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Posts Tagged ‘Louisville’

Short of a storybook ending, Michigan basketball season a tale of redemption, resiliency

Friday, March 31st, 2017


(Rob Carr, Getty Images)

Spring has arrived, but a dark emptiness seems to permeate through the thick, sticky air. Mother Nature has thrown a curveball at us with dreariness and cold, rain and clouds in lieu of the sunshine and crisp air we have come to expect this time of year as the calendar turns to April.

It’s not just the weather, of course, that’s brought this darkness. It’s the end of Michigan’s wild basketball season that felt like a never-ending story, if only for a moment, before we found that the final pages were missing.

(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

We feel robbed of the beauty we’ve waited for Spring to arrive with for so long, and likewise, we feel robbed of the dream finish that destiny would so surely, we thought, bring for John Beilein’s 10th team in Ann Arbor.

But as with everything else in life, finality is the only certainty, if even it comes prematurely.

At least it was a very good thing while it lasted.

For a long time, this season was not shaping up to be a memorable one, a season that all of us fans hope goes on forever. Michigan sprinted out of the gates with an impressive run through a 2K Classic field that included future NCAA Tournament teams in Marquette and SMU, both of whom were throttled on the way to the Wolverines’ preseason tournament title.

That showing saw Michigan rocket its way into the national polls, but was followed by an underwhelming performance at South Carolina and a rapid return to earth for the season’s expectations. Although, if we had the benefit of foresight at the time, that loss in Columbia wouldn’t seem nearly as bad.

A couple games later, Michigan choked away a home battle versus Virginia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and had another poor performance in a win over a bad Texas team shortly thereafter. The Wolverines would hang with UCLA in Westwood for one impressive, firework-laden half before taking an 18-point loss out West and would later proceed to sweat out a holiday win over a far-better-than-expected Furman squad before conference play kicked off in the New Year.

We all know the story from there. Michigan seemed to run out of gas in what should have been a favorable starting conference schedule, dropping three of their first four and four of their first six with their only two wins coming in home nail-biters over Penn State and Nebraska.

Uncertainties in the latter half of the non-conference season turned into message board maniacs calling for this to be Beilein’s final year.

Two home blowouts over Illinois and Indiana calmed the seas temporarily before a tough loss at Michigan State and a lackadaisical home loss versus Ohio State heard those earlier calls turn into cries for the head coach to be gone — and fast.

(MGoBlue.com)

On that night, Saturday, February 4, Michigan found itself at 14-9 overall and 4-6 in conference play with very few standout wins on their resume. It would take a massive turnaround and a long look in the mirror for the team to fight its way into contention for an NCAA Tournament berth, and no one – not even those closest to the team, I reckon – saw it coming.

But come it did. Derrick Walton Jr. turned into a man possessed, knocking down everything from deep and rekindling his freshman year ability to finish at the rack. Moe Wagner realized his potential after only brief flashes as a rookie, spinning, shuffling, shooting, and driving his way to buckets. D.J. Wilson blossomed from cast-off to potential pro with athletic dishes, drained shots, and opponent shots rejected. And Zak Irvin, whose critics would make you believe he could not compete at the local YMCA, embraced his role as a senior leader and scorer, if merely as a third or fourth option at times.

The team that once left everyone guessing what would happen every time they ran onto the floor began ferociously dispatching each opponent that dared challenge them.

Michigan State was handed its worst loss in years. Indiana was dismantled on its vaunted home court. Wisconsin and Purdue, the clear frontrunners for the Big Ten title, met their fate at the hands of a team on a mission.

By the time March had rolled around, Michigan had pulled off the wholly unexpected, nearly impossible transition from conference also-ran to surefire dancer. Broadcasters still wondered what the team was made of, but those following closely knew that a seismic change had taken place.

The Wolverines were no longer prone to falling apart at the end of a game. They did not let inferior competition dig under their skin. They would not cede a game’s worth of points in a half – not any more, at least.

In reality, this new team could compete with anyone in the country, and in so many different ways. The offense was no longer great – it became otherworldly efficient. The defense was no longer passable – it became a solid unit that forced turnovers and prevented clean perimeter looks.

This team could feel as good about their chances as any other.

And so, with that edge, this team would travel to Washington, D.C., wheels rolling, to give its conference brethren a lesson in basketball.

There’s not much Michigan needed at that point to make a magical March run, the stuff legends are made of. If there was one thing, however, it was a captivating headline.

That story would be served up on a platter in a most harrowing way, as Michigan’s charter plane destined for the Big Ten Tournament skidded 400 yards off the runway, through a fence, and into a field, coming to a startling rest in a shallow ditch after the pilot decided to abort takeoff in extremely high winds.

Still, the team pushed forward with no recognizable timidity. The crash had perhaps brought them closer together, had given them a greater sense of their cause, but it did not change their play. Michigan once again blew through an Illinois team that had labeled the Wolverines as “white collar” in early January, this time in rag tag practice gear because their regular jerseys were stuck on the capsized plane.

Purdue, Minnesota, and Wisconsin would all provide different puzzles throughout the weekend, but the Maize and Blue solved each of them with a veteran mindset and plenty of talent.

With the Big Ten Tournament trophy in hand, Michigan was sent to Indianapolis as a 7-seed in the Big Dance to take on an Oklahoma State team powered by purely offensive fuel. The Wolverines took a dose but returned an even bigger dose of that medicine to the Cowboys to outlast their first round foe in an instant classic with firepower supplied by Walton.

Two days later, the Wolverines faced a Louisville squad that provided a completely different look, with length, athleticism, and defense in spades. Once again, Michigan prevailed, this time behind the sophomore duo of Wagner and Wilson, despite trailing by eight at the halfway point. March would not stop this team’s march, and another classic was in the books.

(MGoBlue.com)

Destiny was still on their side – for one more week, at least.

Unfortunately, that magic ran out too soon and too abruptly. Michigan went toe-to-toe with 3-seed Oregon for 40 minutes but made some uncharacteristic mistakes late in the game, as if their hourglass stepped in the way of what could have been. Derrick Walton’s last shot, a step-back that we had seen him hit so often over the last two months of the season that he may as well have filed for a patent, came up a couple rotations short.

Just like that, the buzzer sounded to signal the end of Michigan’s season. Destiny left the building with a new team in tow.

And that’s how – and why, perhaps – Mother Nature mourns with us today. She, like all of us, was not ready for the suddenness of it all. Storybooks are not supposed to end like this.

But that story, while it was being written, was grand. It was thrilling and exhilarating, mysterious and heartbreaking. It was frustrating at times and, yes, slogging at others. More than anything, though, this story was a memorable one that we won’t soon want to stash away to collect dust, lest we question the power of John Beilein’s teaching prowess paired with the ability of a bunch of talented, fun, good, strong-minded college basketballers.

Just as soon as the final words were penned in this story, however, a new volume’s pages are opening up, waiting to be scribbled upon.

Let’s hope this one is as enjoyable as the last.

(MGoBlue.com)

Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Louisville and Kentucky edition

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014


Pitino - Calipari(Britney McIntosh, UK)

Earlier today, “Inside the Numbers” provided Part One of its Midwest Regional Preview. Part One focused on the tough path Michigan faces to reach its second straight Final Four and presented an in-depth scouting report of Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen opponent, the No. 11-seed Tennessee Volunteers.

