The Michigan Wolverines are hot. Winners of seven consecutive games and 12 of their last 14, Michigan played the role of bracket buster Sunday by defeating the higher seeded Louisville Cardinals in a 2013 National Championship rematch.
Dubbed by some as The Plane Crash Boys, Michigan and their high flying offense have been one of the few impressive stories of the tournament. Fans who looked past the adversity and had been watching this team for the past three weeks may not be as surprised, however.
Regardless of your reaction, Michigan is in the Sweet 16, and it is not improbable to think they could advance even further. Let’s take a look at what could be ahead for the Wolverines in the next two weeks.
The road to the Final Four does not get any easier from here on out for the Wolverines. However, they do still hold the tag of the lowest seeded team nobody wants to run into. If you are Oregon, you probably are not thrilled to draw a team this hot.
What fans can expect when the Ducks take on Michigan is a shootout (see Oklahoma State). These are two teams who match up almost identically to each other. Both Michigan and Oregon and shooting an identical percentage form the field, with the Wolverines having less than a percentage point of an advantage from beyond the arch.
Both teams have guards carrying their team in the month of March, Derrick Walton Jr for the Wolverines and Tyler Dorsey for the Ducks. Both teams are long, athletic and like to space you out.
Where this game will be won is on the boards. Michigan has been out rebounded in their first two games, including a minus -19 rebounding margin against Oklahoma State. This is a product of the five-out basketball Michigan is playing. D.J Wilson will need to get big and win a lot of 50/50 balls if Michigan wants to win this game.
Wilson is by far Michigan’s best player in second chance opportunities, but his offensive rebounding has lacked throughout the tournament. Walton Jr, one of the best rebounding guards in the country, has also yet to have one of his classic eight plus rebound games this tournament. A contribution on the glass from the Wolverines guard would greatly increase their chances on winning.
-Elite Eight and Beyond.
Alright, so now we are living in a hypothetical world where Michigan has defeated the number two and three seeded teams in their region and they are in the Elite Eight. Fans who have watched all season still cannot believe this is the same team who lost to Illinois by 16 in January. Waiting for them is the winner of the Purdue-Kansas game.
Ideally you want Purdue. Coach John Beilein knows Purdue and, better yet, knows how to beat them. Despite the notion all regular season that Purdue would be a physical mismatch nightmare for Michigan, the reality was exactly the opposite. Purdue forwards Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan do not have the foot speed or athletic ability to keep up with Moritz Wagner or D.J Wilson.
Unfortunately for Michigan, a scenario where Purdue beats Kansas in Kansas City is a pretty unlikely one. While not impossible, it will be difficult for any team, including Michigan, to knock off an explosive Jayhawk team.
As such, the most likely scenario would put Michigan against Kansas in what would feel like a road game. While the energy and feel of Michigan’s team has changed dramatically in recent weeks, Michigan hasn’t been great on the road this season.
In the matchup, Michigan would figure to have a size advantage over Kansas. The Jayhawks only have two players over 6-10 on their roster, and just Laden Lucas receives real minutes. Keeping Lucas of the glass would be huge for Michigan.
The real mismatch would be either Josh Jackson or Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, both 6-8 guards, guarding Moritz Wagner. Wagner’s big day Sunday was highlighted by some fancy drop steps and just an overall clinic on the low block. If Wagner could play like he did on Sunday, he could have a great opportunity in this matchup.
To summarize, Michigan is pretty evenly matched with Oregon and will have to outscore the Ducks in what should be a three-point shootout for the ages. If they advance, a one seed playing in front of home town fans awaits them. In any other region, the Wolverines might be favored, but the team will get no luck here.
A potential Final Four appearance is hard to comprehend given how Michigan started this season, but that might be where Michigan’s road would end. While not impossible, the sheet talent of some of Michigan’s potential opponents would be somewhat intimidating. Michigan could very well draw North Carolina, Kentucky or UCLA in a Final Four game, which all have loaded rosters.
Could Michigan win it?
Sure, they have a 1-in-16 chance right now. Is it likely? Probably not. A lot of dominoes would have to fall Michigan’s way, but nobody thought this team would even make the tournament in January, so crazier things can happen.