The Michigan Wolverines and Florida State Seminoles do battle on Sunday afternoon in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. A trip to the Elite Eight is on the line for these teams and our staff got together for predictions and thoughts on the matchup.
What impressed you most about Michigan’s first two tournament wins?
Stephen Osentoski: The ability to stick with LSU early. The Texas Southern win was what I expected, maybe a little uncomfortable at the end, but the LSU game was impressive. To me, that game was a true test of a team's mental strength.
Cameron Thomas for the Tigers was 6-7 shooting the ball, mostly on heavily contested shots. It would’ve been conceivable to see Michigan a bit defeated through that stretch. Instead, Michigan stuck around. Chaundee Brown & Eli Brooks especially stepped up big to keep the game within a few possessions until eventually taking control once LSU’s shooters cooled off. That sort of mental fortitude paid off in this one and is necessary to make a deep tournament run.
Matt Eifert: I was impressed by the relative ease with which the offense operated without either center particularly dominating. Hunter Dickinson definitely got his fair share of points but never dominated either game due to foul trouble. Austin Davis only played 19 total minutes combined between the two games. Yet still, Michigan beat their average points per game with relative ease. It just goes to show that anyone can take over a game on this team.
Jared Stormer: The ability to withstand a punch. LSU came out unconscious from the field and the Wolverines got hit in the mouth a little bit. Eli Brooks kept us in the game with his shooting, but Juwan Howard gets the nod of excellence for his defensive adjustments against LSU’s uber-athletic guards.
Daniel Dash: In the absence of Isaiah Livers, there was a real chance Michigan would falter offensively. LSU was a fairly daunting No. 8 seed, but the Wolverines’ supporting cast made all the difference. Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown served as major sparks in the Round of 32 win over the Tigers, and that was something Michigan badly needed given the unfavorable nature of the matchup for Mike Smith. If the Wolverines’ supporting cast can continue making a major impact at the offensive end of the floor, it’ll take a lot of pressure off Franz Wagner and Hunter Dickinson this weekend.
Jacob Shames: Not putting much stock, positive or negative, into Michigan’s win over Texas Southern. Against LSU, the most encouraging thing I think would have to be the scoring from Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown. The Tigers are a bad defensive team, but that’s the kind of play the Wolverines need from their tertiary offensive options right now. And it especially helped in a game where Franz Wagner was just a beat off and the Wolverines were only really able to play six guys.
Daniel Plocher: The scoring output they put on display against LSU. The Tigers were one of the most prolific offenses in the country and Michigan kept up with them step-for-step even without one of their most efficient offensive threats in Isaiah Livers.
Anthony Broome: The poise and togetherness. When you lose a senior leader and arguably the heartbeat of your basketball team, it would be understandable if the bottom fell out. However, this group is deep and well-coached and has done a tremendous job of “embracing the suck” all year long. The counter punches, and eventual knockout blow, they delivered against LSU flashed championship DNA.
Were you surprised that the Big Ten struggled so much in the opening weekend?
Stephen Osentoski: Absolutely. I had the Buckeyes going to the championship game. After watching Liddell and Washington this year, I thought they had what it took to make a deep run. If you had told me that all of OSU, Iowa, and Illinois would fail to get to the Sweet 16, I would have called you crazy.
Illinois got a team that’s closer to a 3 or 4 seed than an 8, so that’s a tough draw, but it was still shocking to see Cockburn contained. Iowa’s defense hadn’t ever been good, but to have 3 starters combine for 0 points is a rough look, and again, not something I would have expected.
Matt Eifert: Absolutely. A few teams got bad draws (Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Maryland) and the occasional upset is bound to happen, but what made the Big Ten special this year was the strength of the top echelon of teams: Michigan, Illinois, Ohio St, and Iowa. To only have 1 of those 4 teams make it to the Sweet 16 is shocking to me.
Jared Stormer: You have to remember that No. 10 Maryland and Rutgers both upset No. 7 seeds, so that’s two teams in the round of 32 that weren’t supposed to be there. The real underperformers here are Ohio State (historic loss to someone named Oral Roberts) and Illinois getting beat by a guy that I am pretty sure did my most recent brake job. I am in no way surprised that Michigan was the cream of the Big Ten crop, however.
