8:49 PM EST, TBS – Line: Michigan -4, Over/Under: 144
The chaos of this NCAA Tournament has continued well into it’s second weekend, as the Ninth-Seeded Florida State Seminoles battle the Third-Seeded Michigan Wolverines in the West Regional Final from Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, for the right to advance to next weekend’s Final Four. One of the many surprising contestants in this Elite Eight is Florida State (23-1, 9-9 in ACC), who have advanced to this stage of the Tourney for just the second time since the Program transitioned to the Atlantic Coast Conference back in 1991. After getting off to a solid 11-1 start to the campaign, the Seminoles struggled a good deal in league play, going an average 9-9 against their conference brethren, immediately losing four out of five games, while also ending the regular season on dropping two out of three. Then, in the ACC Tournament, Leonard Hamilton’s charges crashed out of the competition early, eliminated by Louisville in the Opening Round on a neutral floor. Needless to say, this team’s March Prospects were lukewarm at best, but as (recent) history has taught us, these teams can use the NCAAs as a proverbial fresh start. And that’s precisely what FSU has done over the past three outings. Against Eight Seed Missouri, they raced out to a sizable early lead in route to a comfortable 67-54 victory, before toppling the Top Seed in the West Region, Xavier, in a 75-70 triumph that featured the underdogs rallying back from a 12-Point Deficit in the Second Half. The Seminoles outscored the Musketeers 31-14 over the final Ten Minutes of play, with PJ Savoy’s (6.5 PTS, 37.4% FG, 37.9% 3FG, 1.4 REB, 0.6 AST, 14.5 PER) Three-Pointer with 1:08 remaining to finally give them the lead. The ACC Natives harassed their Big East counterparts throughout the night, forcing Eighteen Turnovers, with five different players scoring in double-figures, led by Braian Angola-Rodas (12.7 PTS, 42.5% FG, 37.6% 3FG, 3.9 REB, 3.0 AST, 1.4 STL, 18.8 PER), who dropped Sixteen Points to go with Six Rebounds, Three Assists, Two Steals, and a Block. Following that shocker, Hamilton’s troops made the most of their fifth all-time trip to the Sweet Sixteen, disposing of last year’s National Runner-Up Gonzaga, leading virtually from wire-to-wire in a 75-60 win. The Fourth-Seeded West Coast Conference Champions were confounded from the jump, shooting a miserable 33.9% from the Field, including 5-of-20 from beyond the Arc (25.0%), committing Twelve Turnovers in comparison to dishing out just Seven Assists. On the Flipside, Florida State turned in arguably their finest offensive performance in weeks, shooting a solid 46.6% from the Field, dominating inside the Arc on 21-of-38 Shooting (55.3%), while handing out Nineteen Assists opposed to Eleven Turnovers. This time there was only one Seminole to crack double-figures, and his name was Terance Mann (12.9 PTS, 56.5% FG, 25.0% 3FG, 5.5 REB, 2.6 AST, 0.9 STL, 21.1 PER), who paved the way with Eighteen Points on 8-of-13 Shooting (61.5%), along with Five Rebounds, Two Assists, a Steal and a Block. It’s been remarkable to see this team round into shape at this juncture, though at this point you would be hard-pressed to find a unit that could be a tougher out than these guys; Florida State is deep and balanced, with Hamilton incorporating ten-to-eleven players in his Rotation, all the while exhibiting outrageous defensive intensity capable of taking the most efficient offensive attack out of their comfort zone. The key in tonight’s matchup with the Wolverines will be Turnovers, for the Seminoles have been proficient all season at turning their opponents over, forcing 14.2 Turnovers per Game (61st Overall), 6.9 of which have been Steals (68th Overall), while fiercely defending the rim, permitting just 45.2% Shooting inside the Arc (20th Overall), while blocking 5.3 Shots (18th Overall).
Meanwhile, as the madness continues to upset the Playing Field, there is bound to be a team that is going to take advantage of all the carnage, which brings us to Michigan (31-7, 13-5 in Big Ten), the highest-seeded team remaining on this devastated side of the Tournament Bracket. At this point, the only other teams left before a potential National Final appearance are a pair of Nine Seeds and an Eleven. If the Big Ten Tournament Champions do end up advancing to their second National Championship Game in the last six years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Finalist that had an easier trek to that stage; the Wolverines have faced a Fourteen, a Six, and a Seven in route to tonight’s meeting with the Seminoles, and given Saturday’s other Regional Final, they’d be guaranteed to face an opponent seeded no higher than a Nine. Simply put, John Beilein couldn’t have asked for a better path to the National Final. Of course, if this particular Tournament has taught us anything, it’s to NEVER underestimate the opposition, which the veteran Head Coach will no doubt be imparting to his charges before they face Florida State. And for what it’s worth, we think they’ve gotten the message… After struggling on the offensive end of the Court against both Montana (61-47) and Houston (64-63) in the first two rounds of the Tourney, the latter of which called for a dramatic, miracle of a game-winner from Jordan Poole (6.4 PTS, 43.6% FG, 38.8% 3FG, 1.4 REB, 0.6 AST, 0.5 STL, 19.2 PER), Michigan buckled down and absolutely HOUSED Texas A&M in a 99-72 massacre. Keep in mind that the Aggies just embarrassed reigning National Champion North Carolina by Twenty-One points the previous weekend, making the outcome of Thursday Night’s matchup all the more impressive. There were no issues shooting the basketball, folks, as the Big Ten Natives scorched the net on 61.9% Shooting from the Field, including 25-of-39 from within the Arc (64.1%) and 14-of-24 beyond it (58.3%), while dishing out a ridiculous Twenty-One Assists in comparison to just Six Turnovers. This was an Expose’ in Offensive Efficiency, with five different players coring in double-figures, led by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12.9 PTS, 43.5% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 3.9 REB, 3.4 AST, 0.9 STL, 18.2 PER) and Mortiz Wagner (14.4 PTS, 53.1% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 6.9 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.6 BLK, 24.7 PER) combining for Forty-Five Points on 17-of-28 Shooting (60.7%), including 7-of-10 from downtown (70.0%), Eight Rebounds, Seven Assists, and Three Steals. Charles Matthews (12.9 PTS, 49.9% FG, 32.7% 3FG, 5.5 REB, 2.5 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.6 BLK, 18.8 PER) chipped in with another Eighteen Points on 8-of-11 Shooting (72.7%), Five Rebounds and Two Assists, while defensive ace Zavier Simpson (7.4 PTS, 47.8% FG, 30.8% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 3.7 AST, 1.3 STL, 16.3 PER) rounded things out with Eleven Points, Four Rebounds, Five Assists, and Six Steals. If momentum wasn’t in their corner after winning the previous eleven consecutive games, it sure is now. As we touched upon earlier, the biggest factor in tonight’s affair will be Michigan’s ability to take care of the basketball, for Beilein’s teams are notoriously difficult to turn over. On the season, Michigan committed just 9.2 Turnovers per Game (14th Overall) in comparison to dishing out 14.8 Assists (21st Overall), parlaying to a stellar 1.62 Assist/Turnover Ratio. This is made possible by the Wolverines typically having multiple players on the floor that are comfortable handling the basketball, which is a real problem for teams that rely upon takeaways to supplement their own struggles on the offensive end, particularly in a slower, half-court game.