone. Wagner was up to the challenge last time, though, as he put up a season-high 27 points in the teams’ January matchup.
Moe Wagner will need help from his teammates
Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews and Abdur-Rahkman joined Wagner in double figures the last time these two teams played. He’ll need similar support on Saturday.
A defensive effort like the one that helped hold Nebraska to 30 percent shooting from the field for an entire game on Friday would go a long way too. Michigan’s defense is ninth in KenPom’s efficiency rankings, so even if the game against the Huskers was an extreme example, the Wolverines can bear down. Against Michigan State, they’ll have to.