Daniel Dash: Ohio State and Purdue’s losses shocked me, but it makes more sense than you think in the grand scheme of things. There’s a reason no Big Ten team has won the tournament in two decades. The conference wears itself down in the regular season and games are significantly more physical than any other conference, which leads to some different officiating. The Big Ten has fallen back on old-school post-up offense, and that puts the conference at a disadvantage in the tournament against other teams that play a more modern, up-tempo style of basketball. The conference fell flat on its face for the whole nation to see, which should lead to some much-needed introspection.
Jacob Shames: As far as the early-round upsets go, Oral Roberts came out of nowhere, but I always thought Iowa was the most high-floor/low-ceiling first or second seed in the tournament by far. It shocked me how easily Loyola handled Illinois, but the Ramblers are a No. 4/5 seed wearing a No. 8 seed’s clothes. Purdue, on the other hand, just laid an egg against a North Texas team that had the statistical profile of an upset special.
But the lower-seeded teams in the Big Ten probably outperformed expectations slightly. Rutgers and Wisconsin handled Clemson and North Carolina, respectively, and Maryland, who I just didn’t think was all that good in the first place, beat a solid seventh seed in UConn. Michigan State lost to a team that’s now in the Sweet 16.
It’s obviously disappointing that the Big Ten had four national-title contenders last week and only one of them is still playing. But the conference has basically always been known for eating itself apart, and I think the charitable explanation is that that depth showed up in the first weekend, and this March Madness has been especially mad so far.
It’s been a rough tournament for the Big Ten, if maybe a little bit overblown, but I’m not sure what it says about the conference at all. Tournament time has never been a particularly effective way to determine which leagues are stronger than others.
Daniel Plocher: Absolutely. Ohio State and Illinois both had the momentum to be contenders for the whole thing. I also thought Purdue was a team that could get hot. To see those three teams exit in the first weekend was a heck of a surprise.
Anthony Broome: Outside of Illinois and Ohio State, not really. The Illini losing was a true shocker, but they did get a crappy draw against Loyola. The best team in the Big Ten survived the weekend, so anything else does not register as an issue to me.
What scares you the most about this matchup with Florida State?
Stephen Osentoski: Foul trouble. Florida State is huge and Michigan will need their big bodies throughout the game to compete. If Dickinson gets in foul trouble, you’re depending on Davis to guard 7-footers or guys who are built like linebackers. I don’t really like that match-up.
I think the height disadvantage Michigan has at point guard is a bit overblown at this point, and expect Michigan to find the right match-ups defensively.
Matt Eifert: Florida State’s size on the perimeter worries me. Mike Smith is only 5-foot-11 and Eli Brooks is listed at 6-foot-1. Offensively I’m not concerned as both are adept scorers and capable of finding space no matter the size of their defender. However, it’s not hard to envision a 6’9” Scottie Barnes trying to exploit Mike Smith in the paint. It will be fascinating to see who Juwan Howard matches up with who on the defensive end.
Jared Stormer: They are a big, athletic team that wants to play at a similar pace that we do, and they also have a 7 footer to bang down low with our bigs. Dickinson has to stay out of foul trouble in this one. I am also concerned that Mike Smith is once again going to struggle, giving up 6-7 inches to his man at any given time. If he hits a few outside shots early, that will greatly improve this team's chances.
Daniel Dash: The way I see it, the Seminoles’ length is a big difference-maker. Florida State is the tournament’s tallest team, meaning that 7-foot-1 Hunter Dickinson and 6-foot-10 Franz Wagner won’t be able to fall back on their pure size and length in this one. The Wolverines’ offense may hit some rough patches against a tall team that switches ball screens and makes it difficult to whip the ball around the perimeter, as Michigan likes to do.
Jacob Shames: Size and depth. Florida State plays anywhere from nine to 12 dudes and just about every one of them is gigantic. It’s not hard to see Scottie Barnes, Balsa Koprivica and company choking the life out of Michigan’s ball-screen game and the Wolverines being unable to generate offense. This is going to be a really tough matchup for Mike Smith and Eli Brooks, and they’ll have to find a way to compensate for the extreme height difference they’ll be giving up.
Daniel Plocher: Their defensive mentality and the similarities they have to Michigan. They are long, athletic, and relentless on the defensive end and can force turnovers to anybody. Michigan has had struggles with taking care of the basketball during stretches this season and the Seminoles will take advantage of that. Secondly, they match up well against the Wolverines. Florida State has a couple of big men that could take Dickinson on one-on-one and have so many dudes that could be hot on a given night. This isn’t going to be an easy basketball game.
