Sometimes everything just comes together when you least expect it.
Michigan’s season will continue as the Wolverines are headed to Atlanta for their first Final Four in 20 years.
It would have sounded in crazy in late February, on Selection Sunday or with three minutes to play on Friday evening but you have to give this Michigan team credit. They always believed.
There were many times that Michigan looked the part of a Final Four team. The Wolverines cruised through the non-conference season and beat plenty of really good teams this season, playing a handful of others to the wire. But it was impossible to shake the heartbreak in Madison, embarrassment in East Lansing or devastation in State College from any opinion of this Michigan team. The Wolverines fell from likely No. 1 seed to a forgotten No. 4 seed and a trip to the Final Four was the last thing on anyone’s mind outside of the Michigan locker room.
But the Wolverines never looked anymore like a Final Four team than they did on Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium. Michigan outscored Florida 41-17 to start the game, playing its best half of basketball this season, and never looked back en route to a 20-point victory.
Michigan’s offensive numbers for the game are very good but they don’t do the Wolverines’ first half performance justice. Michigan scored 47 points on 36 first half possessions; a whopping 1.31 points per trip against the supposed second best defense in the country. It was an offensive clinic. Michigan had eight fast break points, eight second chance points, hit 7-of-11 threes and rebounded 39 percent of its misses. Just about everything that John Beilein drew up seemed to work including a masterful sideline out of bounds play in the closing seconds of the half. The Wolverine offense was so effective that the second half was a mere formality.
The three point shot catalyzed Michigan’s offense, Michigan shot just 43% inside the arc and 10-of-19 (53%) outside, put Michigan also feasted off of turnovers and fast break opportunities. The Wolverines outscored the Gators 16-7 in points off of turnovers and 21-4 in fast break points. From the opening tip off the game was played at a fast pace; something Michigan dictated. This was as fast or faster as any game that either team played all season at 72 possessions and, including this result, Michigan is 7-2 in games played at 68 possessions or more while Florida is just 2-3.
The Wolverines also blanketed Florida defensively – in both halves. The Gators mustered just .82 points per possession for the game and never looked in sync. Michigan dominated the defensive glass, forced Gator turnovers and held Florida to 46% shooting inside the arc and 20% outside the arc for a 43% effective field goal percentage. The key for Michigan defensively was eliminating the three point shot; Florida only attempted 10 threes for the game and made just two of them. When the Gators did drive, Michigan was physical enough at the basket to contest regularly.
On this night, there was no competition. Michigan was the better team from the coach’s stool on the sideline to the last spot on the bench. From Trey Burke to Spike Albrecht, Michigan dominated the game and will head to Atlanta playing its best basketball of the season.
Michigan will play in the late game Saturday evening at the Final Four with tip off scheduled for 8:49 p.m. at the Georgia Dome (CBS). Syracuse has stifled its opponents throughout the tournament, surrendering just 183 points in 253 tournament possessions, or .73 points per trip.
But let this one sink in, Michigan is going to the Final Four.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas snapped out of his cold streak with a 6-for-6 day from three point range but it all started with a beautiful fast break pass to open play. Stauskas was brimming with confidence and simply didn’t miss. Stauskas, like Michigan, picked an ideal time to have his best shooting night of the season.
- Trey Burke: Burke is the best player in the country and he ran Michigan’s offense to perfection in the first half. He hit a few hiccups in the second half but he looked to be in noticeable back pain and was recovering from a stomach flu bug that affected him against Kansas. Burke finished with 15 points on 5-of-16 (1-5 3pt) shooting, but his 7-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, three steals and eight rebounds should tell you everything you need to know about how important he is to this team.
- Mitch McGary: Once again, McGary set the tone out of the gate. His physical presence around the rim was evident from the opening tip and he racked up eight points and six rebounds before the first TV timeout. McGary actually struggled a bit out of the gate in the second half but then after a quick break he checked back in caught the ball at the top of the key and put it on the floor with his right hand, powering through a Florida defender for a layup.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway was the only Michigan player that truly had a bad game. He started 2-of-11 from the field, finishing 3-of-13. However, I give Hardaway some credit because when he got pulled after taking a handful of bad shots, he checked back in and made plays: a dunk in transition, then a strong defensive rebound before pushing the break on his own and finding Horford for a dunk. Hardaway had a rough weekend in Dallas but Michigan will need him against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, he’s the most natural fit to play in the middle.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson had a quiet night, scoring six points on 3-of-7 shooting with two blocks, a steal and two rebounds, but he set the tone from the opening tip. Florida went to Erik Murphy twice on the low block isolated on Robinson and he forced misses on both shots. Murphy would finish 0-of-11 and Robinson’s day was ear marked by a couple massive alley oops.
- Spike Albrecht: The 5-foot-10 guard from Crown Point that no one wanted out of prep school played a critical role in Michigan’s Final Four run. Albrecht exceeded even the wildest of expectations this season and Sunday’s game was just the feather in his cap. He hit a three, scored in transition and had a highlight steal on an inbound play after a Mitch McGary layup.
- Jon Horford: Going down the box score, seemingly everyone contributed for Michigan and Horford is no exception. He finished with six points (3-3 fg) and four rebounds in eight minutes of play. McGary has drawn all of the headlines but Horford has quietly had a very productive tournament for Michigan off the bench.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan played just six minutes but continued to play hard, grabbing five rebounds while he was on the floor and serving as Michigan’s glue guy defensively when Robinson and McGary needed breathers.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert continues to struggle offensively, missing his only driving attempt and turning the ball over once, but he made up for his turnover with a highlight chase down block.