What They’re Saying: National writers on Michigan’s Final Four chances

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan is headed to its first Final Four in 20 years and now sits two games away from its second National Championship in program history.

With just three games of the tournament remaining, the national media focus is all on Michigan, Syracuse, Louisville and Wichita State. We rounded up a number of national media takes on Michigan’s run to the Final Four and what the Wolverines’ chances are to win the whole thing.

John Gasaway calls Michigan’s appearance in the Final Four a “qualified surprise”:

Michigan wasn’t expected to make it this far — Indiana was clearly superior to the Wolverines per-possession in Big Ten play — and so John Beilein’s team certainly merits inclusion under the “surprise” label. But I think the nature of that surprise has been misunderstood, starting with the fact other recent Final Four teams (namely, again, Butler and VCU in 2011) made it this far despite even longer odds. Start with the fact there was a good deal of attention paid to the Wolverines’ defense in particular this season, and more specifically to the idea that the level of D played by Beilein’s team (pretty good, but certainly nothing special) might be a deal-killer in terms of this team reaching Atlanta.

Frankly, this scrutiny of the Michigan defense confused me on a couple of fronts. First, during this team’s time of struggle (basically the month of February) the offense wasn’t exactly poetry in motion, either, regardless of what the season totals were saying. And, second, it’s a safe bet that, until further notice, no Final Four team will be as bad at anything as Louisville was at offense in 2011-12, and the Cardinals did indeed make a national semifinal anyway.

Ken Pomeroy says Michigan is getting hot at the right time:

Finally, Michigan was the flip side of Louisville entering the tournament. They owned one of the country’s best scoring units, but had some questions on defense. With the exception of the miracle win over Kansas, Michigan’s defense has been much better in the tournament than it was during the rest of the season, holding Florida to its least-efficient game of the year, and limiting VCU to its second-worst offensive game. And offensively, the Wolverines also have been very good, though it might be closer to disappointing without Mitch McGary’s contributions.

Trey Burke’s heroics rightly received top billing after the game against Kansas, but it was McGary who went off for 25 points and 14 rebounds to keep the Wolverines within striking distance while Burke struggled early. In fact, McGary could rightly claim to be Michigan’s offensive MVP to this point of the tourney. He’s emerged as the clear second option behind Burke and he’s been much more efficient than his team’s point guard, converting 33 of 45 2-point shots while racking up 14 offensive rebounds. He’s heavily involved in the team’s offense, has missed 12 shots, but cleaned up 14 misses. That’s amazing production from a guy who started just two games during the regular season.

Jamie Dixon talks Michigan at ESPN but notes that the Wolverines “don’t run a lot” something most would disagree with.

Dixon: “I just remember how good [Trey] Burke was and the spacing and obviously how much [Mitch] McGary has changed. Jordan Morgan was a heckuva player — this guy can score. Burke is the best point guard in the country. That’s a good place to start with them. They don’t run a lot, just ball screens and back-cuts. I would say this is a better rebounding team than [coach John Beilein] has had at Michigan. We outshot them, we beat them in every aspect, but they outrebounded us [31-21], and that never happened [against a Beilein team]. This team is stronger and a better rebounding team and a better defensive team, and that’s what has made them good enough to get this far.”

Myron Medcalf on Michigan-Syracuse:

Michigan (4) vs. Syracuse (4): Trey Burke is arguably the best player in America. And his uncanny late-game explosion against Kansas in the Sweet 16 proved as much. Burke guides a unit that seems built to disrupt Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. The Wolverines are shooting 49.5 percent from the field in the NCAA tournament. Burke is quick enough to exploit the creases in the scheme and find members of his talented supporting cast. Nik Stauskas (6-for-6 from the 3-point line in Sunday’s win over Florida in the Elite Eight), Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr. can all hurt opponents from different spots on the floor. Plus, Mitch McGary looks like a future All-American right now (two double-doubles in Michigan’s four NCAA tourney games).

Matt Norlander wrote a feature story on Michigan’s run to the Final Four:

This green Michigan team, younger than any group in this year’s tournament, is going to a Final Four because it’s in bloom. The Wolverines are now what we believed they could be back in November and December. Proof of promise comes in the form of Final Four berths, and that’s what UM has finally come around to. Age is no issue. It plays great, beautiful, dazzling offense. It has weapons as varied, strong, multidimensional and renewable as any team in this tournament.

