Michigan is headed to the Elite Eight for the third time in six years after a dominating 99-72 victory over Texas A&M. Will anyone stop the Wolverines?

By Michael Beller
March 22, 2018

No. 3 Michigan is headed to the Elite Eight for the third time in six years after a dominating 99-72 win over No. 7 Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. By time 10 minutes ticked off the clock, it was clear that this game would be this round's blowout game. Senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (24 points on 9-of-16 shooting) and junior Mo Wagner (21 points on 8-of-12 shooting) led the Wolverines, while the team also drained 14 three-pointers in the game. What did we learn from Michigan's rout? For one thing, the Wolverines are certainly a team with Final Four potential.

Against Texas A&M, Michigan showed how good it could be

If Michigan ultimately moves on to the Final Four, part of the story will be the upsets in the West Region. Michigan didn’t have to go through No. 2 North Carolina to get to the Elite Eight, and it won’t have to beat No. 1 Xavier to get to San Antonio. But make no mistake: Michigan isn’t at this point thanks to a watered-down region. The Wolverines are on the doorstep of the Final Four on their own merit, and that was on full display Thursday. They effectively ran Texas A&M out of the gym in the first half, scoring 52 points on 20-of-35 from the floor, including 10-of-16 from behind the arc. Mo Wagner, who struggled in the Wolverines’ wins in the first and second rounds, racked up 14 points on nine field goal attempts. They beat their lead almost exponentially, burying the Aggies before they even had a chance to get going. Michigan has been one of the top defensive teams in the country all season, but when the Wolverines are at their best, they’re ruthlessly efficient on offense, largely on the strength of long-distance shooting. The Aggies learned that the hard way in the Sweet 16.

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Mo Wagner could key a Michigan Final Four run

Michigan was mostly an ensemble cast all season, getting key contributions offensively and defensively from all of its starters, plus players like Jon Teske and Jordan Poole. Still, Mo Wagner stood out above the group, leading the team with 14.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He was held in check in wins over Montana and Houston in the first two rounds of the tourney, combining for 17 points on 7-of-16 from the floor. There’s nothing wrong with a 43.8% field goal percentage in a two-game sample, especially for a player who does most of his damage from the perimeter, but Michigan couldn’t reach its ceiling without Wagner at his best. As good as an ensemble team can be during the regular season, Final Four teams—especially those that get those elusive fifth and sixth wins—are typically led by a singular scorer who can put the team on his back and get or create buckets in key moments. If Michigan is going to ultimately going to cut down the nets in San Antonio, Wagner will have to be that scorer. No matter which teams they have to go through to get to that point, he proved that he has that club in his bag on the big stage.

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John Beilein is one of the best coaches in the country

This is not to take any credit away from Wagner, or Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Zavier Simpson, Duncan Robinson or Charles Matthews. But head coach John Beilein routinely puts together the best game plans in the country. His players had to execute, and they did that to perfection. But with all due respect to those players, there are far more talented teams in the country than Michigan. Many of them, however, are at home watching the rest of the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines are one of the final eight teams still dancing and much of that owes to Beilein’s coaching abilities. The college basketball world has long known how great a coach he is, going back to the 2004-05 season when he led West Virginia to the Elite Eight as a No. 7 seed. With his third trip to the Elite Eight in 11 years at Michigan, and on the doorstep of his second Final Four, Beilein has undoubtedly placed himself among the top coaches in the game.

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