If the Wolverines beat the Volunteers, they will face either the No. 4-seed Louisville Cardinals or the No. 8-seed Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight. Therefore, Part Two of the Midwest Regional Preview will provide an in-depth scouting report of each of the potential teams Michigan may see in the Elite Eight, so fans will know what to expect if U-M wins on Friday.

Louisville: 31-5 (15-3 AAC) | Seed: No. 4 | Pomeroy Rank: No. 3

Overview: On Selection Sunday, many analysts picked Louisville as one of their favorites to not only to emerge out of the Midwest Regional, but to win the national championship. These predictions were not baseless. Entering the NCAA Tournament, Louisville was streaking, having won 11 of its past 12 games. Further, the Cardinals did not just win these games. They demolished the competition, recording an average margin of victory of 27.2 points during this span. However, Louisville had a shaky first weekend in the NCAA Tournament, barely scraping by No. 13-seed Manhattan before winning a slop fest against No. 5-seed Saint Louis. Louisville advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, but it no longer appears to be the juggernaut everyone claimed it was.

Resume: 3-1 vs. Pomeroy Top 25; 7-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 50; 9-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 100; No losses vs. Pomeroy Sub-100

Louisville ran through most of its schedule without a hiccup. The Cardinals played 24 teams outside Pomeroy’s top 50 and 22 teams outside his top 100. Louisville thrashed most of them by at least 20 points. However, Louisville had only the 101st-toughest schedule in the nation according to Pomeroy. The reason is because the Cardinals played so few top 50 teams. And, on top of that, the Cardinals did not perform consistently against these upper-tier teams, losing five times in 12 games, albeit none by double digits. For this reason, it is unclear whether Louisville can string together enough wins against elite competition to contend for a national title.

Four Factors:

Louisville Four Factors

Offensive Profile: Louisville is extremely efficient offensively, ranking No. 15 in adjusted offensive efficiency. This is no surprise when the Cardinals racked up 1.160 points per possession in AAC play. Yet Louisville did not fare as well against stingy Manhattan and Saint Louis defenses, failing to exceed one point per possession in the NCAA Tournament. This has unearthed some cracks in the foundation.

The most evident crack is turnovers. This may seem odd because Louisville has been great about not coughing up the basketball, ranking No. 25 in offensive turnover rate. Nonetheless, Louisville’s offensive efficiency relies on maintaining a low offensive turnover rate. This can be a problem when Louisville’s point guard is Russ Smith.

Smith is the engine of Louisville’s offense. He has a usage rate of 30.9 percent, which is the 35th-highest rate in the nation. Despite this, Smith has actually been more efficient this season than in years past. He is shooting better than he ever has from both two and three, while recording his best assist rate to date. Smith also gets to the free-throw line frequently. In two NCAA Tournament games, Smith has made 21 trips to the charity stripe. Nonetheless, Smith is a wildcard. He has a reputation for forcing plays and taking bad shots. If Smith starts to think he can beat defenses one on five, he starts to take contested two-point jumpers and commit careless turnovers. It is no coincidence that in Louisville’s last two games, during which its offense stumbled for long stretches, Smith had 13 turnovers total.

The Cardinals also like to get the ball to their best big man, Montrezl Harrell, in the post Harrell is an athletic freak who uses his natural abilities and strength to be productive around the rim and sky high for offensive rebounds. Harrell may have a nice tough on his jump shot, but do not expect many from him. Two-thirds of his shots are dunks, layups, and tips, of which he makes 72 percent. He is a load for defenses to hand in the interior.

Michigan fans are well aware of Luke Hancock from last year's championship game, but he's the fifth-best three-point shooter Louisville has (Jeff Reinking, UL Athletics)

Michigan fans are well aware of Luke Hancock from last year’s championship game, but he’s the fifth-best three-point shooter Louisville has (Jeff Reinking, UL Athletics)

On the perimeter, Louisville has an army of shooters. There are five Cardinals who have attempted at least 50 threes and made at least 34 percent. Luke Hancock—a name Michigan fans are all too familiar with—is the first person who comes to mind, but he has actually been worst of these five shooters, barely making 34 percent. Wayne Blackshear (40.2 pct.), Smith (39.7 pct.), Chris Jones (38.1 pct.), and Terry Rozier (37.1 pct.) have been much more lethal from downtown. Accordingly, Louisville punishes teams that try to play zone defense against it.

One thing to keep an eye on is Louisville’s free-throw shooting. Louisville does not need free throws to improve its offensive efficiency. But, by shooting only 66.3 percent from the charity stripe, the Cardinals may leave the door open for opponents trying to claw their way back into a game in the final minutes. If opponents are in a must-foul situation, Harrell, who makes less than 50 percent of his free throws, is the man they want to send to the line.

Defensive Profile: Louisville is even better defensively. Louisville is ranked No. 3 in adjusted defensive efficiency behind only Arizona and Florida. Louisville held AAC teams to 0.905 points per possession. The Cardinals have been even better in the NCAA Tournament, limiting Manhattan and Saint Louis to only 0.833 points per possession. It is on the defensive end where Louisville dominates games.

Pressure is the one word needed to summarize Louisville’s defense. Louisville attacks opponents defensively by running a variety of full-court and three-quarters-court presses. These presses cause opponents to panic and make mental mistakes, like throwing the ball away. This is why Louisville has the second-best defensive turnover rate, forcing opponents to commit a turnover 25 percent of the time, and the second-best defensive steal rate. Additionally, these presses help Louisville speed up the tempo of the game to a pace that best suits the Cardinals.

Without these turnovers, though, Louisville is not nearly as effective in getting stops. Louisville’s half-court defense allows too many offensive rebounds because the Cardinals’ wings are trying to get out in transition to ignite a fast break before their post players have hauled in the defensive rebound. Further, if Louisville does not force turnovers, the intense and hectic pressure that it applies causes referees to call fouls on the Cardinals, sending opponents to the free-throw line often. This is why teams that can break Louisville’s presses have the best chance to light up the scoreboard.

However, Louisville’s defense is not a one-trick pony. The Cardinals’ field-goal defense is top-notch. The Cardinals have the sixth-best defensive effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) in the nation. The Cardinals hold opponents to just 44.2 percent shooting on two-pointers, but are even better along the perimeter. Teams make only 28.6 percent of their threes against Louisville, which is the second-lowest percentage in the nation. But this is more likely good luck than anything else. Three-point defense is more about how much a defense limits three-point attempts. Although Louisville is decent at preventing three-point attempts, the Cardinals are by no means locking down the three-point line.

Michigan’s Key to Victory: If Michigan rematches the team it fell to in last year’s championship game, the turnover battle will be the key. Offensively for Michigan, the Wolverines will be dealing with Louisville’s pressure all game. The good news for the Wolverines is that they are one of the best at holding onto the basketball. Michigan always has multiple excellent ball handlers on the court, whether it is Derrick Walton, Jr., Spike Albrecht, Nik Stauskas, or Caris LeVert. Accordingly, U-M’s offensive turnover rate is only 14.7 percent, which is the 12th-best in the nation. If Michigan can routinely break Louisville’s pressure, it will be able to slow the pace to its liking and limit Louisville’s points off turnovers.

