Nathan Goralski ‘18: For the fourth time in the last five tournament appearances, the Michigan Wolverines advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Lately, the Wolverines are a dominant force in the Big Ten, which includes back-to-back Big Ten Tournament Championships. The Wolverines came into the season with some uncertainty after losing point guard Derrick Walton Jr., small forward Zak Irvin, and power forward D.J Wilson to the NBA and graduation. Yet, the Wolverines surpassed expectations and ended the hottest team in the nation winning the Big Ten Tournament with wins against two top five teams, Michigan State and Purdue. The Wolverines took a 28-7 record while riding a nine game win streak into the tournament. They earned a three seed in the tournament and a first round matchup against the Montana Grizzlies.
Michigan took on Montana in round one on March 15 in Wichita, Kansas. The Grizzlies jumped out to a great start, scoring the first ten points of the game. The nerves finally settled, as Michigan’s defense stepped up their game. Michigan led Montana 31-28 at the half. The second half was all Michigan, holding Montana to only 19 points. The offense still looked rusty after having a little over a week since their last game. All in all, Michigan took game one, led by Charles Matthews 20 points, 61-47. The defense of Michigan steered them the whole way holding Montana to a 32% shooting percentage and on a ten minute scoreless drought. A low point for the Wolverines was their offense, shooting 31% from three point range. They looked way out sorts with no rhythm.
Michigan plays the winner of No. 6 seed Houston and No. 11 seed San Diego State. Both dangerous teams peaking at the correct time. Rob Gray led Houston to victory with a record high 39 point game and last second lay-up to move on in the tournament.
The matchup is set for the Round of 32, Michigan vs. Houston. Stylistically, the teams play similar, led by elite guard play with shooters surrounding the perimeter. The clash promised to be entertaining. The first half, filled back-and-forth action, ended in a 28-28 tie. Defense is a large factor for each of the teams, which kept it a low scoring game. The second half was a mirror image of the first, each team competing an neither team holding a lead more than five the whole half. The winner to be decided in the final minute of play. Michigan had a multitude of opportunities to take the lead in the final minute. Charles Matthews and Muhammad-Ali-Abdur- Rahkman missed layups which would’ve given Michigan the lead. With 3.6 seconds remaining Houston led 63-61 with Devin Davis at the free throw line, who shot 9/10 from the stripe in the game. Michigan needed Davis to miss at least one to have a chance to force overtime. Davis missed both shots and Michigan grabbed the rebound and called a time out instantly. Freshman, Isaiah Livers the inbounder, threw a perfect half court pass to Rahkman who took two dribbles then kicked the ball out to freshman Jordan Poole. Poole took a 28 foot three point shot, reminiscent of Trey Burke’s shot in against Kansas in 2014. The ball went through the net as time expired. Poole’s buzzer-beater made him an instant hero, sending Michigan to the Sweet Sixteen.
Michigan truly embodied the saying of, “survive and advance” as they did not shoot the ball well for the second game in a row. Shooting a low 35.6% from the field and 26.7% behind the three point line. Another strong defensive performance is what kept Michigan within striking distance. Houston guard Rob Gray put up 23 points in a valiant effort in the loss.
No. 7 seed Texas A&M upset last years national champion and No. 2 seed North Carolina in their Round of 32 contest. This sets up a Wolverine and Aggie battle in the Sweet Sixteen. Texas A&M freshman guard TJ Starks and sophomore forward Robert Williams lead the charge for the Aggies, but have a very solid surrounding cast. The Aggies average 75 points per game even with the poor shooting from the outside. They make up for it by being the third best rebounding team in the nation with 41.6 rebounds per game. Michigan looks to control the pace of the game and capitalize on their offensive possessions. The eighth lowest points allowed per game is what brought Michigan to this point, allowing only 63.1 points per game. The Wolverines need junior forward Moritz Wagner to get out of his shooting slump to propel his team to the Elite Eight. The game takes place on March 22, at 7:37 in Los Angeles. No. 4 seed Gonzaga or No. 9 Florida State plays the winner between Michigan and Texas A&M.
Nathan Goralski ‘18: The Michigan Wolverines continue their winning ways to advance to the Elite Eight. This marks the third time in the last six years they move into the Elite Eight. Michigan took on a hot Texas A&M team who upset the defending national champions North Carolina in the previous round. Michigan needed to overcome offensive struggles they faced the earlier two rounds if they wanted to advance.
The Wolverines started hot and never looked back. The first half was all Michigan, creating ten turnovers in the first half, jump starting the offense. The Wolverines reestablished their shooting abilities scoring 52 points while only allowing 28 to the Aggies. Michigan was led by Moritz Wagner (21 pts), Muhammad-Ali-Abdur-Rahkman (24 pts), and Charles Matthews (18 pts). This is a great sign moving forward for the Wolverines to have their star players lead the way after having a tough time finding the bottom of the net against Montana and Houston. The defense for Michigan also continued their stinginess, holding the Aggies to only 20% shooting from behind the arc. On the other hand, Michigan shot 58% from deep and 61% from the field. Everything clicked for the Wolverines and finished the game winning 99-72.
Michigan faces the winner of No. 9 seed Florida State and No. 4 seed Gonzaga. Florida State upset No. 1 seed Xavier in the Round of 32 in comeback fashion. The Seminoles continue the upset train and controlled the Sweet Sixteen matchup from start to finish. Florida State wins the game and advances to face Michigan on Saturday, March 24 for a chance to secure a spot in the Final Four.