(4) Michigan-(3) Florida, Regional Final (!) Preview: On the Doorstep, I See Peachtree

Ronald Martinez

Michigan takes on the Florida Gators, who dispatched the upstart FGCU Eagles Friday night (despite a precarious start), at 2:20 p.m. ET (CBS).

Exposition

Have you gotten your heart rate back down like I asked you to last night? No? No worries, but I feel like that game probably took a year off of all of our lives. Then again, who needs life when you can have this:

I'm still not sure that this actually happened, but at this point I think it's safe to assume that it did. He's Trey Burke, fergodsakes. Like Andy Glockner wrote last night, that game made no sense yet made complete sense at the same time. Here's a nice piece of talkin' from Spike Albrecht:

"I've seen him hit shots like that all the time in practice. Just when we're messing around, he's all about that through-the-legs, a little step-back hop. He gets me all the time in practice, so it was nothing new when I [saw] him do it.

There's nothing you can do about it. You just turn around and [say] 'Damn, he's good.'"

"Damn, he's good" probably needs to become one of those Internet memes or go on a shirt or something. Anyway, the funny thing about all of this is that no matter how emotionally spent you might feel, Michigan is only halfway to a championship, indeed a crazy thought. If Michigan is going to get to that final game, though, they'll have to first beat a very good Florida Gators team, the 3-seed in the South region. Zach wrote up an initial look ahead-type post on the Gators on Wednesday, if you want to start there.

Sure, Michigan just defeated its region's top seed, but if you think this one will be easy, well *cues Judas Priest* you've got another thing comin'. The Gators are 29-7 (14-4) on the season, with tournament wins against Northwestern State, delivering a coup de grace against Tubby Smith and Minnesota and a defeat of this year's Cinderella, FGCU.

Early on in Friday's game, the Gators were getting the full Dunk City experience, as they found themselves down 17-6 through about 10 minutes of play. Luckily for UF, a 16-2 run to end the half sent them in with the lead. The second half was just a 3-seed playing like a 3-seed should against a 15-seed.

If you're like me, you probably spent most of the season not watching much SEC basketball and only somewhat vaguely knowing that the Gators can play ball. So, here's your preview.

The Opponent

The Gators are paced by six foot ten inch Erik Murphy, who scores 12.6 ppg and pulls in 5.5 rebounds per game while also shooting an insane 46% from beyond the arc. Needless to say, this will be a matchup problem of an entirely different sort for Mitch McGary; whereas the problem with Withey was "he's really tall," Murphy's versatility will force McGary to be quick on his feet. The farther out a big like McGary gets from the paint, the easier it is to pick up ticky tack fouls. Michigan cannot afford to have McGary pick up a quick two in really any of these tournament games. If he does, that could be a death knell for Michigan's run.

The Gators also boast six foot three inch senior guard Mike Rosario, who also scores 12.6 ppg while shooting 84% from the line and 38% from three. In case you hadn't heard, the Gators shoot the three quite a bit, which should be a familiar concept for Michigan fans.

Senior guard Kenny Boynton and junior forward Patric Young round out UF's quartet of core contributors. Boynton averages 12.0 ppg and is also money from the line (83%) but only shoots 32% from three. With Boynton, Michigan just needs to stay in front, because if he's hoisting up a three the odds are pretty decent that it's not going in. On the other hand, Boynton shoots a nice 50% from two. It seems that he doesn't really look to dish when he does penetrate, however, as he averages 2.8 assists per game. Either way, it's still a concern for this Michigan defense, a much different challenge than the one KU brought to the floor Friday night.

At six foot nine inches, Patric Young is listed as a "center" but is really just a standard power forward sort. He's scoring a 10.2 ppg and reeling in 6.3 rpg. If there was ever a guy that you could point to and say "hey, Jordan Morgan, guard that guy," it might be Young. If Young goes off and scores 20 points, forget I said any of this.

Junior point guard Scott Wilbekin rounds out the starting five, pitching in 9.3 ppg and 4.9 assists per game. Wilbekin has outpaced his scoring average in the tournament, dropping 11, 12 and 13 points on NW St., Minnesota and FGCU, respectively. Young, Murphy and Boynton all had mediocre games on Friday against FGCU, so if the Gators can get even one of those guys to produce like they can, with Wilbekin scoring like this, Michigan could be in some trouble.

Six foot six inch junior small forward Casey Prather comes off of the bench for the Gators; he scored 11 against FGCU on 4/6 shooting. He's averaging 6.2 ppg and 3.7 rpg on the season. Again, Michigan can't afford to have him drop 11 from the bench on Sunday.

Forward Will Yeguete and guard Michael Frazier II round out the 8-man rotation. Yeguete is a rebounder, reeling in 5.8 per in just 21 minutes per game. He shoots 51% from the field, which is good, but he also shoots just 57% from the line. Basically, if he's anywhere near the basket with the ball, it's probably a good idea to foul him. Hack-a-Yeguete is the order of the day.

Frazier II, on the other hand, comes off of the bench as, you guessed it, a deadly three-point shooter; he's hitting at a 47% clip this season. Threes will be raining from the sky, so Michigan better hope it has its shield raised to the sky or its going to be a pretty one-sided battle if UF gets hot.

Young and Yeguete are standard Big Ten-esque forward types, but other than that this is very definitely a perimeter-oriented team. As Michigan fans, we know exactly what this means, although the rise of Mitch McGary has significantly decreased Michigan's reliance on the outside shot.

