KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As invigorating as its run has been, and as modest as its seventh-seed is, it is a strain to characterize Michigan as a classic March Cinderella tale. Even its coach grants that.
“I don’t think we see ourselves as a Cinderella,” John Beilein said in the locker room Wednesday, one day before the Wolverines’ Sweet 16 matchup with Oregon. “We’ve just had our backs to the wall longer than some other teams.”
The wall finally collapsed behind Michigan on Thursday. Oregon moved on to another Elite Eight with a 69-68 win in a thriller that was choppy at times but dazzling at the finish. Here are three thoughts on the action from the Sprint Center:
1. Tyler Dorsey out-Supermanned Derrick Walton, Jr.
But just barely. Dorsey had been Oregon’s version of Mr. March, scoring 51 points combined in the Ducks’ first-weekend games. The 6’4” sophomore was hardly himself early in the Sweet 16, missing four of his first five shots. This didn’t last. He drained his next four and wound finish with a team-best 20 points for the Ducks, including five three-pointers. But his most important dagger came from close range: A gorgeous spin-and-scoop finish with 67 seconds left that proved to be the game-winner for Oregon, giving them the 69-68 lead that didn’t change over the final minute.
“Tyler got us going in the first half and kept us going,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said.
It was a counterpunch that Walton, Jr. didn’t have an answer for, for the first time this postseason. Michigan’s point guard started by scoring 11 first-half points and assisting on seven of the nine buckets he didn’t score himself before intermission. He then drained a late-shot clock pull-up with two minutes left to extend his team’s lead to three, during a massively critical stretch in which his team hit six consecutive shots from the field. But he missed a double-pump shot just before Dorsey hit the go-ahead bucket, and his step-back jumper caught the front of the rim and bounced away as time expired. "Time was winding down and I wanted to get the best shot possible," Walton Jr. said. "I had a good look at the basket. It just didn’t drop for me."
Walton, Jr. finished with 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds to cap one of the most memorable March runs for a small guard since Kemba Walker. But Tyler Dorsey wore the cape on Thursday.
2. Oregon took advantage of a lean night for its opponents’ big men
The Ducks came in getting 42% of their scoring at the rim. And while the two-point efficiency wasn’t entirely breathtaking on Thursday—Oregon shot just 39%% on those attempts—there was enough to push into the Elite Eight because Michigan’s big men were essentially non-existent. The Ducks outscored the Wolverines 34–16 in the paint. That’s not necessarily a death knell for Michigan, if forwards Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson are making up for ineffective defense with scoring. They didn’t. Wagner and Wilson shot a combined 7-of-20 for the evening.
Meanwhile, Jordan Bell feasted with a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double for Oregon. His offensive rebound with 15 seconds left might have been the biggest play of the game, had Dylan Ennis not bricked the front end of a one-and-one that followed. Though the Ducks have been doing this all without impactful big man Chris Boucher, who is out for the year with an ACL tear, they nevertheless benefited from Michigan bigs who were similarly but figuratively absent in the Sweet 16.
"I feel really bad for Chris, just because it’s tearing him up, he wants to be out there so bad and help his teammates," Altman said. "Fortunately the guys have made a few adjustments. Other guys have stepped up. I’m happy we’ve been able to make the adjustment and move forward."
3. Michigan went out doing what it loved
The Wolverines began the Sweet 16 as the team most reliant on three-point shooting—by, like, a lot. Michigan entered the Sprint Center getting 37.7% of its scoring from distance. (Next came Purdue, with a full 4.1% less of its points arriving from beyond the arc.) And true to form, the Wolverines hoisted a staggering 31 three-pointers against Oregon. The issue? They only made 11 while Oregon hit eight of its own on just 16 attempts from long range. It was more than efficient enough to offset the Wolverines’ biggest weapon.