Defensively for Michigan, the Wolverines will have problems getting stops unless Smith decides to do it all by himself. If Smith tries hero ball, he likely will shut out his teammates and turn over the basketball frequently. However, Michigan does not pressure opposing offenses into turnovers. Therefore, if Smith is able to get into a groove and get his teammates involved, the Wolverines will have a very difficult time defending not only Harrell in the paint, but also all of Louisville’s snipers around the perimeter.

Kentucky: 26-10 (12-6 SEC) | Seed: No. 8 | Pomeroy Rank: No. 13

Overview: No team had more preseason hype than Kentucky. With what many scouts dubbed as the best recruiting class in the history of college basketball, even better than Michigan’s “Fab Five,” Kentucky was ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press (AP) poll. Some even though that a perfect 40-0 season was realistic. Not exactly. The regular season was a rollercoaster ride for the youngest and most inexperienced team in the country. Kentucky appeared to be stumbling at the finish line, but a hard-fought, one-point loss to top-ranked Florida in the SEC Tournament reminded the Wildcats just how talented they really are. UK used this confidence boost to beat No. 9-seed Kansas State in the opening round before handing No. 1-seed Wichita State its first loss of the season in an all-time classic.

Resume: 3-5 vs. Pomeroy Top 25; 5-6 vs. Pomeroy Top 50; 16-9 vs. Pomeroy Top 100; One loss vs. Pomeroy Sub-100

Kentucky played one of the most difficult schedules in the country. Unlike many major-conference schools, the Wildcats scheduled a challenging non-conference slate. UK failed to win any of its first three marquee non-conference contests against Michigan State, Baylor, and North Carolina, but the Wildcats earned a signature win by upending in-state rival Louisville. In conference play, though, UK’s only quality wins was a home victory against Tennessee. It also did not help that UK was swept by Florida and Arkansas and suffered a bad road loss to South Carolina. But this did not prevent Kentucky from earning its best win of the year last Sunday when UK knocked off formerly undefeated Wichita State.

Four Factors:

Kentucky Four Factors

Offensive Profile: Kentucky is ranked No. 17 in adjusted offensive efficiency, but its offense has been faltering in the past few weeks. Through UK’s first 27 games, the Wildcats exceeded one point per possession in each game. In the nine games thereafter, though, Kentucky has managed to exceed that mark only four times. This is a sign of inconsistency, but the Wildcats did just post 1.258 points per possession against Wichita State, the most the Shockers allowed all season.

This inconsistency stems from poor shooting. Kentucky is ranked No. 158 in eFG%. Do not blame Kentucky’s interior offense, though. The Wildcats convert 50.1 of their two-pointers, which is 102nd-best in the nation. They do this by feeding freshman star Julius Randle on the block. Randle is a walking double-double. He averages 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game and has double-doubles in both of his NCAA Tournament games. Randle scores often because he uses a team-high 26.5 percent of UK’s possessions and is very efficient around the rim. About half of Randle’s shots are at the rim, of which he converts 71 percent because of his array of post moves and strength to outmuscle opposing defenders. However, Randle likes to settle for jumpers from time to time, of which he makes only 33.7 percent. Teams will make Randle look average if he repeated takes seven- to 15-foot jumpers all game.

Related
 Inside the Numbers: Previewing the Midwest Regional — Tennessee edition
Inside the Numbers: It sure is sweet
The M&GB March Madness Five-Spot Challenge: Tennessee

Kentucky also likes to get the ball to Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress on the block. They are not nearly as skilled as Randle or receive as many touches, but their size—Cauley Stein is 7’0” and Poythress is 6’8”—makes it difficult for defenders to guard them effectively. Similar to Randle, about half of their shots are around the rim. Cauley-Stein is more efficient there, making 76.2 percent, while Poythress converts 66.7 percent of his shots at the rim. Also, Cauley-Stein shoots 37.7 percent on his two-point jumpers, which means he can be effective away from the rim as well.

Kentucky’s shooting problems arise from inability to make the long ball. Kentucky drains only 32.7 percent of its threes, which is No. 239 in the nation. UK does not attempt many threes either. Only three Wildcats have attempted more than 50 threes. James Young and Aaron Harrison have attempted 222 and 155 three-pointers, respectively, both making an average 34.2 percent. Andrew Harrison is UK’s best three-point shooter, drilling 36.1 percent, but he attempted only 83 threes. And, if any other Wildcat lets one fly from behind the arc, opponents will be more than happy as no other major contributor shoots better than 30 percent from three-point territory.

Despite these shooting issues, Kentucky finds other ways to score. First, Kentucky grabs 42 percent of its missed shots, which is the second-best offensive rebounding rate in the nation. All four of Kentucky’s big men—all of whom are at least 6’8” and two are 7’0”—use their incredible size to hit the glass hard. With two post players on the hardwood at all times, Kentucky usually has a size advantage at the center and power forward positions. If teams do not box out these post players, Kentucky will generate lots of second-chance points as all four of Randle, Cauley-Stein, Poythress, and Dakari Johnson have at least 30 put backs each.

Second, Kentucky is very adept at getting to the free-throw line. Kentucky’s free-throw rate is 53.2 percent, which is the seventh-highest rate in the nation. There are three Wildcats that have an individual free-throw rate higher than 60 percent. They are Randle (77 pct.), which is the 35th-best individual rate in the country, Andrew Harrison (69.4 pct.), and Johnson (62.7 pct.). But this does not mean that Kentucky is a good free-throw shooting team. The Wildcats make only 68.4 percent of their free throws, which is No. 229 in the nation. Both Randle and Andrew Harrison make at least 70 percent of their free throws, but it is Cauley-Stein (48.2 pct.) and Johnson (45.9 pct.) that cause UK’s free-throw percentage to plummet.

Julius Randle averages 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds and has recorded a double-double in both NCAA Tournament games so far (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Julius Randle averages 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds and has recorded a double-double in both NCAA Tournament games so far (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Turnovers also have been a problem for Kentucky. The Wildcats commit a turnover during 18.3 percent of their possessions, which is No. 167 in the nation. This is no surprise when the Wildcats have a true freshman, Andrew Harrison, running the offense. His turnover rate is an alarming 23.8 percent. This is actually higher than his assist rate. This is not what teams want from their point guard who is supposed to get the team into its offense. Andrew Harrison is prone to making bad mistakes with the ball in his hands and coughing the ball up to opponents, which has hurt Kentucky’s offensive efficiency.

Defensive Profile: Kentucky is ranked No. 26 in adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation. Kentucky’s defense had been playing very well prior to facing Wichita State on Sunday. In UK’s first four postseason games, three in the SEC Tournament and one in the NCAA Tournament, UK’s opponents scored only 0.940 points per possession. However, against the Shockers, which are an elite offensive team, Kentucky allowed an alarming 1.226 points per possession.

Kentucky’s defense is at its best when it is able to set up in the half court. According to Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn, the Wildcats allow a superb 0.796 points per possession when playing half-court defense. This is one of the best half-court defensive efficiencies in the nation. This is no surprise given Kentucky’s incredible size. The heights of UK’s starting lineup are 6’6”, 6’6”, 6’6”, 6’9”, and 7’0”. Once Kentucky is set up in its half-court defense, its size and length prevents opponents from having clean looks at the rim.