Anthony Broome: They might be one of the few teams left in this tournament that can match and surpass Michigan’s depth. They are athletic and long as hell and can really shoot the basketball, too. This will test Michigan in almost every single way. The biggest key might be how Mike Smith plays after struggling against LSU.
What are you most confident about in this matchup with Florida State?
Stephen Osentoski: Dickinson’s offense should be there. FSU simply hasn’t faced anyone with the post-up skills Dickinson brings. They’re also a huge line-up, but sacrifice speed as a result. If the Seminoles have to double Dickinson, good ball movement from the post should generate plenty of open looks.
Matt Eifert: Early on this season, Hunter Dickinson feasted on single coverage. Since then, he has been ruthlessly double-teamed all season long. This may be his first opportunity to not be doubled as Florida State has a 7-foot-1 center of their own in Balsa Koprivica. I’m confident in Hunter’s post-game.
Jared Stormer: FSU does not light it up from three or have a true go-to scorer, and despite their size does not rebound particularly well. Michigan is getting contributions all over the floor and hasn’t seen a really dominant game from either of their best 2 players yet. Franz is shooting 25 percent from three so far this tournament, and he is generally around 37 percent. I expect him to have his best offensive game on Sunday. This is a better matchup for Michigan than LSU was honestly.
Daniel Dash: I actually like the way Michigan matches up with Florida State defensively. Franz Wagner seems like a natural fit to stop star FSU freshman Scottie Barnes, who takes on the de facto role of point guard while on the floor. Brandon Johns Jr. would’ve been a concern if he had to guard a capable 3-point shooter, but he should find himself matched up against 26.7 percent three-point shooter RaiQuan Gray for most of Sunday’s game. That should allow him to use his physicality around the rim to force missed shots and rebound. At the other end of the floor, Michigan can take advantage of a Florida State team that ranks No. 296 nationally in defensive rebounding, per KenPom. Look for Hunter Dickinson and Brandon Johns to try to generate extra possessions on the offensive glass.
Jacob Shames: Oh man. Florida State, as a matchup, scares me. I don’t know if there’s one general area where the Wolverines, being such a balanced team, are equipped to dominate against the Seminoles, and either way, this game will be really close. I guess I would say I’m hopeful that Franz Wagner, after a not-great game against LSU, might be the man that gets Michigan over the hump on Sunday. This is the game for a 6-foot-9, do-it-all wing to really step up, against a team with as many athletes as Florida State. Either way, the matchup between him and Scottie Barnes is going to be an intriguing one to watch.
Daniel Dash: That Michigan will give it all they have got. Win or lose, the Wolverines have never really let up this season. I expect the same thing this weekend. They will fight until the end and that resiliency has gotten them to where they are today. Michigan is going to be ready for a fight, and they are going to get one from Florida State.
Anthony Broome: Michigan is up for the task and a week off to gameplan for FSU should have them ready to roll. The Wolverines have not seen a team this season like FSU, but the same can be said on the opposite end of the spectrum. Hunter Dickinson’s best game might still be in him and he will be critical on Sunday.
Game Prediction for Sunday?
Stephen Osentoski: 80-69. The good guys win.
Matt Eifert: Michigan 68, Florida St 64 in a rock fight. Both teams play solid defense but Michigan shoots slightly better on the evening to take home an ugly victory.
Jared Stormer: I think this one will be a lot slower than the previous two games, with Florida State’s size giving us some troubles early on. Juwan Howard’s ability to make defensive second-half adjustments what we thought Don Brown would be in football. Michigan clamps down in the second half to win 69-61.
Daniel Dash: Florida State 72, Michigan 70. Without a healthy Isaiah Livers, Juwan Howard’s mentor will get the best of him in this matchup — but not by much.
Jacob Shames: I had Florida State beating Michigan last week and I haven’t seen anything to change it. I would have seriously considered the Seminoles to beat the Wolverines even with a healthy Isaiah Livers. To me, they’re the toughest matchup for Michigan in the entire region. FSU wins, 69-66.
Daniel Plocher: I have Michigan in a close one 73-69. Franz Wagner has got to be the difference-maker on both ends in this one. If he steps up offensively and becomes the star of this team, they are going to make a deep run in this thing.
Anthony Broome: We’re in for another rock fight like the Elite Eight a few years ago. Michigan win this game 65-61.