The Gameplan

  • On-the-ball D. One of the underratedly terrible aspects of Michigan's defense last night against Kansas was its on-the-ball defense. Kansas' array of slashers, namely Releford, got past Michigan's feeble perimeter defense with ease time and time again. As anyone who's played the game at any level knows, if you get beat off the bounce that easily, there's a pretty serious domino effect on the rest of the D, more often than not resulting in a bucket for the offense. Against UF, a perimeter blow by will equal ALL THE OPEN CORNER THREES. If only we could give every Michigan guard Burke's late game defensive tenacity.
  • CRUNK. Unlike the Kansas game, this game has big game potential for the freshman crunkmaster Mitch McGary. By this I mean that coming into the KU game, did you picture McGary scoring 25 points, many of them with Jeff Withey on the floor? No, no you didn't. The going should be slightly easier against UF. Whether it's Murphy or Young on McGary, he should have the ability to do some work down low. Does this mean actual post touches for McGary? At this point in the season, I don't think so, but McGary didn't need post touches to get to 25 on Friday, did he? This bullet basically boils down to "Mitch just do your Mitchin' thing."
  • Transition D. As has been true with essentially every aspect of defense, Michigan's transition D has been fairly bad at times. I distinctly remember one play in the second half against Kansas where Glenn Robinson III was on a light jog on the way back to the defensive end; a KU shooter spotted up for an open three, and GRIII did the whole "oops that's my man" token contest. That can't happen against Florida. As is always the case with anything involving transition D, it starts with taking good shots on offense. You're going to have some long rebounds on three-point misses, and that's fine as long as they're decent looks.
  • Post play. It's hard to say whether or not Beilein should roll out the 2-big lineup (i.e. McGary and Morgan). in that scenario, the more athletic McGary checks Murphy out on the perimeter while Morgan does his stonewallin' thing on the block against Young. If you go with the standard lineup, with McGary at the five and GRIII at the four, then you're basically dooming GRIII to get owned again, right? I mean, you can't match him up against Murphy, a 6'10'' guy, unless Beilein isn't really worried about Murphy's scoring inside the arc. If you put GRIII up against Young, well, go ahead and remember how he's done against guys like Wisconsin's Ryan Evans or Kansas' Perry Ellis and start playing Chopin's "Funeral March" in your head. This is going to be a pretty serious judgment call for Beilein; how Michigan handles the matchup problem that is Erik Murphy will go a long way toward nudging it to victory or defeat.

Miscellaneous Stats

  • The Gators' emphasis on the 3-pointer and success in hitting them is reflected well by the advanced stats: UF is 6th nationally in eFG%.
  • In a similar vein, Florida is 26th nationally in three-point percentage (38%), 12th in attempts and 6th in makes. Is this starting to hit home yet?
  • Pace-wise, the Gators are even slower than Michigan, coming in at 313th in possessions per 40 (62.7). Florida isn't a big shot blocking squad, so it's not like Michigan should be trying to get into transition like I wanted them to against Kansas (due to Withey). But, hey, unless Michigan is playing Indiana or something, I'm always a proponent of running, as Michigan's half court sets can be somewhat wonky at times with all those freshmen running around.
  • The Gators are 52nd nationally in defensive rebounding percentage (71.5%) and 91st at the other end (34.4%). Michigan is 70th and 135th in those categories, respectively.
  • You might say "but SEC basketball," but the Gators are third nationally in points per game allowed, giving up a meager 53.7 per game. That's really good. That whole "playing defense" thing must be pretty neat.
  • Kenny Boynton is 710th nationally in eFG%. Yeah. If you read anything about Florida fans being frustrated with his play, this is probably one reason why that is the case.
  • At 6'10'', Erik Murphy was sixth nationally and first in the SEC in three-point field goal percentage. He's also 7th in eFG% and 11th in true shooting percentage. I think I've hammered this point home enough, but if Michigan can find a way to limit Murphy, the chances are pretty good the Wolverines win this game.

Ending Thoughts, Predictions, Etc.

Man, at this point I just don't even know anymore. After getting the SDSU game right (yes, I won't ever let me predicting the exact margin victory go), I pretty much got the next two wrong, predicting a close win and a close loss against VCU and Kansas, respectively. So, you might just want to ignore this section and stick to everything above it.

With that said, unlike the Kansas game I don't feel that Michigan has anything to be outright afraid of with this Florida squad like they did with Withey. That's not to say that Florida isn't really, really good, because they are. I guess it's just that, after watching Michigan under Beilein over the years, going up against a team that depends on the three so heavily (albeit one that makes them at a high rate) doesn't really worry me all that much.

However, if Michigan isn't careful early in the game, a barrage of UF threes could lead to Michigan being forced to claw its way back again. If that happens, though, I don't think it will be as difficult as it was against Kansas, as the Gators: a) don't have a guy like Ben McLemore and b) don't have the same length and overall athleticism that Kansas did.

How Beilein handles Murphy will be a large factor in determining the outcome. Even more important is the issue of Mitch McGary vis-a-vis fouls. He has done a good job of staying out of foul trouble thus far, but we saw during the regular season how easily he can pick up a quick two in his fevered state of hyperactive fervor. If McGary picks up a quick two checking Murphy outside, Michigan will need to lean on the outside shooting of guys like Tim Hardaway Jr and Nik Stauskas, which, as we know, can either be really good or not so good. Also, if Michigan can get its transition game going, GRIII could be secondary scoring star in this one.

When it comes down to it, Michigan will have the best player on the floor Sunday afternoon. Additionally, I'm far more comfortable with the notion of Michigan having to check a perimeter-oriented Florida team as opposed to the roster of slashing ninjas that was Kansas.The Gators do have a very stingy defense, but they also haven't seen an offensive attack like Michigan's.

I was wrong on my Kansas prediction; let's hope I'm not wrong about this one.

Michigan 68, Florida 63.

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