Michigan played its second worst offensive game of the season on Saturday night and it was still enough to punch a ticket to the Final Four. That’s because the Wolverines held Florida State to their worst offensive performance of the year at just .84 points per possession.
This Michigan team defends. It defends better than any other college basketball team still playing.
After spending months taking a wait and see approach in evaluating Michigan’s improved defense, there’s no more denying it. This is a special defensive group that is only getting better.
This was a masterpiece in tempo control by Michigan. The Wolverines held the game to just 64 possessions which marks the second slowest game that Florida State played all season. The Seminoles finished the game with more shot clock violations than fast break points (0) and Michigan managed to score 12 fast break points of its own.
Michigan’s defense was dominant from the opening tip. It felt like there were more highlight defensive possessions in this single game than in entire seasons during Beilein’s early years.The Wolverines forced shot clock violations and contested every jumper. Zavier Simpson ripped the ball from driving guards and Charles Matthews blocked shots above the rim.
48 hours after Florida State seemed to punk Gonzaga with its length and athleticism, Michigan flipped the script.
The Wolverines set the tone in the first half with their ball pressure and ability to rack up deflections. Florida State turned the ball over 14 times in the opening 20 minutes and Zavier Simpson was in the middle of what seemed like every giveaway. The Seminoles made their first shot of the second half, but then Michigan put together a streak of 7 straight stops (and 10 missed shots) that powered a 11-0 run.
Florida State finished the game with 15 turnovers and just 16 made baskets. Michigan held the Seminoles to a 35% effective field goal percentage, forced turnovers on almost nearly one out of every four possessions, and rebounded 71% of FSU’s missed shots. The Noles made just 12-of-34 shots inside the arc.
It was a defensive clinic. The crowning moment for Luke Yaklich’s defense and one that left the Seminoles without any answers.
The biggest strategic twist came midway through the second half when Leonard Hamilton shifted his starting four-man, Phil Cofer, to the five. That decision to go all in to small ball triggered a run — Cofer was more effective slipping to the rim — and forced Michigan to adjust. It was a move that maybe Florida State should have gone to earlier, but the Wolverines did just enough to adjust their ball screen defense and close out the game.
The other end of the court was a constant struggle. Florida State switched every ball screen and took Michigan out of its base offense. The Wolverines only scored .91 points per possession while shooting just 4-of-22 from 3-point range. Many of the looks were clean, but they just didn’t fall. Maybe it was Florida State’s length, maybe it was tired legs or just a bad day.
Florida State’s pressure on the ball bothered Michigan, but in the end it was also its undoing. The pressure left driving lanes and gaps to the basket and the Wolverines consistently drove the ball. Michigan made 15-of-27 2-pointers (56%) and got to the free throw line 24 times (making 16). Only four teams shot a higher percentage inside the arc against the Noles this season. It was the ability to get to the free throw line that carried Michigan to a first half lead after the offense flat lined for most of the first half.
Michigan will face Loyola on Saturday night in San Antonio, a game against the only team with a longer active winning streak than the Wolverines. There’s only one more net left to cut down and the Wolverines are only two wins away.
- Charles Matthews: In previous years, Michigan might get out-athleted in a game like this. Tonight in Los Angeles, Charles Matthews was the best player on the floor. Matthews finished with a monster 17 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal in 39 minutes. He hit shots, he attacked the rim, he finished through contact and flat out defended. Matthews had such a difficult close to the regular season and he’s essentially rebuilt himself in postseason tournaments. He’s averaging 16.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament and only has one game with more than one turnover. Matthews has finally mastered the art of landing on two and finishing around the rim and his confidence his at an all-time high.
- Zavier Simpson: Early in this season Simpson set the tone with his defense. Midway through the year he showed that he can make timely plays on offense. Tonight, he bossed the game on both ends of the floor. His driving layup and drive-and-dish to Duncan Robinson in the corner were the biggest plays of the game and he made them look easy. There’s so much talk about how this isn’t a typical Beilein team and that’s because it is Zavier Simpson’s team. This group embodies his toughness and his defense and has been built up around him.
- Moritz Wagner: Beilein used to love to use the term “emotionally drunk” and that was Moritz Wagner tonight. He was fired up from the opening tip but just couldn’t make a shot from anywhere away from the rim. He missed 7 3-pointers on the night and many of them were incredibly clean looks. He scrapped his way to 12 points on 3-of-4 shooting inside the arc and 6-of-8 shooting at the line.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson hit the dagger three from the corner that seemed to all but put the game away before Michigan’s dicey late free throw shooting. Robinson’s improvement on defense is really what stands out to me about his development and he has been so much more active on that side of the floor.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman was just 1-of-5 inside the arc, but he was Michigan’s only played to make more than one 3-pointer in the win. He seemed to be flustered by Florida State’s perimeter length but still gave Michigan solid minutes.
- Jon Teske: Teske made his only shot of the game, but it was the quality defense that he provided which was so critical. When Teske is on the floor, Michigan gets more length at the rim and can survive without Wagner. He wasn’t credited with a block, but had multiple contests at the rim.
- Isaiah Livers: Livers played some minutes at the five late in the game which is a twist that I think we could see again against Loyola on Saturday. He’s still trying to rediscover his offense, but he’s able to give Michigan pretty solid minutes defensively other than one break down on a corner three.
- Jaaron Simmons: It will be forgotten on the box score, but Simmons came into the game and gave the Wolverines a quality six minute stretch in the first half. He came to Michigan just to play in the NCAA Tournament, now he’ll play in the Final Four.
- Jordan Poole: It felt like the stakes of this game were too high for Michigan’s coaching staff to trust Poole on the floor. He only played 2 minutes in the first half and didn’t record a stat.
Photos: Patrick Record