Accordingly, Kentucky has a defensive eFG% of 45.4 percent, which is the 29th-best in the nation, and a defensive block rate of 15.4 percent, which is the 12th-best in the nation. The anchor to UK’s stingy half-court defense is Cauley-Stein, who has the 12th-highest individual defensive block rate in the country. Additionally, the Wildcats do a decent job with its defensive rebounding, which is No. 91 in the nation, and not sending opponents to the free-throw line, No. 111 in the nation. Kentucky’s half-court defense is one of the most difficult in the nation to solve.

However, Kentucky’s defense loses its edge when opponents try to attack it in transition. When opponents attack Kentucky in transition, they are able to score 1.159 points per possession. This is a 0.363 point-per-possession difference from Kentucky’s defensive efficiency in the half court. This is the second-biggest drop-off between half-court defensive efficiency and transition defensive efficiency in all of NCAA D-1 college basketball. This is what happens when Kentucky puts a lineup with that much size on the court. The big men struggle to run back on defense in time to contest opponents’ transition opportunities. It also does not help that Kentucky has such a young roster, as those players are more prone to making mental mistakes when transitioning back to defense.

Also, despite having such incredible length, Kentucky does not force lots of turnovers. Opponents commit a turnover during only 16.2 percent of their possessions against Kentucky. This means that UK’s defensive turnover rate is No. 300 in the nation. The only Wildcat that has a higher defensive steal rate is Cauley-Stein, who is UK’s best defensive player. He does a great job interfering with opponents’ passes inside. However, there is very little threat from UK’s guards and wings that they will be able to steal the ball for easy transition points.

Michigan’s Key to Victory: Michigan plays one of the slowest tempos in the nation, but the Wolverines likely would need to speed it up to defeat Kentucky. There is a vast difference in the strength of UK’s defense when set in the half court and when scrambling back in transition. Although the Wolverines do not attack on the fast break very often, they are very lethal when they do so. If Michigan pushes the ball enough and speeds up the tempo, Stauskas and LeVert likely will have lots of open looks from three-point line in transition, while Glenn Robinson III may be available for a couple easy ones around the rim.

Defensively, similar to Tennessee, Kentucky does not shoot well from the perimeter. The Wildcats’ bread-and-butter is to work the ball inside to Randle and have its guards penetrate. Therefore, Michigan should pack the paint and sag off of Kentucky’s perimeter players. This may tempt UK’s guards to chuck it from three-point range. This also will have Michigan’s defenders positioned closer to the rim, which will help mitigate UK’s propensity to crash the offensive boards. Additionally, given how much Kentucky turns over the basketball, Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone likely will be very effective against UK’s youth.

Which Team Does Michigan Fans Want to Win:

Kentucky, I think. Although Michigan may have a better matchup offensively against Louisville because U-M has the ball handlers to break UL’s presses, the matchup defensively against Kentucky is too favorable despite the size disadvantage. Louisville’s offense is extremely balanced, and defenses one hope is that Russ Smith commits lots of turnovers by trying to do everything himself. But Michigan does not force opponents to commit lots of turnovers. If Michigan cannot pressure Smith into making mistakes, U-M will struggle to cover UL’s snipers on the perimeter. And they will not miss.

On the other hand, Kentucky is a poor shooting team that is prone to turnovers. Its offensive strengths are offensive rebounding and getting to the free-throw line, which Michigan has done a very good job at preventing opponents from doing all season. In this clash of strengths, Michigan will be able to hold up defensively as long as it packs the paint or runs its 1-3-1 zone for long periods of time. This will tempt the Wildcats’ perimeter players to shoot three-pointers, at which they are not very efficient, and make bad passes over the zone. Michigan has a much better chance against a poor shooting team because U-M is prone to allowing open looks.

Additionally, Kentucky may be the team that many fear because they have been playing their basketball as of late. However, they have been inconsistent all year. This is what happens when a team has the youngest roster in America, playing five freshmen and two sophomores the majority of its minutes. Michigan would much rather play a team that is prone to mistakes than a team full of upperclassmen that have appeared in the last two Final Fours and won the national championship last season.

Inside the Numbers: It sure is sweet

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014


Michigan huddle vs Texas(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

It sure is sweet.

On Saturday evening, No. 2-seed Michigan bombed No. 7-seed Texas, 79-65, with a school-record 14 three-pointers in an NCAA Tournament game to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. This is the second straight year and the 13th time in school history that Michigan will participate in the Sweet Sixteen. This also is the seventh time that Michigan has made the Sweet Sixteen when it did so the previous season.

The Wolverines will travel to Indianapolis this weekend, hoping they will be the lone school to survive the Midwest Regional. This will not be an easy challenge. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Wolverines will square off with the underrated No. 11-seed Tennessee Volunteers. With a victory, the Wolverines will play the winner of No. 4-seed Louisville and No. 8-seed Kentucky with a spot in the Final Four at stake.

John Beilein reached the 700-win milestone on Saturday and hopes to continue Michigan's Sweet Sixteen success on Friday (Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

John Beilein reached the 700-win milestone on Saturday and hopes to continue Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen success on Friday (Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

Michigan fans may be wondering what the Wolverines should expect from these three teams. “Inside the Numbers” will provide an in-depth scouting report for each of Tennessee, Louisville, and Kentucky and how Michigan can exploit those teams’ weaknesses tomorrow. Today, “Inside the Numbers” will focus on Michigan’s past performances in the Sweet Sixteen and why they should give fans a reason to be optimistic when the Wolverines and the Volunteers step on the hardwood on Friday night.

Before “Inside the Numbers” does so, a discrepancy needs to be clarified first. As aforementioned, this will be the 13th time that Michigan appears in the Sweet Sixteen. However, the University of Michigan’s Athletic Media Relations’ media guide lists a record for U-M in Sweet Sixteen games which suggests that the Wolverines already have played in the Sweet Sixteen 13 times before this season.

The confusion seems to stem from Michigan’s appearance in the 1948 NCAA Tournament. Prior to 1951, there were only eight teams in the NCAA Tournament, which means there was no “Sweet Sixteen.” After 1951, the NCAA Tournament expanded to 16 teams with the first round labeled as the “regional semifinals,” which now is nicknamed the “Sweet Sixteen.” Yet the media guide labels Michigan’s first game in the 1948 NCAA Tournament as a “regional semifinal” game. The result of this game seems to mistakenly have been added to Michigan’s listed record in the Sweet Sixteen. Therefore, the 1948 NCAA Tournament will not be discussed in this post.

With that discrepancy clarified, “Inside the Numbers” can finally reveal one reason why fans should be optimistic that the Wolverines will defeat the Tennessee Volunteers on Friday night. In its 12 games played in the Sweet Sixteen, Michigan has posted an 11-1 record. Yes, 11-1. This means that Michigan has a 91.7 win percentage in the Sweet Sixteen. Additionally, the Wolverines have won all five of their Sweet Sixteen contests since 1988.

Results of Michigan’s 12 Previous Sweet Sixteen Games

Year

Opponent

Result

Year

Opponent

Result

1964

Loyola

W, 84-80

1988

North Carolina

L, 69-78

1965

Dayton

W, 98-71

1989

North Carolina

W, 92-87

1966

W. Kentucky

W, 80-79

1992

Oklahoma St.

