3 Keys to Michigan’s Final Four Run

3 Keys to Michigan’s Final Four Run
3 Keys to Michigan’s Final Four Run

Whether you expected it or not, Michigan is back in the Final Four for the first time since 2013. The Wolverines have defeated Montana, Houston, Texas A&M, and Florida State to make it to San Antonio. While this might not sound like the most arduous road, March Madness is wild, and to win four games against any teams in the field is impressive.

Think of all the teams that came into this year with high expectations that didn’t make it this far. Duke, Michigan St., and Arizona were all preseason favorites that didn’t sniff the Final Four. Arizona and Michigan St. didn’t even make it out of the first weekend. Virginia, the consensus No. 1 seed, was blown out by UMBC (a 16 seed). The point is, March Madness is a crazy and unpredictable tournament; so reaching the Final Four is an incredible milestone no matter the circumstances.

Winning the NCAA tournament is straight out of hell. You have 6 games between 3 different cities, but if you play a bad one night, it’s a flash and then boom.. your season is over. People don’t grasp that it’s the hardest title to win in sports.

— ✖️isaiah!✖️| 4️⃣5️⃣ (@FourWitTheFive) March 26, 2018

Now, many will call Michigan’s run so far lucky, or benefiting from not playing any blue bloods. While they were lucky to avoid North Carolina and Xavier out of the West Region, they still defeated the teams who upset the aforementioned teams. Admittedly, Michigan has only played its best in 1 out of 4 games so far, but if anything that should be chilling to their remaining opponents. Michigan hasn’t played its best, yet here we are.

Michigan showed some rust but eventually fought off a bad Montana team. After that, they had a down to the wire thriller with criminally under-seeded Houston. And again, I’ll never get tired of showing Jordan Poole’s game-winner:

JORDAN POOLE FOR THE WIN pic.twitter.com/oIyDXJ3ZgW

— Michigan Sports Zone (@MichSportsZone) March 18, 2018

After surviving Houston, Michigan throttled Texas A&M in one of the most lopsided games of the tournament thus far. This was the one game where Michigan truly played well in all facets. In the Elite 8, Michigan fought off the stingy, upset-minded Seminoles to earn a trip to San Antonio. Let’s delve a little deeper and see what have been the keys to Michigan’s run so far.

Defense, Defense, and More Defense

This Michigan team does not fit the mold of a typical John Beilein team. They aren’t dependent on the 3, and they don’t view defense as an afterthought.

In the NCAA Tournament, Michigan held Montana to its worst offensive outing of the year, Houston to its fourth-worst, and FSU to its worst. And Texas A&M? They lost by 27.

— Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) March 25, 2018

As Drew Hallet stated above, Michigan’s defense has been unreal this season. The typical Beilein mold has been shoot first, ask questions (on defense) later. However, another important facet of what makes Beilein a great coach, he admitted his shortcomings this year with the hire of Luke Yaklich. Beilein gave Yaklich the keys to the defense this season, and boy has it paid off.

According to KenPom, Michigan ranks 4th in adjusted defensive efficiency. This is by far the highest of any John Beilein-led team. The last one of his teams to rank in the top 40 in adjusted defensive efficiency was, you guessed it, the 2013 team.

Michigan has held its opponents to 59 ppg and a meager 37% from the field in its 4 games so far. The defense all starts with Zavier Simpson. His ability to neutralize the opponent’s primary ball handler is huge. And trust me, this is not a fluke. Simpson has been hounding opposing guards all season long since he took control of the starting job. In the postseason alone he has shut down Cassius Winston, Carsen Edwards, Rob Gray, and TJ Starks. In those 4 games, Simpson has held his counterparts to a paltry 28.8% from the field.

The defense goes beyond Simpson though. Charles Matthews is a lock-down defender. Isaiah Livers has sacrificed his offensive contributions to be a stalwart on defense, especially in rebounding. MAAR has been solid, and even Duncan Robinson is much improved. The only relative weak spot in the defense is Wagner. His propensity for picking up stupid fouls is troubling and mitigates his offensive capabilities at times.

John Beilein on Mo Wagner

“Don’t give him too much credit. He still has some of the dumbest fouls I’ve ever seen. And he’s so important to us. And I’ve got to find a German way to tell him that fouling is stupid. So, maybe out there somebody can tweet that to me.”

