Back on Dec. 6, the Michigan Wolverines—who currently sit at 9-3—were in a to-close for comfort battle with the Texas Longhorns.
The score read 51-50, Michigan, with 9.5 seconds left in the game. Texas was set to inbound the ball.
The Longhorns passed the ball into guard Eric Davis Jr. The burnt orange guard then drove to through the lane and put up a shot to try to steal a win away from the Wolverines. However, his shot never grazed the rim or any part of the hoop.
Davis’ shot was immediately blocked by sophomore center, Mortiz Wagner. That swat on Davis is one of the many examples of Wagner’s growth from his first year in Ann Arbor to now, this season.
There were times last season that Wagner was a little lost in transition. The lanky and slender big man from Berlin—he stands 6-foot-11 and weighs 240 pounds—struggled to fully figure out Michigan’s complex system and he dealt with foul troubles. Those issues kept him from seeing the court early and often during his first year as a Wolverine. But despite the sporadic playing time, Wagner did flash the potential he possesses.
The young German wooed Michigan fans with a 19 point performance against Charlotte during nonconference play and he didn’t miss a shoot during the last four games of the Wolverines’ 2015-16 season. Wagner went 9-for-9 for 22 points against Indiana and Purdue in the Big Ten tournament and versus Tulsa and Notre Dame during the NCAA tournament.
Through 12 games, Wagner has emerged as one of Michigan’s most vital players.
For the season, Wagner is averaging 11 points and 3.3 rebounds. The sophomore is one of three Michigan players who are average double-figures in points—Zak Irvin (13.9) and Derrick Walton (12.3). While averaging 11 points may not be all that eye-popping, the way he is recording that number will certainly open people’s eyes.
Wagner is shooting a ridiculous 68.5 percent from the field—good for fourth in the Big Ten—, and for a big man, an outstanding 56 percent from beyond the arc—tied for second in the conference. His 62.1 percent from the free line line is admirable as well. However, there’s always room for improvement in that area.
While Wagner has virtually topped his offensive and defensive production in almost every category—minus minutes and rebounds—from last season, he is enjoying the best stretch of his young career at the moment.
The young center has tallied double-digit points in six of the last seven games, while is averaging 13.8 points and shooting 75 percent from the field (39-of-52).
His efficiency and increased production has so far given the Wolverines an aspect that they have been missing for the past couple seasons—an inside presences.
Michigan hasn’t had a real inside figure who could contribute on the offensive glass since Mitch McGray—which was all the way back in 2012-13 season. As of late, the Wolverines have relied on guards like Chris LeVert, Irvin and Walton to do the bulk of the scoring. Adding another facet to their point production, like Wagner, just further helps out the maize and blue.
Although Michigan has seen tremendous improvement out of Wagner, his biggest downfall has been his inability to stay out of trouble. He hasn’t fouled out of a game yet this season, however Wagner has been called for 3-plus fouls in four of the 12 games this year. Taking a look at those four outings, they have been some of his most uninspiring contests this season.
Along with the foul trouble, he hasn’t seen more than 26 minutes in a game this season. These two aspects affect one another. Less fouls mean more time for Wagner and vice versa. That is certainly an area Jon Beilien and his staff must keep working on with Wagner.
Although Wagner’s production has increased this season, his energy hasn’t. His energy is present every time he steps on the court. When he’s on the bench, there is a noticeable difference in pace of play for Michigan.
Yes, Michigan has veteran leaders like Irvin and Walton leading the way. However, Wagner has had a major impact—maybe the biggest—on the Wolverines’ 2016-17 season. He has been making plays left and right. As long as he keeps improving throughout the course of the season, Michigan will continue to reap the benefits of Wagner.