W, 75-72

1974

Notre Dame

W, 77-68

1993

George Wash.

W, 72-64

1976

Notre Dame

W, 80-76

1994

Maryland

W, 78-71

1977

Detroit

W, 86-81

2013

Kansas

W, 87-85 (OT)

Michigan has experienced a tremendous amount of success in the Sweet Sixteen. Only one other NCAA D-1 college basketball team that has made a minimum of five Sweet Sixteen appearances has won a higher percentage of its Sweet Sixteen games than Michigan. That team is Temple, which is 7-0 in the Sweet Sixteen. When the minimum number of Sweet Sixteen appearances is raised to 10 games, a feat 31 schools have achieved, there is no team better than the Wolverines.

Highest Win Percentage in the Sweet Sixteen (Min. 10 Appearances)

Rank

School

Record

Win Pct.

Rank

School

Record

Win Pct.

1

Michigan

11-1

91.67%

9

UCLA

21-10

67.74%

2

North Carolina

24-6

80.00%

10

Ohio St.

10-5

66.67%

3

Kentucky

30-10

75.00%

11

Michigan St.

11-6

64.71%

t-4

Georgetown

8-3

72.73%

12

Illinois

7-4

63.64%

t-4

Oklahoma St.

8-3

72.73%

13

Villanova

10-6

62.50%

6

Duke

19-8

70.37%

14

Cincinnati

8-5

61.54%

7

Kansas St.

11-5

68.75%

15

Connecticut

10-7

58.82%

8

Kansas

19-9

67.86%

16

San Francisco

7-5

58.33%

Among schools that have played in a minimum of 10 Sweet Sixteen games, Michigan is the only school to have won more than 90 percent of them. In fact, the Wolverines are the only such team to have won more than 80 percent of them. Even if Michigan lost to Tennessee on Friday, U-M’s win percentage in the Sweet Sixteen would drop only to 84.62 percent, which would still be high enough to be the best. Although other schools, such as North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas, and UCLA, have more Sweet Sixteen wins, no team has made the most of its Sweet Sixteen appearances than Michigan.

There are two trends that have been established in Michigan’s previous 12 Sweet Sixteen games of which fans should be aware. First, almost all of these Sweet Sixteen games have come down to the wire. Of the previous 12 games Michigan has played in the Sweet Sixteen, all but one of them were decided by single digits. Seven were decided by five points of fewer. The average margin of victory in these games is seven points. It would be fewer if not for Michigan’s 27-point win over Dayton in the 1965 Sweet Sixteen.

Trey Burke's three against Kansas last March kept Michigan's Sweet Sixteen success intact (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

Trey Burke’s three against Kansas last March kept Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen success intact (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

Michigan fans should not expect this to be any different on Friday evening. Generally, games at this stage of the NCAA Tournament pit two equal teams against one another. This definitely applies to the matchup between Michigan and Tennessee. The Volunteers may be only a No. 11 seed, but the computers and advanced statistics view Michigan and Tennessee as equals. So does Vegas, which has the Wolverines as only a 1.5-point favorite over the Vols. Michigan may have beaten Tennessee by 30 points in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, but do not expect a repeat result this week.

Second, as aforementioned, this is the seventh time that Michigan has appeared in the Sweet Sixteen one year after doing the same in the previous season. In the previous six such games, the Wolverines never lost. A repeat appearance in the Sweet Sixteen always has led to a victory for the Maize and Blue. There are lots of possible reasons for this: quality of team, quality of opponent, matchups, hot shooting, lucky bounces, etc.

Yet another potential explanation for this phenomenon is experience. When teams appear in the Sweet Sixteen for a second consecutive season, these teams likely have most of the roster intact from the previous season. These players have already dealt with nerves of playing in the Sweet Sixteen and have become accustomed to the high stakes of such a game. Six of Michigan’s eight key contributors participated in last season’s Sweet Sixteen showdown against Kansas—Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Spike Albrecht. It is unlikely that any of these six players will be fazed by the circumstances of Friday’s Sweet Sixteen contest. The same may not be able to be said about the Volunteers, none of whom have appeared in the Sweet Sixteen before.

The one caveat is that historical trends generally have little impact on upcoming games. All trends are broken or snapped at one point or another as teams and rosters change over time. Michigan’s 11-1 record in the Sweet Sixteen does not guarantee that the Wolverines will advance to the Elite Eight on Friday.

However, it is much more reassuring for Michigan fans to hear that their team has been extremely successful in the Sweet Sixteen rather than not. Michigan fans would be much more concerned about U-M’s prospects on Friday if they learned that their team had only a 1-5 record in Sweet Sixteen games. Why a 1-5 record specifically? Because that is Tennessee’s record in the Sweet Sixteen. It sure is sweet.

Examining Michigan’s path through the Midwest Region

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014


Michigan team(MGoBlue.com)

March started with a bang for the Michigan Wolverines, as they clinched an outright Big Ten championship during the first week and stormed to the finals in the conference tournament. With an opportunity to enter the Big Dance on an eight-game winning streak, Michigan’s momentum came to a screeching halt when Michigan State took the title with a 14-point win on Sunday.

The Wolverines, who figured to earn a No. 1 seed in the East with a victory, dropped to the sixth overall seed, No. 2 in the Indianapolis region. Michigan’s road to the Final Four looks just as difficult this year as it did during the National Championship game run in 2013.

What will it take for John Beilein’s surprise Big Ten champions to end up in Arlington next month?

Second Round

Wofford logo (15) Wofford | 20-12 (11-5 Southern Conference)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
156 0-1 0-2 0-2 252 10-2

Michigan’s first test comes against a Wofford team making just its third NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. The Terriers played just one RPI top 25 opponent during the 2013-14 season, a 72-57 loss to VCU on Dec. 17.

Wofford received an NCAA Tournament bid after a surprise run in the Southern Conference tournament. The third-seeded Terriers benefitted from some early upsets, and beat last-seeded The Citadel, seventh-seeded Georgia Southern, and fifth-seeded Western Carolina en route to the title. Wofford’s best win came on Dec. 21, when it beat RPI No. 168 Winthrop.

On paper, Michigan should have no trouble with Wofford. But No. 15 seeds thrived in the past two tournaments. In 2012, Duke and Missouri were upset as No. 2 seeds by Lehigh and Norfolk State, respectively. Then, in 2013, Florida Gulf Coast not only shocked the Georgetown Hoyas, but went on to beat seventh-seeded San Diego State to reach the Sweet 16.

Wofford’s 153 RPI closely mirrors that of Charlotte (151), which handed Michigan its worst loss of the season during the Puerto Rico Classic. Anything can happen in March, so the Wolverines can’t take this major underdog lightly.

Third Round

Texas logo (7) Texas | 23-10 (11-7 Big 12)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
37 3-3 3-5 6-1 65 6-6

If the Wolverines advance to the round of 32, they’ll see either seven-seed Texas or 10-seed Arizona State. After climbing as high as 15th in the AP Poll, the Longhorns limped into the field of 68, losing five of their last eight games. In January, Texas beat four straight top-25 teams, and it ranks as the fourth-best rebounding team in the country, but six losses in the final two months of the regular season took some of the wind out of coach Rick Barnes’s sails.