— Dan Feldman (@DanFeldmanNBA) March 2, 2018

If Michigan can continue to play stifling defense in San Antonio, they will have a great shot at winning the title.

Offensive Balance

The beauty of Michigan’s offense (if you can find beauty in a team’s that’s averaged only 70.5 ppg in the tournament), is that it’s not reliant on just one guy. It’s not like Michigan teams of old who relied on Trey Burke, Caris Levert, or Derrick Walton Jr. to carry the offense. Now, that’s not to say they’re “win-by-committee” like Florida St. either. It’s pretty clear that Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Moe Wagner are the go-to scorers. MAAR’s unparalleled ability to finish at the rim and Wagner’s ability to stretch the defense are two major facets of the offense.

That’s not to say that Michigan relies on these two guys, however. Let’s go back to the Round of 32 games against Houston. The play that produced Poole’s glory shot was actually drawn up for Rahkman. Michigan actually ran the exact same play against Maryland down the stretch. In that situation, Rahkman was fouled and hit two clutch free throws to beat Maryland. His willingness to pass to Poole, however, is indicative of the balance Michigan boasts on the offensive end.

Another great example is Michigan’s play down the stretch against Florida State. With the game on the line, the ball was not forced to MAAR or Wagner. Instead, Simpson beat his man 1v1 for the easy deuce. On the very next possession, Simpson again beat his man and kicked it to Duncan Robinson for the dagger 3.

Another telling stat of Michigan’s offensive balance? They are 28-0 when Duncan Robinson scores 6 or more. It’s not just one guy that carries the load. Charles Matthews was virtually invisible in the latter stages of the Big Ten season. He’s now averaging 16.8 ppg in the NCAA Tournament. Jordan Poole went from being the hero against Houston to playing 2 minutes against FSU.

The maturity and unselfishness on the offensive end have certainly contributed to Michigan’s success so far.

Swagger and the Desire to Win

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s just a different feel to this Michigan team. If you would’ve told me at the beginning of the season that this Michigan team would have the most wins in school history (32 and counting), I would’ve called you crazy. Now, however, it doesn’t look all that crazy.

The growth and maturity of this team is a testament to the great coaching staff Beilein has assembled. This team looks completely different from the identity-less team that put up 51 in horrid performance at Northwestern. They’re a world away from their blowout loss to Nebraska early in the Big Ten season. The unselfishness of this team and the willingness to sacrifice for one another has elevated this team to the next level.

3 Keys to Michigan’s Final Four Run

Now, it’s great that this team has bonded over the course of the season, but the thing that sets them apart is their fire. Sure everyone wants to win, but have you ever seen a Michigan team this in tune with their emotions? Wagner produces elite facial reactions on a daily basis. Jordan Poole throws up gang signs and dances on the bench. The bench goes crazy for a walk-on’s chance in the spotlight.

What a moment for @baird_cj. Started as a student manager and turned into a walk-on as a freshman this season. Can now say that he made a three-pointer in the Sweet 16. The bench’s reaction makes it so much better, too. pic.twitter.com/YCOEmA1gUi

— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) March 23, 2018

The swagger of this team is unmatched. John Beilein even admitted it. For an under-the-radar, calm and collected coach such as Beilein, his Wolverines sure are playing with a championship-level passion to succeed.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. Michigan’s defensive prowess, offensive balance, and “overdose of swagger” have been the keys to their tournament run so far. If they can continue to execute at a high level and put these three things into practice, we could see a 3rd banner being raised this year in Crisler. For latest updates on Michigan sports news you can download MLive.com App from any APK download site.

Five Takeaways From the First Weekend of the NCAA Tournament

Five Takeaways From the First Weekend of the NCAA Tournament

So everyone had the Loyola-Nevada matchup in the Sweet 16, right? My guess is probably not. But that’s why we love college basketball in March. The unexpected happens every year in that first weekend of play.

Five Takeaways From the First Weekend of the NCAA Tournament

From UMBC upsetting Virginia to Loyola’s incredible finishes to Jordan Poole’s buzzer beater, the first weekend of the tournament left us a lot of memories. Last weekend also gave a little bit clearer of a picture in terms of who the true contenders are to cut down the nets in San Antonio.

