Michigan On to the Final Four — FSU Wrap-up
It was no thing of beauty; again, that is, Michigan’s brutally tough victory over Florida State in the week two regional final in Los Angeles. All of the talking head experts, some self-proclaimed experts of college basketball, and some perhaps prematurely proclaimed, have labeled Michigan’s victory as ugly.
Place a guarantee on the conclusion that neither Coach John Beilein, or any Wolverine team member, care about the thoughts of the “analytical/basketball informed.” Instead, the Wolverine family care about themselves and reaching a dream: the Final Four this upcoming Saturday in beautiful San Antonio.
If anyone is wondering whether or not Florida State is a good, basketball team, just accept the conclusion that the Seminoles are, by virtue of size, length, well above average athleticism, and like Michigan getting hot at the right time. As we all know, FSU took out a strong number one Xavier team last week. It is not everyday, somewhat rare that the winner of the 8-9 match-up pulls off this prize.
It was not arduous or brilliant to predict the game could be Montana ugly, a compliment to Montana, a team that was very well prepared and gritted Michigan to the very end. Michigan did not need the heroics of the Jordan Poole endgame shot.
Florida State can score points; it may have not looked as such last night, but consider the following. FSU scored 101 points against Syracuse, 91 against a good Virginia Tech defensive team, 103 against Miami, only 55 against the top defensive team in America, Virginia; 93 against Duke (probably prezone),81 against a tough Clemson bunch, and 75 against a top eight Gonzaga team. Florida State is better offensively than demonstrated last night. The reason for the discrepancy is obvious; the Michigan defense.
Florida State scored a season low 54 points last night against Michigan. Each game is different, and each set of match-ups presents new examination and planning, but one consistency has stood out throughout the tournament, the effectiveness of the Michigan defense.
One old coach’s saying that is a mantra long stated, and long held to be true, is that CONSISTENCY IS THE HALLMARK OF A CHAMPION. All through the tournament those who are in the know about Michigan basketball held the viewpoint that the one consistency this team could count on time after time was defense. The dividend was again paid last night.
Coach Beilein as always, again spoke eloquently about how the assistant coaching staff the last two years has led the transformation. There is less doubt about how the entire team has bought in to the heavy defensive emphasis than say that George Washington was the first president. George, the ultimate man of the enlightenment, was actually not the first president.
Luke Yaklich is the man getting most of the credit, but clearly this transformation, not one of accident or mere chance, started last year with Beilein’s decision to hire an assistant based on sound defensive teachings, that being Billy Donlon.
Coach Donlon clearly improved the defensive status of some of the Wolverines and left to return to Northwestern not having totally transformed the team’s defensive ability and performance. Enter coach Luke and add in the increased playing time of Z Simpson and the addition of Michigan’s best athlete, Charles Matthews, and lo and behold, Michigan slowly demonstrates near elite, or elite, defensive execution.
When a team scores in the 50’s or 60’s in a national tournament, as Michigan has done three times so far, that team better play some strong defense to advance.
So, the preliminaries are over and on to the actual game we go.
Again, as mentioned numerous times, Matthews and Robinson would be the keys to success. Matthews because he is the best athlete, an elite defender, a high level rebounder, Michigan’s best bet to get to the rim (with Simpson also being in consideration), and a guy with enough all around talent to score in double figures each time out. Robinson because when he hits just one or two three point shots, the opposition must stretch the defense. Robinson is also the team’s best chance in end game situations.
The large, happy child, known as Moe Wagner, is inconsistent, not so much due to match-ups, but more by what day it is. Michigan continues to ignore favorable match-ups and only once last night did Moe have the ball low for a favorable planned shot. His points came inside from cleanups and resulting fouls. He o-ferred on three point shots last night. But next week could be different.
Charles Matthews has clearly bought in and is being used very well on both ends of the court.
Again, Z Simpson had the tough tasks of being worked by the press and trying to get inside against a forest of tall and gifted, jumping defenders. Again, he did just well enough to tip the edge to Michigan.
Michigan got a little lazy early on defending a hot shooter on threes. But at the start of the second half Florida State went right after Moe three times, one on one, and Wagner won two of the battles. After Moe’s stand, it appeared Florida State partially abandoned that match-up.
Michigan gave up some offensive rebounds that helped out Florida State. But at the end game time, Michigan got the rebounds that counted.
Michigan did just enough dumb stuff to help Florida State stay in the game; namely a couple of those famous one-handed, soft, lazy passes, being somewhat passive in coming back to meet the ball against the press, throwing it into a big guy locked dead in the corner, and Robinson’s blunder of giving Florida State three free throws by flying out on a head fake.
Really, after the previous sins of commission, only the ability to sink shots, including foul shots, comes into question. The answer is obvious: some days the shots go in more than other days. Credit Florida State, a tough team inside, one that thrives on blocked shots and disruption by length. Florida State took away Michigan’s running game effectiveness.
Let us end this little article with a discussion about significance. Michigan is the only Big Ten team left. Michigan was the only Big Ten team to make the elite eight. Michigan will be ranked top five in the end poll. Michigan would probably have been listed as a fifty to one shot in November of making the Final Four. Most, here and everywhere, thought Michigan to be a fifty-fifty chance to make the field of 68. There was an early ugly game against LSU and a second half melt down in Columbus. But the ship got righted and Beilein’s vision became reality.
Michigan will play Loyola of Chicago, one of many fine Jesuit institutions in the Midwest. Coach Beilein has spoken fondly of his Jesuit roots and education. What a nice match-up of two similar teams, both long shots to make it this far. Sister Jean is now rock star famous and good for her, enjoy the limelight and a great life experience.
As the gifted intellect Mortimer Snerd once said, “Who’d a thunk it?”