Arizona Stae logo (10) Arizona State | 21-11 (10-8 Pac-12)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI Top 50 vs. RPI Top 100 SOS Last 12
44 1-3 3-4 4-1 58 6-6

Arizona State struggled even worse than Texas down the stretch, losing three straight games including a 21-point waxing at the hands of Stanford in the first round of the Pac 12 Tournament. The Sun Devils did defeat in-state rival Arizona in double overtime on Valentine’s Day, but proceeded to lose five of seven afterwards.

A Michigan team that won seven of its last eight games holds an enormous advantage in a matchup that will feature a struggling opponent. Only a major upset stands between the Wolverines and a return to Indianapolis for the Sweet 16.

Regional Semifinals (Sweet Sixteen)

Duke logo (3) Duke | 26-8 (13-5 ACC)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
7 5-5 1-0 6-1 6 9-3

With two victories in the opening weekend, Michigan will likely earn a rematch with the Duke Blue Devils that won the previous matchup by 10 in Durham during the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

These two teams have a way of finding each other throughout the course of every season. Duke survived a two-point upset bid from the eighth-seeded Wolverines in the 2011 tournament and defeated Beilein’s team the following season in the Maui Invitational. Michigan’s last win over Duke came on Dec. 6, 2008 in Crisler Arena, just 15 days after losing to the Blue Devils in the 2K Sports Classic championship.

Duke finished tied for third in the ACC this season and lost to Virginia in the conference championship game. The Blue Devils may represent the toughest obstacle for the Wolverines in the Midwest region, as the battle-tested group went 6-4 against RPI top-25 teams.

If Duke falters during the first weekend, Michigan would likely play Massachusetts, Iowa, or Tennessee.

IowaLogo (12) Iowa| 20-12 (9-9 Big Ten)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
55 2-8 3-1 2-2 44 4-8

Iowa completely fell apart late in the season, losing six of its last seven, but beat Michigan by 18 points in Iowa City in the middle of Big Ten play. At their best, the Hawkeyes played like a top-10 team, but that group completely evaporated and just barely squeaked into the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee logo (12) Tennessee | 21-12 (11-7 SEC)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
40 1-5 2-2 4-2 11 7-5

Tennessee, on the other hand, used a five-game winning streak to cement its spot in the tournament before losing a tough battle to Florida in the SEC semifinals. The Volunteers beat just two NCAA Tournament teams this season (Xavier and Virginia) while Michigan won nine of those games. The last meeting came in the first round of the 2011 tournament, when Michigan ran former coach Bruce Pearl out of town with a 30-point drubbing.

UMass logo (6) UMass | 24-8 (10-6 Atlantic 10)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
21 2-0 5-4 6-3 48 7-5

UMass remains more of a mystery after finishing in fifth place in the difficult-to-understand Atlantic 10. Though the league received six bids to the NCAA Tournament, the Minutemen beat just two ranked opponents throughout the season and lost to 12th-place George Mason during conference play.

Should Michigan play against one of these three teams, the Elite Eight would be well within reach.

Regional Finals (Elite Eight)

Wichita State logo (1) Wichita State | 34-0 (18-0 Missouri Valley Conference)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI Top 50 vs. RPI Top 100 SOS Last 12
4 0-0 3-0 7-0 111 12-0

The final test for the Wolverines in their quest for the Final Four could come in many different forms. Wichita State, the only undefeated team in college basketball, looks to return to the Final Four after falling to Louisville in Atlanta last season. The Shockers won all but six of their 34 games this season by double figures, but played just one team seeded better than 10th in the tournament.

Louisville logo (4) Louisville | 29-5 (15-3 AAC)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
19 4-3 1-2 4-0 96 11-1

Louisville emerged as a popular pick to reach the Final Four from the Midwest region just one year after winning the national championship. The AAC Champions impressed by winning 12 of their last 13 games and finishing with a 29-5 record.

But the Cardinals didn’t drop to a No. 4 seed for nothing. Louisville played just nine games against RPI top-40 opponents all season and went just 4-5 in those games. In fact, the defending champs may have received a much lower seed if it weren’t for three victories over Connecticut.

Kentucky logo (8) Kentucky | 24-10 (12-6 SEC)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
16 1-5 3-1 10-3 2 7-5

There’s a chance Michigan could also see preseason No. 1 Kentucky in the Elite Eight. The young Wildcats lost five of their last 10 games, beat just one top-25 opponent (Louisville), and dropped to a No. 8 seed matched up against Kansas State.

Saint Louis logo (5) Saint Louis | 26-6 (13-3 Atlantic 10)
RPI Rank vs. RPI Top 25 vs. RPI 26-50 vs. RPI 51-100 SOS Last 12
26 2-3 3-1 4-1 68 8-4

A final potential matchup would have Michigan and Saint Louis battling for a Final Four trip. The Billikens started the season 25-2 before dropping four of their last five. Saint Louis played two ranked opponents all season, a six-point loss to then-No. 10 Wisconsin on Nov. 26 and a five-point loss to Wichita State on Dec. 1.

No matter which matchups the Wolverines face, the road to Arlington won’t be easy. In what potentially stands as the most difficult bracket in the tournament, Michigan will compete with the only undefeated group in the country, the preseason No. 1 team, the defending national champion and the best coach in college basketball history.

But for a Michigan team that started 6-4 and lost a preseason All-American only to win the Big Ten outright, the Midwest region represents just another step towards the goal of a National Championship.

Louisville 82 – Michigan 76: Magical run falls just short in title game

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013


Final 1st 2nd Total
#10 Michigan (31-8) 38 38 76
#2 Louisville (35-5) 37 45 82

Too young. Too inexperienced. The youngest team in this year’s tournament field was supposed to bow out of the tournament by the end of the first weekend. They had limped to a 6-6 regular season finish that included an embarrassing loss to Penn State, a team that finished the season just 2-16 in Big Ten play.

But something magical happened.

Five games into the Big Dance, not once had the unanimous Big Ten and National Player of the Year, Trey Burke, led the team in scoring. Yet they had won every one of them. Sure, he saved the season with an iconic 30-foot three against Kansas, but he hadn’t played like a player of the year for most of that game. Instead, other stars blossomed.

In the opener against South Dakota State, who many picked to knock off the Wolverines, it was Glenn Robinson III who stole the show, matching his season-high with 21 points. Next, it was Mitch McGary’s turn to shine with a 21-point, 14-rebound performance against VCU, another team that most expected to send Michigan packing.

In that Sweet 16 matchup with Kansas, McGary out-performed All-American Kansas center Jeff Withey with 25 points and 14 boards while Burke was held scoreless in the first half. Against Florida in the Elite Eight, Nik Stauskas stepped up, hitting all six of his three-point attempts en route to a 22-point game and a 20-point Michigan win. Not to be outdone, the less heralded of the freshmen, Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht rose to the occasion in the Final Four with eight and seven points, respectively, to help Michigan top Syracuse. McGary led the way once again with his third double-double in four games while Burke was held to just seven points.

The greatest clean block that was called a foul I've ever seen

All five freshmen made major contributions to the team’s improbable tournament run. Fab Five they were not, but they didn’t need to be. Twenty years after that illustrious and polarizing squad took Michigan to the brink of a national championship as sophomores, the Fresh Five did the same. And with the legends in attendance, they took the court looking to do one better.

