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'It's showing now': Michigan's Franz Wagner putting two-way play on display

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

When Chaundee Brown arrived in Ann Arbor and went up against Franz Wagner for the first time, it didn’t take long for the sophomore wing to make a strong impression.

“Oh my god, he's a pro,” Brown said after Sunday’s win over Northwestern. “I feel like a lot of people don't really see that in him, but he's a pro.”

Wagner’s work ethic and skill set. The way he carries himself and maintains his body. All of it impressed Brown from the start.

Franz Wagner (21) had a career-high five blocked shots in Michigan's win over Northwestern on Sunday.

“He jokes around off the court but when he’s on the court, he's locked in, he’s serious,” Brown said. “Our first practice, me and him were going back and forth at it and I really like that because I saw the potential that he had. It's showing now.”

As No. 10 Michigan continues to get better and better with each passing game heading into Wednesday night’s tilt against No. 16 Minnesota, so does Wagner.

After a slow scoring start, Wagner is seemingly hitting his stride and has strung together three straight double-digit performances: season-high 20 points at Nebraska, 19 points at Maryland and 14 points against Northwestern.

While Wagner has continued to find success attacking the rim and finishing around the basket, he’s also found his 3-point shooting stroke, which adds another threat to Michigan’s potent offense. Over the past three games, Wagner is shooting 36.8% from beyond the arc (7-for-19) and has made at least two 3-pointers in each contest, something he did only once in the first six games.

“It’s not really much about the points for me. It’s more about getting the right shots, making the right decisions,” Wagner said. “I think I did a decent job (against Northwestern). I think I did a better job against Maryland, but it definitely helps a lot when some shots fall and you kind of get into a rhythm. Overall, it’s very hard to guard us when we move the ball like we did, move bodies like we did. That opens a lot of things for me and other people as well.”

More: 'It was beautiful': Rolling UM gets a boost seeing family in the stands

According to assistant coach Saddi Washington, it was only a matter of time before Wagner’s offense would pick up and his offseason work would show up.

“He made some great strides in this offseason to put himself in a position to where he is now,” Washington said Monday on the “Inside Michigan Basketball” radio show. “What people are seeing now in these last few games is what we've been seeing in the build-up in practice, in the nonconference and getting ready for the (Big Ten) season. This isn't a surprise to us at all.

“I think what people really should be taking notice is his two-way play, him being a two-way player. Because not only is he doing it on the offensive end, he's doing it at a pretty high level on the defensive end as well.”

That’s what impressed Michigan coach Juwan Howard the most of Wagner’s complete performance against Northwestern, one Howard wouldn’t say was Wagner’s best as a Wolverine because he’s “had so many good games, I’m not counting.”

In addition to the 14 points, Wagner stuffed the stat sheet with 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals. He also recorded a career-high five blocks, with two of those swats leading to a shot-clock violation turnover.

“Those blocks on their shooters, those blocks on protecting the basket, it was just inspiring,” Howard said. “His level of being locked on the attention to detail, locked in on the scouting report, studying his opponent, knowing their tendencies — the guy is an architect.”

Northwestern coach Chris Collins said Michigan’s size, physicality and length bothered the Wildcats, naming Wagner and citing his ability to challenge shots late several times.

Senior guard Eli Brooks and Brown have experienced similar struggles against Wagner in practice. Brown noted Wagner’s long arms, lateral footwork and ability to “beat you to the spot” make it tough to score against him, while Brooks said Wagner has done a better job of defending without fouling and making opponents score over his length.

It’s all played a role in Wagner’s goal to become one of the top two-way players in college basketball — a pursuit he’s starting to put on full display.

“He's been very serious from the start of making some steps forward on both sides of the ball coming into this season,” Washington said. “It's like when you come in as a freshman as skin and bones but then you start lifting weights and you start walking by the mirror and you start seeing yourself getting bigger and bigger. I think that's the same kind of thing that's happening with Franz right now.

“As his game is growing, he's looking like, 'Man, I can really get stops. I can really defend. I can really score the ball at all three levels.' Now it's fun to him because he's doing some things he wasn't doing previously and now he's seeing his game expand. We're the beneficiaries of it because he has that giving spirit and because he's willing to sacrifice and do it on both ends of the floor. He just wants to impact winning.”

No. 16 Minnesota at No. 10 Michigan

Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: BTN/950

Records: Minnesota 10-2, 3-2 Big Ten; Michigan 9-0, 4-0

Outlook: This is the first of two matchups between the teams over a 10-day span. Michigan has won the past six meetings in Ann Arbor. …All five of Minnesota’s conference games have been against ranked foes and both of its losses have come on the road — at Illinois by 27 points and at Wisconsin by 12 points. The Gophers are led by redshirt junior guard Marcus Carr (22.1 points, 5.9 assists) and junior center Liam Robbins (14.2 points, 2.8 blocks).

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins