It was a matchup of two legendary college basketball programs, and two legendary head coaches. It was a matchup of two high scoring offenses, and two great three point shooting teams.
The second seeded Louisville Cardinals entered their second round matchup with the seventh seeded Michigan Wolverines as a very slight Vegas favorite. But the Big Ten Tournament Champions were not intimidated and both teams looked every bit the part of Final Four contenders.
For the entire first half, Louisville was in control. After an opening basket by D.J. Wilson, Louisville quickly tied the game on a Jaylen Johnson tip-in. From that point, Louisville never trailed the rest of the first half.
The Cardinals pounded the ball into the post throughout the first half, getting seven first half points from senior forward Mangok Mathiang, who averaged 7.7 points per game. Louisville closed the first half with back to back three pointers by Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel, and led 36-28.
Louisville continued the hot shooting in the second half and quickly pushed the lead to nine on another Donovan Mitchell three pointer to put the Cardinals up 41-32 at the 18:29 mark of the second half.
But as Michigan has done all season, they refused to give up and just continued to execute their half court offense. Sophomore center Mortiz Wagner scored eight points in the first five minutes to keep the Wolverines close during Louisville’s hot second half start.
The key time frame for Michigan occurred at the under 16:00 mark of the second half. The Wolverines went on a 15-4 run to turn a 47-38 deficit to a 53-51 lead. Michigan’s half court defense stifled Louisville’s offense. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s tip in ended that run and gave Michigan a lead it would never relinquish.
Let’s see what we learned from this huge Michigan NCAA Tournament win.
What We Learned
1. Michigan’s senior guards are leading the way.
Michigan entered the season with three outstanding senior guards: Derrick Walton Jr., Zac Irvin, and Duncan Robinson. Each has provided scoring and leadership throughout the season and never was it more necessary than against Louisville.
The Wolverines had little trouble with the Cardinals pressure, easily breaking their press throughout the game. The most underrated part of having great senior guards? Michigan ended the game with only six turnovers against a Louisville team that forces on average 14 turnovers per game.
The seniors have allowed younger players like sophomore Moritz Wagner and junior D.J. Wilson to grow their confidence throughout the season. It paid huge dividends against Louisville, as Wagner and Wilson combined for 43 of Louisville’s 73 points.
2. Michigan can score in multiple ways.
Michigan had a record setting season with long distance shooting. The Wolverines made a single-season school record 344 three point field goals this year. In their first round victory over Oklahoma State, they made 16 three pointers, which was the most by any NCAA Tournament team since 2011.
On the season, Michigan ranked 23rd in the country with 9.6 made three pointers per game and 32nd in three point field goal percentage at 38.7 percent.
However, against Louisville, the Wolverines showed their offense is much more than long distance shooting. In this game, Michigan shot 35.7 percent (5 of 17) from beyond the arc, and attacked the Cardinals in the paint. Despite Louisville’s height advantage, Michigan pounded the ball to Wagner, who led all scorers with 26 points.
The Wolverines also attacked the paint with the drive, as Walton and Irvin continually created open shots for teammates late in the second half.
In the biggest game of the year, Michigan showed their true offensive versatility.
3. The Wolverines are clutch at the free throw line.
Michigan was one of the best free throw shooting teams in the nation this season. They ranked 10th in the country with a 77.6 percentage. Against a Louisville press that was coming from behind, the Wolverines earned this win with incredible clutch shooting from the foul line.
On the game, Michigan shot 11 of 14 (78.6 percent). During the last two minutes? The Wolverines were five for six from the foul line. No player was more clutch that D.J. Wilson who made all four of his free throw attempts in the final 17 seconds to seal the win.
This was a clutch free throw shooting performance by Michigan against one of the best teams in the country.
The seventh seeded Michigan Wolverines now travel to Kansas City, Missouri, to play in the Sweet 16. Their opponent will either be the 11th seeded Rhode Island Rams or the third seeded Oregon Ducks. Either way, it is clear Michigan is one of the hottest teams in all of college basketball and a legitimate Final Four contender.