Here are five takeaways from the first weekend of “March Madness:”

Stop Discrediting UMBC

umbc-ncaa-upset-031618-getty-ftr

The Retrievers of the University of Baltimore-Maryland-County were the story of the weekend, despite being knocked out of the tournament Sunday against Kansas State.

They were the first team to ever knock off a 1 seed in 136 tries. Yet, some people aren’t so high on UMBC, and instead, are ripping Virginia.

First of all, let me just say, that I have never trusted UVA’s style of play. It’s very difficult to hold good teams under 60 points a game in a one and done setting, and they have too many stretches where they simply can’t score the basketball.

However, at the end of the day, UVA was 17-1 in the nation’s best conference. They breezed through their conference tournament and only lost two games all season.

UMBC beat Vermont on a buzzer-beating three to even get into the Dance. On top of that, they lost to Albany by 43 points earlier in the season. But somehow, UMBC went and beat Virginia by 20 points.

That is nothing short of miraculous and historical. Say whatever you want about Virginia. They didn’t come to play. But to discredit UMBC in any way, shape or form, is wrong. They beat a very good Virginia team, and they deserved every bit of credit that came their way.

Michigan Basketball Game 22 Preview: Rutgers

Michigan Basketball Game 22 Preview: Rutgers

Match-up: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12-8) vs. #23 Michigan Wolverines (16-5) 

Date: Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Time: Noon

Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan

TV: BTN

Line: Michigan (-12) 

Michigan Basketball Game 22 Preview: Rutgers

Michigan basketball looks to right the ship at home on Sunday. Coming off a twenty point loss at Nebraska, the Wolverines have questions they need to answer.

Meanwhile, for Rutgers, they are coming off a nice win against Iowa. The Scarlet Knights are no pushover this year. They upset Seton Hall and took Michigan State to overtime in East Lansing.

Beilein and the Wolverines will need to play a complete game to avoid their second straight upset loss. According to the sportsbook at BetOnline.ag, the line on this game is Michigan (-12).

Rutgers

Second-year coach Steve Pikiell has some nice young talent on his roster. Although Rutgers owns a 2-5 record in Big Ten play, they have nearly pulled off some nice upsets this season. #9 Michigan State (twice) and Florida State both went down to the wire with Rutgers.

Those performances have been tremendous and are reasons to believe that Pikiell has them on the rise, but the ugly losses raise serious questions. Home losses to Stony Brook and Hartford don’t look good at all, and a near loss to Central Connecticut State at home makes Rutgers seem like a cupcake game on your schedule.

It’s dangerous to view a team like that. If Rutgers plays as they did against the Spartans, Michigan could be in trouble depending on how the Wolverines play. If they play like how they did against teams like CC State and Hartford, Michigan may as well start the team managers.

Key Players

Corey Sanders

Rutgers’ play-making point guard is going to cause problems in Ann Arbor on Sunday. He had the Breslin Center on the edge of their seats as he almost led Rutgers to an upset victory.

He has scored fifteen or more points in nine games this year and has eclipsed twenty in four of those contests.

Michigan’s point guards struggled a lot on Thursday night. Beilein even went with a no point guard look at one time. Sanders will make them pay for any mistakes made on Sunday.

Zavier Simpson must bring his A game with Sanders coming to town.

Geo Baker

Baker, a true freshman, completes an outstanding one-two guard combo for Rutgers.

He averages nearly twelve points per game and is the perfect sidekick for Sanders.

Michigan’s guards struggled all night with Nebraska. Rutgers is just as good if not better at guard, giving the Wolverines yet another chance to grow.

Deshawn Freeman

Freeman is leading in rebounds for Rutgers. He averages seven boards a game with eleven points and grabs offensive rebounds at a substantial rate.

Livers will match-up with him most of the night and will look to shut his scoring down. Livers, Teske, and Wagner need to secure rebounds and limit the extra shots for the Scarlet Knights.

Michigan has been a good rebounding team all season and that trend must continue on Sunday.

Keys to the Game

Michigan’s seniors continue to underwhelm this year. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has struggled the last week mightily while Duncan Robinson has struggled all year. Michigan needs these guys to step up down the stretch if they have aspirations of going deep in March.

Michigan needs a leader on offense. Simpson emerged from the group of point guards up until Thursday when he looked lost against Nebraska. Simpson can prove he belongs at the point in Beilein’s offense, or he can let one bad game end his tenure as the starter.

