It wasn’t long into Juwan Howard’s post-game press conference that someone asked the Michigan head coach how his Wolverines were able to deal with Florida State’s size. In the days leading up to the game, much was made of Florida State’s size advantage over the Wolverines, particularly at the guard position. “Yeah, we heard it all week,” Howard responded. You didn’t have to read too deeply between the lines to understand that Howard and the Wolverines took personally the assertion that they weren’t capable of competing against the taller Seminoles.
In the end, Michigan proved more than capable, cruising to a decisive, 18-point victory. How decisive was the victory? The Wolverines led for the final 35 minutes of the game, a game that was all-but-decided midway through the second half.
And how did Michigan cope with the Seminoles’ size? Rather well, it turned out. Michigan played aggressively from the game’s opening tip, constantly forcing the action, constantly attacking the basket. Despite its size disadvantage, the Wolverines finished the game with 50 points in the paint (to Florida State’s 24). For good measure, Michigan also grabbed 11 offensive rebounds.
Howard noted that Michigan prepared well for Florida State, something that was evident if you watched the game. Michigan proved not only capable of handling Florida State’s size, but also its full-court pressure, its transition offense and its switch-heavy defense.
Michigan’s Franz Wagner echoed his coach’s sentiments, explaining that Michigan watched a lot of tape on Florida State and as a result was well prepared for the Seminoles. “We knew coming in they were going to switch. We knew they press a lot,” Wagner said. “We attacked close-outs (after the switches).” Wagner credited Howard and Michigan’s coaching staff for the team’s preparation. “I’d like to give the coaching staff some credit,” Wagner said. “I think we had some good plays and that put us in good positions.” Howard, for his part, praised his players’ execution.
One person particularly impressed with Michigan’s performance was Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton. “I thought they (Michigan) did an excellent job in their preparation and their execution,” Hamilton said. “Their spacing was unbelievable, (and) they were extremely patient.”
With the victory, Michigan advances to play UCLA, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
At this point, it doesn’t seem right to refer to UCLA as an 11 seed any more. Not as well as the Bruins have been playing. Tyger Campbell has impressed with his point guard play and Jaime Jaquez and Johnny Juzang have, at times, looked as dangerous as anyone in the tournament. Sunday’s victory over second seed Alabama, however, showed that UCLA isn’t strictly a two-man team as six Bruins scored in double-figures. Mick Cronin’s Bruins are also playing with a confidence befitting a team in their position. Records and seedings aside, UCLA presents a challenge for Michigan.
Of course, Michigan is also a very balanced team that’s playing exceptionally well. And if there’s one thing in which Michigan fans can find solace, it’s that UCLA hasn’t faced many teams that play defense the way Michigan does.
Will it be enough? Will the Wolverines continue their roll and advance to their second Final Four in the past three NCAA tournaments? Or will UCLA’s - and the Pac 12’s - wild ride continue?
Perhaps Florida State’s Hamilton summed up Sunday’s Sweet Sixteen game best when he said, “I said prior to the game that the team that would win this game would be the team who was the best version of who they are. And I think they were the best version of Michigan tonight.”
It’s hard to imagine many teams beating the best version of this Michigan team.