The No. 7 Michigan Wolverines enter the 2017 NCAA Tournament fresh off their B1G 10 Tournament Championship. They claimed the trophy after their dismantling of the No. 2 seed Wisconsin in the title game, 71-56. Currently, the Wolverines find themselves on a 7-game win streak entering the Sweet 16 vs No. 3 Oregon on Thursday.
No matter the opponent, No. 3 Oregon is not phased by anyone. The Ducks enter the third round of the tournament after scuffling in Sacramento over the weekend. After surging through the No. 14 Iona defense, No. 11 Rhode Island presented a separate test of fortitude.
“Seeds don’t matter. Michigan is a tough team,” said Dillon Brooks. “They play hard. They won the B1G 10 Tournament. They’re a well-coached team. They know how to win.”
On Tuesday, Nov. 25 2014, the freshman Brooks played in his fourth collegiate game which came against Michigan. The Ducks lost, 70-63, to the Wolverines in the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“I remember those guys from my freshman year in Brooklyn,” said Brooks. “We want payback and revenge.”
Brooks had 14 points and seven rebounds in defeat. Meanwhile, Casey Benson and Jordan Bell also played for the Ducks that day.
The seventh-seed has three starters remaining from that victory over Oregon, including guards Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin. DJ Wilson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman combined to play four minutes against UO that day, but have emerged as starters during their junior season.
The Ducks are 0-4 all-time against the Wolverines. Not to mention, Las Vegas made the Ducks the underdog for this game. Is that supposed to scare us?
TEAM OF DESTINY?
After their plane skid off the runway en route to the B1G 10 Tournament, this Michigan team has become a team of destiny. Alongside their new winning ways, America has understandably jumped on the bandwagon of this talented team.
You have to respect the way they responded to adversity. Everything on a basketball court is simply just a game, as their perspective drastically changed in minutes.
The pressure of losing is now off the team. This Michigan bunch is fearless.
After starting the season as the “worst B1G 10 team on the road,” UM began playing better basketball to begin the month of February. Michigan has ONLY lost two games since February 4, 2017.
JOHN BEILEINING HIS TROOPS
John Beilein is a great coach. He is respected by most in his field. You can see in this Twitter photo, by the Michigan basketball staff, that the coach understands his kids. He knows it can’t be all work and no play. His players gladly return the favor on the floor.
Comin’ at ya. #GoBlue #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/wHGXs30iYV— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) March 20, 2017
I don’t know many coaches that have a loaded Super Soaker in their office, but I think I like it. You can’t ask for much more from a leader than to exhibit an understanding for their players.
Following a stint at West Virginia, Beilein joined the Michigan staff in 2007-08. Since then, he is 215-134 in 349 total games coached. He has advanced to the Final Four once in his career.
A STAR GUARD
Derrick Walton Jr. is the man on this team. The 6-foot-1 guard is averaging 15.4 PPG in 34.8 minutes per game. The senior has amassed 4.8 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.1 SPG. Not to mention, Walton is shooting an impressive 87 percent from the charity stripe. From the floor, he is a 43 percent shooter, alongside registering 41 percent from deep.
“Now we got Michigan. We’re going to go back home and celebrate a little bit, but we’re not happy, we’re not satisfied. We want to get back to the Elite Eight and further,” Tyler Dorsey said following the win over Rhode Island, 75-72.
Needless to say, he is the straw that stirs the Wolverine drink. Yet, Walton did not play well in their last game and Michigan still upset No. 2 Louisville, 73-69. The Michigan star understands his teammates are invaluable to his success.
After starting the season slow, this Michigan team has become one of the most efficient defensive teams in the nation. If you don’t understand defensive efficiency, look no further than the game against the Rhode Island Rams. That team was the second-most efficient defense in the nation and they gave Oregon problems.
“That defense we faced is as good as any defense we faced all year,” said head coach Dana Altman of Rhode Island. “We were very fortunate today with our turnovers to get that done.”
The Ducks were indeed fortunate to slip past the Rams after an 11-point comeback in the final 20 minutes. Not to mention, Oregon had to score the final seven points of the game to grab the victory.
UO may not be as fortunate if they allow this potent Michigan offense to have the lead late in the Sweet 16, especially since the Wolverines have elevated their defensive intensity over the last month.
SUPER SOAKING THE COMPETITION
DJ Wilson is a match-up nightmare for anyone. Look at Louisville from Sunday’s loss. Rick Pitino’s unit was one of the longest and most athletic teams in the country. Michigan, especially Wilson, made them seem ‘small’ on the floor.
The 6-foot-10 junior is averaging 1.5 blocks per game, including 11.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 1.3 APG. But, it is his incredible 83 percent free throw percentage that widens our eyes. He is clutch from the stripe, as well.
Not only can the big man score from anywhere on the floor including 3-point territory (36 percent), but he defends the oppositions big man with great success. Jordan Bell will be a different animal for Wilson though.
Michigan is one of the best free throw shooting teams. Not only do their stats represent this with a team total of 78 percent, but what they DO NOT exhibit is how clutch the Wolverines are late in games.
If the B1G 10 season ended today, Michigan would be the No. 1 free throw shooting team. It really may be one of the most important factors in any single NCAA Tournament contest.
They know how to draw fouls. When they get to the line, they make their free throws. If Oregon wants to escape from this game with a win, they need to stay in front of their opponents on defense, while playing the most disciplined game of the season.
ROUNDING OUT THE BIG 3
Aside from Walton and Wilson, Michigan boasts three other fundamentally solid risers. Mortiz Wagner or Mo has been the unquestioned star of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Without his presence against Louisville, Michigan would be at home right now.
Mo Wagner entered the tournament averaging 12.2 PPG. Yet, he recorded a game-high 26 points on Sunday vs No. 2 Louisville. He was Dorsey-like from the field, shooting 11-for-14 including one gigantic bomb from 3-point territory.
The big man was unstoppable on Sunday morning. His post moves were unmatched, while his pump fakes and drives to the lane were second-to-none. He looked like a real deal big man in the post, even stepping back for a triple at one point.
Louisville bigs’ could not slow him down and honestly looked surprised that it was Wagner and NOT Walton doing the damage. Alongside Wilson, this is the most imposing interior presence the Ducks have faced in this tournament. And that is saying a lot, especially after battling the URI big men.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zak Irvin provide the spark for Michigan. Not only does an opponent need to worry about their big three, but these two are the often forgotten contributors. That is when they take advantage.
Combined, the duo is averaging 22.0 points per game this season. Additionally, they average five rebounds and five assists per contest. Like the importance of Payton Pritchard and Dylan Ennis to Oregon, Michigan’s two most unheralded starters play their role to perfection.
No. 3 Oregon (31-5) will meet No. 7 Michigan (26-11) in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. The third round of the Midwest region will tip at 4:09 p.m. PT on Thursday night from the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Ready or not, here they come.
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