Michigan struggled to shoot the three against the Cornhuskers, hitting just twenty-two percent of their shots from deep. Rutgers has the best three-point defense in the Big Ten and will provide the Wolverines a stiff test. Michigan needs to find their stroke again for the offense to get clicking.

Prediction

Michigan was riding high until Nebraska grounded them. Rutgers should not be taken lightly, and Beilein knows that. Sanders will light up Crisler while Michigan’s guards struggle, but it will be Moe Wagner and Jordan Poole who display their offensive talents en route to a close Michigan victory.

Prediction: Michigan 68 Rutgers 64

Staff Predictions

Emery D’Arcy: 88-64 Michigan

Jake Rossler: 61-58 Michigan

Andrew Shadler: 75-59 Michigan

Charlie Bolone: 77-61 Michigan

Seth Berry: 75-67 Michigan

Max Schnell: 79-65 Michigan

Josh Swerdloff: 71-65 Michigan

Evan Lynch: 81-65 Michigan

Michigan Basketball Game 21 Preview: Nebraska

Michigan Basketball Game 21 Preview: Nebraska
Michigan Basketball Game 21 Preview: Nebraska

Michigan meets the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Wednesday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Both teams are coming off thrilling last-second victories on Monday night. For Michigan, it was Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman who provided the late game heroics. MAAR sank two free throws with 0.9 seconds left, sending Maryland out of town with a loss. In Lincoln on Monday night, Illinois and Nebraska came down to the wire in their Big Ten matchup. Junior guard James Palmer Jr. played hero, nailing a three just before the buzzer as Nebraska escaped an ugly loss.

James Palmer Jr. sinks the contested 3-pointer to give Nebraska the victory over Illinois. (via @BigTenNetworkpic.twitter.com/zBzkq5g0ns

— SWM (@sportswm) January 16, 2018

Key Players

James Palmer Jr.

James Palmer Jr. was the hero on Monday night, but the Wolverines will look to end those heroics tonight. The junior guard leads the Huskers in scoring with 15.7 points per game and ranks in the top 3 in nearly every other category on the team. Palmer is a talented athlete, and it will be important for Michigan’s guards to limit his production tonight. Any chance at an upset for Nebraska lies in Palmer’s hands.

Isaac Copeland 

Copeland is second on the team in scoring and the leading rebounder. A solid scoring run that included a 21 point outing against Penn State ended on Monday, as Copeland could only muster two points against Illinois. He isn’t much of a threat from beyond the arc but still demands attention out there seeing he attempts three shots per game from deep. Isaiah Livers and Charles Matthews will most likely draw Copeland on defense.  Limiting his offensive rebounds and second-chance points will lead the Wolverines to success not only in the paint but on D as a whole.

Glynn Watson Jr.

Watson is another guy who is capable of filling up the basket. He went for 21 points against Penn State. He doesn’t shoot many threes and finds most of his points inside the arc. Nebraska doesn’t hit the three very well as a team, so it will be essential to limit guys like Watson, Copeland, and Palmer from short-mid range.

Keys to the Game

Michigan played down heavily against Maryland on Monday. This was apparent in how Michigan shot the basketball and protected it.

The offense looked stagnant in the first half and when guys did find open shots they couldn’t capitalize. Not only that but the Wolverines turned the ball over a lot more than we have seen from this team. This team is young, and Big Ten road games are no cakewalk. Limiting turnovers and hitting open shots early on would go a long way for Michigan.

Letting Nebraska jump out early as Maryland did is asking for trouble. The Wolverines escaped at home, but Nebraska already had one home miracle this week. We don’t want to give them two.

Prediction

Nebraska should not be written off in this game. This team has solid pieces and can be dangerous when everything is clicking. Just ask Kansas, who escaped Pinnacle Bank Arena with a 1 point victory. Michigan’s youth will once again show through early, as Nebraska will create some turnovers and easy points. A back and forth second half will scare the Maize and Blue, but Michigan’s talented shooters will score down the stretch to bury the Cornhuskers.

Prediction: Michigan 72 Nebraska 64

Staff Predictions

Jake Rossler- 76-71 Nebraska

Brendan Boyd- 79-62 Michigan

Jose Abaere- 78-70 Michigan

Max Schnell- 82-65 Michigan

Josh Swerdcloff- 75-66 Michigan