Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Michigan’s Moe Wagner, D.J. Wilson Lead ‘Team of Destiny’ to Seventh Straight Win to Reach Sweet 16
INDIANAPOLIS — Moritz “Moe” Wagner and D.J. Wilson embraced near the Michigan basket following their latest win, the seventh straight for this “Team of Destiny.”
The two roommates had just combined for 43 points to lead No. 7 Michigan to a thrilling 73-69 win over No. 2 Louisville at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to advance to the Sweet 16 in the Midwest Region.
“We’re very close, we work so much together,” said the 6-foot-11 Wagner, who scored 17 of his career-high 26 points in the second half when Michigan outscored Louisville 45-33. “We did some similar things so it’s beautiful to see others being successful and very happy that the team in general could be successful, too.”
The Wolverines, who last week won the Big Ten Tournament in Washington, D.C., by winning four games in four days following a plane wreck in Michigan, will face the Oregon-Rhode Island winner in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City.
In their last five games, Michigan has beaten five straight NCAA Tournament teams: Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State and Louisville.
Wagner was the emotional driving force for Michigan (26-11), pounding his chest after one basket in the paint and sticking his tongue out after his only three-point attempt, which he made.
“He’s got this mentality where he just wants to make a play we feed off of him so much because he’s got so much energy,” said point guard Derrick Walton III, who had 10 points and 7 assists.
“He’s got the Cojones to go make a big play. We just feed off of him because he’s not afraid of anything.”
The 6-10 Wilson was huge, too, going for 17 points, including a perfect 4-of-4 from the line for his team’s final four points.
Two days ago, Louisville coach Rick Pitino called Michigan the Golden State Warriors because of their barrage of three-pointers in the win over Oklahoma State.
But in this game, Michigan shot just 6-of-17 from deep while getting 40 points in the paint.
“We only shot six threes today and we won, it’s awesome,” Wagner said. “I think we played gritty basketball and we should be proud of that.”
Said Walton: “We did other things to put the ball in the hole and it was effective.”
Both Wagner and Wilson probably helped their NBA stock with this performance, too.
“Both played great games,” said Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com. “An impressive performance against a very strong opponent.”
Said one NBA executive: “Both have really matured and developed this year. I would think both will stay another year but they both were already on people’s radar.”
Added another NBA scout: “DJ is talented and athletic, good touch on his shot, needs to improve physicality and defense but he usually plays with good energy. Moe is a skilled offensive big. I think both need another year of seasoning and rounding out their games but you have to acknowledge their growth.”
For now, though, the “Team of Destiny” will march on looking for its eighth straight victory.
As he passed the Michigan players in the press room, Pitino told them,”Good luck, guys. Good luck.”
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.