In the first game, Derrick Walton Jr. won the battle of the point guards against Nate Mason. Walton led Michigan with 29 points as the Wolverines defeated the Golden Gophers 84-77. Mason chipped in 23 points in the loss.
Michigan got off to a huge start in the first half, but Minnesota eventually tied it at 55 midway in the second half. That is when Walton Jr. took over. Walton used his elite quickness and burst to get into the lane and finish at will. He also made several pull up clutch three’s. This was all Michigan needed to pull away late in the game. Walton showed why he is considered one of the best point guards in the Big Ten. He set up his teammates on several occasions. He also has the ability to elevate and chip in on the glass with the big boys. In addition to his 29 points, Walton added nine assists, five rebounds and two steals. He will be a huge factor if Michigan looks to make a run next week in the NCAA tournament.
Mo Wagner also provided stability in the post as well as on the perimeter. The 6-11 sophomore power forward made 6-of-7 shots, including two from three. Wagner had 17 points and four rebounds, all of this in just 18 minutes of action due to foul trouble. The other factor for the Wolverines was 6-6 senior shooting guard Zak Irvin. Irvin is at his best when attacking the lane hard, using his athleticism and length to his advantage. He has an ability to hit the three but has been inconsistent this season. Irvin finished with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Michigan is a very dangerous team on offense. The question for them going into the tournament will be can they stop the other team from scoring. Today they did a decent job until the game opened up at the end and Mason got several free lay ups. They will be in line for an eight or a nine seed depending upon how they do in the title game. That will provide them with yet another tough match-up in the first round, and especially if they advance from there. But at least they will avoid Dayton this time.
Wisconsin had its way with Northwestern in other semifinal. The Badgers cruised to a 76-48 romp. Northwestern struggled from the opening tip and never got any resemblance of offense going during the contest. Wisconsin out rebounded them 36-27, and shot 47 percent compared to the 35 percent of the Wildcats.
Leading the way for Wisconsin were its two post players Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Happ continues to be super-efficient and productive. He is always in the right spot at the right time. He has elite footwork in the post and is much stronger than he appears. He continually is around the ball and comes up with 50/50 balls at a exceptional rate. Happ had 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting, while also hitting 8-of-11 at the foul line where he normally struggles. He chipped in eight rebounds and kept countless possessions alive with his hustle. Happ may not look like the most intimidating or impressive specimen but he is a natural basketball player. His smarts and court awareness are already at a high level.
Senior forward Hayes had one of his most effective games of the season. He ended up with 18 points, ten rebounds and two assists. Hayes was working the mid-post game to perfection. Northwestern had no answer for him. He is an extremely physical player and if he can be consistent with his outside shot he has a good chance to succeed in the NBA. Hayes provides versatility with his size (6-8, 240) which is a match-up nightmare at the collegiate level. He is stronger than some centers and also has the ability to put the ball on the floor and create for himself or kick out to open teammates. While senior point guard Bronson Koenig struggled on the night the rest of the Badgers squad stepped up. Zak Showalter chipped in ten points and Vitto Brown tallied eight points and eight rebounds.
If Wisconsin can handle business tomorrow against a hot Michigan team it could be in line for a four or five seed in the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin’s tough and gritty style of play is a tough matchup for any team, but a team that might stand a chance is a team with an up tempo style of play like Michigan. Tomorrow should be a solid game to decide who will win the 2017 Big Ten Tournament.
This article was written by Greg Walter, a Correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
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