Michigan, the B1G's last hope, readies to deal with FSU's length, athleticism
When Michigan tips against Florida State this evening for a chance to get to the Elite Eight, it’s going to have to deal with size like it hasn’t seen this season.
Not that Florida State has a couple of twin towers. That’s not the problem. Instead, it’s that the Seminoles’ average height is impressive, with their five starters going about 6-8, including a backcourt rotation that includes MJ Walker (6-5), RayQuan Evans (6-4) and Anthony Polite (6-6), plus forward Scottie Barnes (6-9).
Considering Michigan is on the other end of the spectrum in the backcourt, with starting guards Eli Brooks (6-1) and Mike Smith (5-11), although with Chaundee Brown (6-5) coming off the bench, it could be a challenge.
“We’ve faced a lot of different teams throughout the year, whether it’s in non-conference play or in Big Ten play and then leading up to postseason play,” coach Juwan Howard told the Detroit Free Press. “So all teams are different in a lot of ways but somewhat similar. … (FSU’s) length averages, what, 6-8? Their wingspan is pretty long. Still (have got to) play the game. Go out there and compete, and that’s what we’re looking forward to in the competition. We look forward to playing on Sunday.”
Florida State’s length makes it a particularly dangerous team defensively, particularly because of its in-your-face defensive style and depth. FSU can roll defenders into the game, keeping fresh bodies on the offense to force opponents into mistakes. In the regular season, the Seminoles held foes to less than 40% shooting, including only 32.6% from 3-point range. FSU has been even better than that in the postseason; in the Seminoles’ first two tournament games, they allowed UNC Greensboro and Colorado to shoot a combined 33.6% from the field. They particularly stifled second-round opponent Colorado, a dangerous 5-seed particularly considering the Pac-12’s success in this tournament, holding the Buffaloes to only 6-of-25 from 3-pont range while creating 18 turnovers. Colorado scored only 53 points, 20 less than their season average. And guard McKinley Wright, who averaged better than 15 points in the regular season, was held to only 10 on 4-of-12 from the field, with four misses from 3-point range.
“I think our guys have locked in a little bit more with the game plan,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said during his pregame media session. “We were at that point in the season where we had made enough mistakes (previously) that we stay away from some of the things we’re not doing very well. And we also realized there’s a sense of urgency. If you don’t win, you’re going home. So I think that all has us in the right frame of mind to, like they say, survive and advance.”
Michigan, though, can counter with a frontcourt that few can match. Even with wing Isaiah Livers sidelined — the veteran has been out since the Big Ten Tournament with a foot injury — the Wolverines are a tough matchup, with center Hunter Dickinson and forward Franz Wagner. Dickinson, the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year has had a relatively quiet NCAA Tournament so far, at least by the lofty standards he set during the regular season, but is capable for going for about 20 and 15 at any time. Wagner doesn’t get the headlines on a balanced and versatile Michigan squad, but he does so much that helps the Wolverines win.
The duo combines to average 27 points and 13.8 rebounds per game, while shooting better than 50-percent from the field.
The duo might have to push the Wolverines into the Elite Eight, where they will face either 2 seed Alabama or 11 seed UCLA with a chance to go to the Final Four. It’s not high on Michigan’s radar — the Wolverines are more worried about FSU’s length and athleticism — but it represents the Big Ten’s last hope for this NCAA Tournament. The others in the conference have already been bounced, even before the start of the Sweet 16.
So if a team is to break the Big Ten’s NCAA title drought, dating back to Michigan State in 2000, then the Wolverines are it. But Howard isn’t concerning himself with what other teams have done.
“I’ll let you guys have fun with that,” he told media before the game. “Right now, all I’m concerned with is just Michigan. I’ve always been that way.”