But it wasn’t meant to be, as Michigan raced out to a 12-point first half lead only to watch it whittle down to one by halftime. In the second half, the lead was gone they were forced to play catch up for the remainder of the game. The youthful Wolverines and the experienced Cardinals went blow-by-blow in one of the greatest national championship games ever played – certainly the first half could make a case for the greatest half ever played.

It was the stuff of legends, a legend so deep that the star of the first half was Albrecht, who averaged just 1.8 points per game all season. The kid who looks more like Frodo than a basketball star, and was only recruited at the last minute last April as a safety net in case Burke went pro after his freshman season, scored 17 points and helped Michigan jump out to that big lead.

It was a legend so deep that at one point, on the nation’s biggest stage, in front of the Fab Five who were all in the same building together for the first time since 1994, John Beilein put all five freshmen on the court at the same time. Burke sat on the bench with two fouls. Hardaway sat to get a breather. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford sat too. It was a glimpse of what’s to come for Michigan basketball when Burke and Hardaway depart for the NBA, likely as soon as the next week or two. It lasted only but for a minute, but in that moment, Michigan basketball was on top of the world.

Luke Hancock, Louisville’s own unlikely star, a lightly-recruited transfer from George Mason, brought Michigan back to earth. His four straight threes helped cut Michigan’s lead to just one at halftime and he earned the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player award.

In the end, Michigan’s magical run came up just short, but it was fun. The way the game played out was symbolic of the entire season. Michigan struggled all season long with coming out of the gate in big games. In Columbus, the Wolverines trailed 24-6 in the first 10 minutes before a rally came up just short. In Bloomington, Michigan fell behind 26-11 in the first 10 minutes before nearly pulling off a comeback. In this one, Michigan charged out of the gates, confidently seizing a big lead. But this night’s opponent did what it, and Michigan, has done all season – come back from a large deficit – and it was just good enough to hand Michigan defeat.

The 96th team in program history will return to Ann Arbor this afternoon and clean out their lockers. Burke and Hardaway, and perhaps McGary and Robinson III, will contemplate whether their futures are at the next level or whether they can put that off for one more year to make another title run. Whatever choice they make will be just fine. Selfishly, it would be nice if they came back. But if they don’t, what they gave us was a legacy that will be remembered alongside that of the Fab Five, perhaps with even greater reverence because they did it with class and humility right to the very end.

As fans, we will turn our attention to football season, but for the first time in a long time, we will do so with our heads held high. We will do so with an eagerness for the next basketball season to begin because it’s fun again. It’s not just something to fill the time between bowl games and September. Michigan basketball is back and the world knows it. Thank you, Team 96.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 3-4 0-1 6-8 1 1 2 1 12 2 0 0 0 38
10 Tim Hardaway Jr.* 5-13 0-4 2-4 0 5 5 0 12 4 2 0 0 35
04 Mitch McGary* 3-6 0-0 0-0 2 4 6 4 6 1 1 1 1 29
03 Trey Burke* 7-11 3-5 7-9 1 3 4 4 24 3 4 0 1 26
11 Nik Stauskas* 1-2 1-2 0-0 0 2 2 3 3 2 1 1 0 19
02 Spike Albrecht 6-9 4-5 1-2 0 1 1 1 17 0 3 0 0 28
23 Caris LeVert 0-1 0-1 0-0 1 2 3 1 0 0 1 1 0 12
52 Jordan Morgan 0-2 0-0 2-2 1 0 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 8
15 Jon Horford 0-0 0-0 0-0 2 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 5
Totals 25-48 8-18 18-25 8 18 26 15 76 12 12 3 2 200
Louisville 28-61 8-16 18-23 15 16 31 22 82 18 9 9 3 200

National Championship preview: Michigan vs Louisville

Monday, April 8th, 2013


NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
#10 Michigan (4) vs #2 Louisville (1)
Monday, April 8 | 9:23pm ET | CBS
31-7 (12-6) Record 34-5 (14-4)
Slippery Rock 100-62
IUPUI 91-54
Cleveland State 77-47
Pittsburgh 67-62
Kansas State 71-57
NC State 79-72
Bradley 74-66
W. Michigan 73-41
Arkansas 80-67
Binghamton 67-39
West Virginia 81-66
E. Michigan 93-54
C. Michigan 88-73
Northwestern 94-66
Iowa 95-67
Nebraska 62-47
#9 Minnesota 83-75
Purdue 68-53
Illinois 74-60
Northwestern 68-46
#10 Ohio St. 76-74 OT
Penn State 79-71
Illinois 71-58
#9 Michigan St. 58-57
Purdue 80-75
Penn State 83-66
S. Dakota State 71-56
VCU 78-53
#3 Kansas 87-85 OT
#14 Florida 79-59
#16 Syracuse 61-56
Wins Manhattan 79-51
Samford 80-54
Miami (OH) 80-39
Northern Iowa 51-46
#13 Missouri 84-61
Illinois State 69-66
Charleston 80-38
UMKC 99-47
Memphis 87-78
FL International 79-55
W. Kentucky 78-55
Kentucky 80-77
Providence 80-62
Seton Hall 73-58
S. Florida 64-38
UConn 73-58
Pittsburgh 64-61
#25 Marquette 70-51
Rutgers 68-48
St. John’s 72-58
S. Florida 59-41
Seton Hall 79-61
DePaul 79-58
#12 Syracuse 58-53
Cincinnati 67-51
#24 Notre Dame 73-57
Villanova 74-55
#24 Notre Dame 69-57
#19 Syracuse 78-61
NC A&T 79-48
Colorado State 82-56
Oregon 77-69
Duke 85-63
Wichita State 72-68
#15 Ohio State 56-53
#3 Indiana 73-81
Wisconsin 62-65 OT
#8 Michigan St. 52-75
Penn State 78-84
#2 Indiana 71-72
#22 Wisconsin 59-68
Losses #5 Duke 71-76
#6 Syracuse 68-70
Villanova 64-73
Georgetown 51-53
#25 ND 104-101 5OT
75.2 Points Per Game 74.3
62.8 Scoring Defense 58.3
1,068-for-2,212 (48.3%) Field Goal % 1,020-for-2,239 (44.6%)
913-for-2,160 (42.3%) Def. Field Goal % 800-for-2,041 (39.2%)
288-for-751 (38.3%) 3-point % 222-for-675 (32.9%)
234-for-729 (32.1%) Def. 3-point % 213-for-678 (31.4%)
432-for-617 (70.0%) Free Throw % 634-for-897 (70.7%)
11.4 FT Made/Game 16.3
35.2 Rebounds Per Game 36.9
32.1 Opp. Reb. Per Game 33.3
14.6 Assists Per Game 14.5
9.4 Turnovers Per Game 12.5
6.2 Steals Per Game 10.8
2.8 Blocks Per Game 4.2
G – Trey Burke (18.5)
G – Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.6)
Leading Scorer G – Russ Smith (18.1)
C – Gorgui Dieng (9.8)
F – Mitch McGary (6.3)
F – Glenn Robinson III (5.5)
Leading Rebounder C – Gorgui Dieng (9.4)
F – Chane Behanan (6.4)

Twenty years ago, a fabulous group of five sophomores played for a national championship against a college basketball powerhouse. We all know the result, which has been trumpeted across newsstands and the internet for the past week. Chris Webber’s timeout that gave North Carolina two free throws and the ball to seal the victory with 11 seconds remaining was a heartbreaking moment for the Michigan basketball program. And the aftermath was just as devastating. Michigan plunged into basketball purgatory as a result of Webber’s (and others’) off-the-court actions – taking money from booster Ed Martin – and only started climbing out within the past few years.

