History was made on Saturday night, as thunderous cheers shook the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The 3-seed Michigan Wolverines defeated the 9-seed Florida State Seminoles in the Elite Eight 58-54, in what felt like a Michigan home crowd. The Wolverines advanced to their first Final Four since 2013 and set a program record for total wins in a season with 32.
— Michigan Athletics (@UMichAthletics) March 25, 2018
A Worthy Opponent
Michigan came into Saturday’s Elite Eight game as the 3-seed in the West Region and riding one of the best winning streaks in the country. The Wolverines had won 12 straight, including a Big Ten Tournament Championship, dominant Tournament wins over Montana and Texas A&M, and a buzzer-beating classic against Houston.
Despite all of Michigan’s accomplishments, the Seminoles provided their own unique challenge. The Seminoles had just knocked off three-straight higher-seeded opponents, including 1-seed Xavier in the Round of 32. They did so with physicality, athleticism, and length on defense. The Seminoles also shot above 42% from the field in all three of their previous Tournament games.
The Seminoles battled the Wolverines hard in the first half, limiting the occasionally high-flying Michigan offense to only 2 three-pointers on 10 shots. They trailed by only one point at halftime. The Seminoles got back on top early in the second half on a Christ Koumadje made jumper to bring the score to 28-27. That lead was immediately cut down by a Moritz Wagner made layup on the next Michigan offensive possession. The Seminoles would not see the lead again.
Florida State continued with a strong defensive showing in the second half by limiting Michigan to only 2 more three-pointers on 12 more shots, bringing their total three-point percentage in the game to just 18%. Despite their tough defense, Florida State could not muster up the offense to keep up with Michigan.
Locked-In Defensive Mindset
The Wolverines had one of their worst offensive games of the season, only shooting 18% from the three-point line and 38% from the field. They also got out-rebounded by Florida State and shot 66% from the free throw line. But none of that seemed to matter, because they never trailed by more than 4 points in the entire game. Michigan’s offense did not come to play, but its defense was there to stay. Michigan Head Coach John Beilein was impressed with his team’s defensive performance.
Throughout the game, most of Michigan’s players struggled to hit big shots. The exception was sophomore Charles Matthews, who led the team with 17 points and played 39 minutes. While he came the closest to being a consistent offensive presence for the Wolverines, it was defensive effort that proved to be most important to him.
Michigan’s offense finally began to rear its head in the final minutes of the game. The Wolverines began to pull away when a three-pointer from fifth-year senior Duncan Robinson put the Wolverines up 10 points with 2:26 left in the game. The Seminoles would battle back to shrink the lead to 4, but it was too little too late. The clock drained out and Michigan cut down the nets.
The Wolverines are now headed to the Final Four as Big Ten Tournament Champions and Champions of the West Region.
That's two times now we have cut down nets this postseason.
— Michigan Men's Basketball (@umichbball) March 25, 2018
Ramblers on Deck
The Wolverines are flying high on their way to San Antonio, but when they touch down they will run into another high-flying team in the Loyola-Chicago
Ramblers. The 11-seed Ramblers are champions of the chaotic South Region and have become the darlings of the college basketball world. The Ramblers defeated their first three opponents in the Tournament by a combined 4 points and then proceeded to dominate Kansas State in the Elite Eight with a 16-point victory.
Loyola-Chicago may not be a basketball powerhouse, but they are a fundamentally dangerous team. The Ramblers have 6 players who have scored double digits in the Tournament and combine versatile shooting, physical post presence, and tough defense. Michigan will need to prepare, because the Ramblers will give them everything they have in San Antonio.
Michigan plays Loyola-Chicago at 6:09 P.M. ET next Saturday in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.