Michigan is ‘Elite’ once again after dominating Sweet 16 opponent Florida State to the tune of 76-58 on Sunday evening.
The Wolverines led for over 34 minutes of the contest, including the entire second half. Michigan advances to the Elite 8 for the fourth time since 2013, and awaits the winner of the Alabama-UCLA contest.
Both teams struggled to find cracks in the opposing defense in the early-goings, playing to a 4-4 tie at the first under-16 timeout. In the following six minutes, the Wolverines took advantage of several Florida State turnovers to go on a 10-0 run, building a 19-8 lead.
That margin would hold for the remainder of the half, as Michigan took a 32-21 edge into the locker room. The two teams shot an identical 33 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes, but the Wolverines had an advantage at the free throw line, hitting 8 of 11 attempts.
After 10 turnovers led to 16 points for Michigan, the Seminoles came out of the break much better offensively, taking care of the basketball and finding better looks. Florida State cut the Wolverines’ lead to 41-36 with just under 15 minutes to play.
But as we’ve seen time and again this season, Michigan had a response. The Wolverines punched back with a 15-5 run, highlighted by the post production of Austin Davis and a pair of ‘and-1’ baskets from Mike Smith.
That surge seemed to drain the life out of Florida State, as Michigan cruised to an 18-point victory.
1. Wagner’s defense sets the tone
It still blows my mind that Franz Wagner was left off the Big Ten’s All-Defensive team. The sophomore proves night in and night out that he’s one of the top defenders in the country. Tonight against Florida State, Wagner continually flustered his offensive opponent and anchored the defensive effort for the Wolverines. Michigan limited the Seminoles to .828 points per possession before their reserves entered the game. On offense, Wagner made his mark as well, finishing with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. The sophomore was 0-for-4 on three-point attempts – about the only negative thing you could point to in his game tonight – but he was so good when attacking the paint. When Wagner is at his best, Michigan is at its best. It’s that simple.
2. Dickinson battles through early struggles
The freshman hasn’t faced many frontcourt’s with Florida State’s size, and you could tell early in this game there was going to be an adjustment period for Dickinson. The 7-footer battled through it, and ended up with a solid game. Dickinson finished with 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, grabbed 8 rebounds, had 2 assists and 2 blocks for a well-rounded performance. In addition to the numbers he put in the box score, the freshman’s presence continued to open up opportunities for his teammates. There were several occasions where Florida State was so occupied with boxing out Dickinson, that a different Wolverine came up with an offensive rebound. Michigan grabbed 11 offensive boards, and converted them into 17 second-chance points.
3. Johns Jr. steps up again
How good has the junior been since Isaiah Livers went down? Brandon Johns Jr. continues to step up and play big as the Wolverines’ fifth starter. Tonight against the Seminoles, Johns Jr. took advantage of his offensive opportunities to score 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting. The junior was also active on defense and on the glass, collecting 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. It was announced today that Livers will miss the remainder of this tournament. His absence could have derailed the Wolverines’ season, but the play of Johns Jr. has helped keep Michigan on track.
4. Brown, Davis provide bench support
Chaundee Brown has really come alive in these last two wins for the Wolverines. After scoring 21 points last weekend against LSU, the transfer from Wake Forest provided a lift off the bench once again on Sunday night. Brown finished with an efficient 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, and was stellar defensively as usual. The senior has really stepped up big against two tough opponents, and Michigan is in great shape if he continues to perform at this level. Meanwhile, backup center Austin Davis came in and made his usual impact in relief of Dickinson. The senior big man had 6 points on 3-of-3 shooting, grabbed 3 rebounds and even handed out an assist. The Wolverines have played some of their best basketball in these last two tournament games, and the production they’ve gotten from their bench has been a factor in these outcomes.
5. Michigan is ‘Elite’ once again
This program has been on quite a ride since Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Wolverines to the national championship game back in 2013. Since that season, Michigan has the most NCAA Tournament wins of any program, and they just punched their ticket to a fourth trip to the Elite 8 in nine years. Wolverine fans have gotten a glimpse of what it’s like to be fans of programs like Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas and Duke. This has been an exceptional decade of Michigan basketball – led by two outstanding coaches in John Beilein and Juwan Howard. Regardless of what happens on Tuesday night, this program is as healthy as it’s ever been, and there’s no reason to expect it won’t continue to thrive.