Norlander also looked at Michigan’s Final Four chances:

Why Michigan might win it all: They’ve got the best player in Burke, who helps fuel an offensive attack that’s the most dynamic in college basketball. Michigan’s O has been top-five in hoops all season long, and now it’s rounding fully into form. Having the best player at the Final Four always means you have a chance.

Why Michigan might not win it all: That defense is the reason. It’s the reason Michigan didn’t finish in the top three in its own — very good — league. It’s shown up here the past two weekends, but there is some suspicion there would be problems here if it were to face a team like Louisville.

Louisville is the best defensive team in college basketball, and Michigan’s the best on offense. It would be only fitting if these two were to meet in the national title game. And that is what I think happens. This team’s too fun, too efficient, too good at what it does to get topped by a Syracuse club with a great zone D but that lacks in overall ability with the ball.

So I like Michigan in the title game, but I’ll stop there.

Michigan’s odds continue to sky rocket in Nate Silver’s projections at Five Thirty Eight:

Probability of reaching Final Four before tournament began: 12.7 percent

Chance of winning tournament before tournament began: 2.4 percent

Chance of winning tournament before Round of 16: 3.8 percent.

Chance of winning tournament now: 21.2 percent

Steve Kerr to the Detroit News on the Michigan-Syracuse matchup:

“As everyone knows, when you go against Syracuse you’ve got to deal with that athletic zone,” Kerr said. “It will be tough for Burke and (Nik) Stauskas to see over those long defenders. They saw a zone against Florida that’s going to pale in comparison to what they’re about to see. The key with Michigan is navigating that zone, trying to get good shots and getting their guards going. They’re so dependent on those guys for scoring, so they’re going to have to find some open looks, and it’s not going to easy.”

Ken Pomeroy looks at the least like comebacks this season, Michigna’s win over Kansas ranks 15th

Michigan’s comeback over Kansas, trailing by ten with 2:32 left and playing defense, had a 0.62% chance of occurring according to my win probability model. This was the 15th least-likely comeback of the season. (Ranking just ahead of Michigan’s own collapse to Penn State on February 27.) What follows are the 13 comebacks from this season that ranked as more unlikely.

  • MH_20

    The blockquote and link attributed to Ken Pomeroy is actually John Gasaway again. Also, I really wonder if Jamie Dixon has even watched Michigan play this season at all, including the game he coached against them.

    • Northern Blue

      He is clearly basing his whole opinion of this Michigan team based on the one game he coached against us early on this year. Saying they don’t run is way off base.

      • ChathaM

        I think what Dixon is saying is that they “don’t run a lot” of set plays; that they ballscreen and read the defence from there. If that’s what he meant, then he’s right. But, he also said that Morgan can score, so maybe he just wasn’t paying attention.

        • mikey_mac

          Agree, this is what he meant.
          As for Morgan, maybe he just scouted too much film of Morgan playing Northwestern, who tend to make him look better than any other opponent does.

          • swinawer

            I think he is comparing McGary to Morgan and pointing out that while Morgan is a good player, McGary is a scoring threat.

          • mikey_mac

            Yeah, agree, my comment on Morgan was mostly tongue-in-cheek.

          • I think that would make more sense in re-reading it… Also is fairly true.

        • rlcBlue

          He definitely was forming all his impressions from the game in November, and the rebounding edge we had against Pitt was crucial – that and the turnovers vs. the 1-3-1 were the keys to the win.

          And through January, the team looked pretty damned good with Morgan as the starting post/primary roll man. McGary, on the other hand, committed 4 fouls and 3 turnovers in 13 minutes against Pitt.

  • UM Hoops Fan

    Pitt outplayed us in every aspect except rebounds, turnovers, getting to the foul line, making free-throws, etc. They were lucky we shot way below average on 3 and they shot above their average or it would have been a 15-pt blowout, easy.