John Beilein, a college basketball journeyman in his own right, took the reigns from Tommy Amaker in 2007 and suffered through a 10-22 season. Five years later, and just a day removed from the 20th anniversary of that Webber timeout mishap, Michigan returns to the title game against another college basketball thoroughbred.

Louisville entered the tournament as the top overall seed and hasn’t disappointed. The Cardinals rolled through North Carolina A&T, Colorado State, Oregon, and Duke before nearly stumbling in Saturday’s Final Four matchup with Wichita State. The Shockers held a one-point lead at halftime and widened it to 12 with under 14 minutes to play, but Louisville dialed up the defensive pressure, forcing seven turnovers in the final seven minutes to fuel the comeback.

Just like Michigan got unlikely contributions in its Final Four win over Syracuse, Louisville got a 20-point game from backup wing Luke Hancock. The junior averages just 7.7 points per game in 22 minutes of action on the season. But he’s certainly not the Cardinals’ go-to man. That would be junior guard Russ Smith who averages 18.9 point per game. He’s the only player on the team averaging in double figures and he has scored at least 21 points in every tournament game so far. In those five games, he has shot an impressive 50 percent from the field. He’s certainly not shy about shooting the ball, averaging nearly 16 shots – and six threes – per game during the tournament. Like Trey Burke, he is susceptible to poor outings every now and then like a 2-for-13 performance in a January loss to Villanova.

Joining Smith in the backcourt is senior guard Peyton Siva who averages 9.8 points and 5.7 assists per game. He has had an up and down tournament so far, with a 16-point night against Duke in which he made 6-of-10 from the field, but also combined to shoot 2-of-14 for 11 points in games against Oregon and Wichita State. He’s a capable scorer, but he’s much more of a set-up man for Smith.

Inside, the Cardinals have a talented center in Gorgui Dieng who averages 9.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per contest. He didn’t score a point in 30 minutes on Saturday, but scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Duke in the Elite Eight matchup. His length and athleticism allow him to control the paint where he averages 2.5 blocks per game.

Michigan's ball-handlers will have to take extra care against the Louisville pressure

Sophomore forward Chane Behanan scores 9.6 points per game and ranks second on the team with a 6.4 rebound average. He nearly had a double-double against Wichita State with 10 points and nine boards. Wingman Wayne Blackshear gets about 20 minutes per game and averages 7.6 points, while freshman forward Montrezl Harrell averages 5.7 in 16 minutes a game. Harrell scored 11 points against Colorado State on 5-of-7 shooting.

Of course the player that will soak up the airtime on tonight’s broadcast is sophomore guard Kevin Ware who suffered a gruesome leg injury against Duke. He only averaged 16 minutes and 4.5 points per game, but his loss takes away backcourt depth.

As a team, Louisville was the Big East’s top scoring offense, averaging 74.3 points per game, and the fourth best shooting team at 45.6 percent. But the Cardinals aren’t a great three-point shooting team, hitting at a 32.9 percent clip. Neither are they a great defensive rebounding team, ranking ninth in the Big East. That may be an area Michigan can exploit, much like it did in the first half against Syracuse.

With a national title on the line, both teams will give it their all. Neither team has anything left to play for so you can be assured that it will be a hard fought battle from the onset. But what does Michigan need to do in order to win? Let’s take a look.

1. Handle the pressure. Many wondered how the youngest team in this year’s tournament field would handle the big stage on Saturday night, but the Wolverines rose to the occasion. In fact, it was the freshmen that fueled the lead in the first half when the veterans were struggling. A similar response will be needed tonight in an even bigger game. And I’m not only talking about the pressure of the moment.

Louisville is known for its relentless defensive pressure which forced a Big East-leading 10.8 steals per game. Michigan has the best player in the nation, who just happens to be its point guard, to help break the pressure, but don’t be surprised to see a lot of Spike Albrecht once again. The freshman has shown great ball handling skills and decision making along with the ability to hit the big shot when needed.

Michigan was able to get out to a big first half lead against Syracuse because it took care of the basketball, took its time on offense, and didn’t force things. When the Orange applied pressure late in the game to try to complete its comeback, Michigan got a little sloppy with the ball. Fortunately, it didn’t cost them the game, but the Wolverines will need to show the poise it had in the first half of that game rather than down the stretch.

2. Don’t let up. This ties into the first point, but against Louisville no lead is safe. The Cardinals have come back to win six games from deficits of nine points or more this season, including on Saturday. The relentless pressure is able to create turnovers which lead to transition baskets and can swing the momentum in a hurry. If Michigan manages to get out to a sizable lead like it did on Saturday or like Wichita State did on Saturday, the Wolverines need to keep the foot on the gas pedal. Rather than playing not to lose, which it seemingly did down the stretch on Saturday, Michigan must keep attacking and hitting open shots.

A win over Rick Pitino would give John Beilein's squad one of the most impressive lists of coaches beaten en route to a title ever

3. Make free throws. Free throws down the stretch have been dicey all season for Michigan, most glaringly in a loss to Indiana in which both Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. missed the front end of one-and-ones that allowed the Hoosiers to steal a win. On Saturday night, Michigan fans across the globe were having flashbacks as Mitch McGary missed three straight and Burke and Jon Horford each hit just one of two. But this time it didn’t cost them the game. With a national title on the line, the nerves will be at an all-time high and the outcome of the game could very well come down to which team hits its free throws in the closing seconds.

Michigan’s only national title, in 1989, Rumeal Robinson hit a pair of free throws with three seconds left in overtime to give Michigan a 80-79 victory. That’s about as clutch as it gets. Will someone on this team be able to do the same if the situation presents itself?

The good news is Louisville isn’t a great free throw shooting team either, hitting just under 71 percent. Smith and Siva are both solid at 80.6 and 85.9 percent – although Smith struggled from the charity stripe on Saturday – but the rest of the Cardinals team is iffy. Hancock is the next best at 76.9 percent, but Behanan is the guy to foul if possible. He shoots just 54.1 percent and has attempted the second most on the team behind Smith.

Prediction: Michigan has been overlooked all tournament long, but will have every chance to win this one. The Wolverines have already taken down teams coached by Shaka Smart, Bill Self, Billy Donovan, and Jim Boeheim, so confidence isn’t lacking. Over the course of those games, John Beilein’s squad has seen nearly every kind of look possible and has risen to the occasion each time. Louisville will present a similar match up as VCU did in the second game, though the Cardinals will be bigger, longer, and more talented. That was a good matchup for Michigan and the Wolverines can exploit the pressure in this one as well. Virtually nobody thought it possible when the Wolverines limped into the tournament having lost six of 12, but with the way they have played over the last three weeks, all signs point to them being the team of destiny. Yes, Louisville has a great defense, but Michigan leads the nation in fewest turnovers and that will be the key to victory. Michigan wins a close one, 66-62, and puts to rest the demons that have haunted the program over the past 20 years.