Just call it 3 and no D.
Michigan’s modus operandi probably isn’t sustainable but it sure is exciting. The Wolverines’ strange and unexpected March continues. They took Route 3 to reach the second round after defeating Oklahoma State 92-91 in Indianapolis. No. 7-seed Michigan (25-11) will take on No. 2 Louisville (25-8) on Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. This will be a rematch of the 2013 NCAA title game won by the Cardinals.
It’s rather amazing that a team which connected on 16 of 29 shots from 3-point range was in a close game. Usually, when a squad is that proficient, it’s a blowout. But no. Not for Michigan. It had to be the hard way.
From Michigan’s plane skidding off the runway before the Big Ten Tournament to winning four games in four days, nothing has been easy or routine. The Wolverines won an improbable conference championship, becoming the lowest seed ever – a No. 8 – to win the Big Ten title. After all that drama, there might be more left.
On paper, this group isn’t a realistic Final Four contender. But the Wolverines are definitely must-see TV in the NCAA Tournament. If you didn’t enjoy this game, have someone slide a mirror under your nose to check to see if you’re still breathing. The match-up of two of the best offenses in the country lived up to the hype.
The Michigan-Oklahoma St game was the first 1-pt first round game in which both teams topped 90 since Houston beat Notre Dame 99-98 in 1965.
— David Worlock (@DavidWorlock) March 17, 2017
Oklahoma State, the top-rated offense in Division I by the Pomeroy ratings, shot 54.7 percent, including 21-of-35 in the second half. Michigan, the fourth-best offense in terms of efficiency, shot 51.8 percent, including 11-of-15 from beyond the arc in the second half. Both teams scored 51 second half points.
It was an astonishing display. Of Michigan’s 16 second-half baskets, all but five came from 3-point range. The Wolverines set a record for most 3-pointers by a Big Ten team in the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan was 11-for-15 from three in the 2nd half.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 17, 2017
“If somebody would have ever said that we’re going to give up 91 and we were going to win, I wouldn’t have thought that was going to happen,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “We had enough firepower to withstand their incredible offensive talent and get enough points.”
There might not be a brighter offensive mind in college basketball than Beilein. He embraced the 3-point shot long before it became fashionable. He used it to get West Virginia to the Elite Eight in 2005. He used it to get Michigan to the national championship game in 2013. This team isn’t as talented as either one of those squads. But when all else fails, the Wolverines will shoot first and ask questions later.
John Beilein is now 11-6 in the NCAA tournament at Michigan in 10 years. In the 9 years before he arrived, Michigan did not reach the NCAAs
— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) March 17, 2017
Michigan entered this game with 328 3-point baskets – 12th most in the nation. Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood must have been apoplectic as he watched Michigan continue to launch successful long jump shots. Michigan guard Derrick Walton Jr. (26 points, 11 assists) made five of his six 3-point baskets in the second half.
“You go 11 of 15 from the 3, that’s hard to do in a gym by yourself. And they hit some hard shots,” said Underwood, who watched his team go 7 of 16 from 3-point range – and that included the game’s final basket.
Great shooting can mask a lot. For Michigan, it camouflages defensive shortcomings. Among NCAA teams that were still alive as of yesterday afternoon, the Wolverines’ defensive efficiency rating was among the worst and was No. 75 overall.
Jawun Evans just put this man in a blender? pic.twitter.com/QdYnEQCa9H
— Barstool OSU (@BarstoolOKST) March 17, 2017
Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans might be the fastest point guard going from end to end in the country. He was the one guy for either team who didn’t shoot well (10-of-26), but he got into the paint at will (23 points, 12 assists). When Oklahoma State did miss, it crashed the boards with 16 offensive rebounds.
“I think when we did force them to miss, if you look at the numbers, they got offensive rebounds,” Beilein said. “That was a big thing when they could get it. It’s very difficult when you’ve got a downhill driver like that, he can throw anything off the board.”
Chalk it up as another first-round victory for Beilein. He has won his first game in the NCAA Tournament in eight of 10 trips. But winning the second-round game will be a huge challenge.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee has a sense of humor. How else could you explain setting up Louisville and Michigan to meet in the second round?
As good as Beilein has been, Rick Pitino has dealt him his two most difficult losses. In 2005, West Virginia blew a 20-point lead as Louisville rallied for a 93-85 overtime victory and a trip to the Final Four. In 2013, Beilein’s Michigan team had a 35-23 first-half lead, but lost 82-76 in the national championship game.
Sunday could be another exciting game. Michigan is good at the 3, but not at D.
Will that be enough? It has so far. The Wolverines have gone 11-2 down the stretch. The lone losses were at Minnesota and at Northwestern.
Beilein is ready for whatever happens. It’s already been an unpredictable season.
“That’s the world we’ve lived in,” he said.