    As for “Pomeroy,” I think it might be Gasaway. Just curious. Also, I don’t have the full article, but ‘Cuse’s opponents have shot 13%, 19%, 20%, and 13% from 3, for something like 16-17% total. Even if you say ‘Cuse’s zone might make a 3% difference, as Pomeroy has, and ours makes a 3% difference in wrong way, ‘Cuse has still been luckier than us re: how their opponents have shot from distance.
    Here’s what I’m looking for: can we make quick, aggressive, but smart decisions on O — this is what gets the zone, in my opinion. And can we get some stops early and get out running. Playing from behind against the zone is a lot harder than from ahead or in a tight game.

    • David DeMember

      Weren’t we blowing them up most of the game until the end, or was that just K-State?

  • Yeah.. I misquoted the wrong article there, just changed it over to something Pomeroy wrote that I originally wanted to quote.

    • UM Hoops Fan

      Yeah, but you made the second part of my comment irrelevant by deleting the quote I responded to. Thanks a lot Dylan!

      • Here you go:


        I may rate the Wolverines’ chances below those of Louisville and Syracuse, but keep in mind this same Michigan team had, realistically speaking, no chance down 11 to Kansas in the Sweet 16 with a little less than four minutes to play. Somehow John Beilein’s team got that job done, and it wouldn’t shock me in the least to see a team this good win it all.

        That said, in comparison to the other teams headed to Atlanta, there is one thing about Michigan that does give me pause. Teams are still making shots against this defense, just as they’ve done all season long. In their four tournament wins, the Wolverines have allowed opponents to make 53 percent of their 2s. The fact that those same opponents have made just 25 percent of their 3s has lessened the blow to the Wolverines’ defense, but I don’t expect Syracuse to rely heavily on shots from beyond the arc.

  • Dr_ZC

    Take all these stats and throw them out the window. They are not meant for the final 4.

  • Mattski

    I think that the emergence of McGary pretty much kneecaps most prior analysis. He’s hardly an MSU-style banger, thank goodness, but he’s nonetheless tough. And we’re seeing how skilled he is. He does some new thing with the ball in every game now–holding it away behind his back from the defense after a rebound, or putting it back with his off hand very deftly, ahead of blocks–that blows my mind.

    For whatever reason, Stauskas and GRIII have really had good stretches of D, as well. You have to think they’ll be well-drilled for Syracuse.

  • Mith

    “It’s the reason Michigan didn’t finish in the top three in its own — very good — league.”
    I find it useless to talk about Michigan not finishing in the top 3 of the B10. It’s true, but we’re talking about a team that was a tip-in that rolled off at the buzzer from tying for 1st.

    • David DeMember

      Michigan was never really a 4 seed, we got that seed to pair with our “home games” to start the tournament. Which was huge considering getting out of the first weekend was the monkey on our back. We had had the same record as Florida, yet played about 10 games against top 10/15 teams… florida played 1 or 2 total, not to mention losing to a Noel-less Kentucky!

      Second, take away the Indiana “Free throw/Tip in fiasco” plus the wiscy miracle (let’s not even mention the hex PSU had on us) and we’re in the top 4 overall, tied for 1 in the B1G!

      This is a year where rankings were impossible; there was just so much parody.

      Final AP

      Indy 4
      Ohio 7
      State 9
      Good guys 10
      Wiscy 18

      Oh ya, and Gonzaga (florida listen up)… I guess not playing anybody is grounds to demote a team’s rankings. That conference was terrible (SEC and WCC both really), I know its not their fault, but still.

      With all the rambling said… college ball, especially the tourney is about matchups. It’s been great playing non-B1G teams. :)

  • Champswest

    Syracuse worries me more than any team we have faced in the tourney thus far. I think the key is transition offense before they can set up the zone. That means rebounding and turnovers. Avoiding Syracuse transition offense by not turning the ball over would be a big help also.

    • David DeMember

      Actually, I love our chances. We’ve typically struggled against teams that extend the pressure D to half court and then play a solid half court D (see: OSU, indy). To beat a zone, you need to be patient and have shooters. Marquette was I believe the worst 3 pt shooting team in the dance. We are one of the most patient, creative teams offensively and clearly we can shoot the 3.

  • David DeMember

    BTW, Everyone keeps talking about how tall syracuse is… um, so are we. burke/triche cancel out… almost everyone else on the floor is 6’6″ on both sides sans the bigs.