Michigan’s run to the championship game continues on Saturday night when the 3-seeded Wolverines take on the surprise 9-seeded Florida State Seminoles.
Leonard Hamilton’s group has discarded Missouri, Xavier, and Gonzaga on their road to meeting Michigan, and they have done so by turning around a defense that was just seventh in ACC play in defensive efficiency.
The offense has been in Florida State’s key constant all season. The Seminoles are a KenPom top-35 team in offensive efficiency this season and really want to get out in transition. Florida State played the fastest in the ACC this season at 71.4 possessions per 40 minutes. That’s good for 41st nationally, and fourth amongst Power 5 schools. For a Big Ten comparable, only Iowa (70.3) and Illinois (69.9) played at a similar pace. Those teams are obviously not in the same ballpark as to what Florida State can do.
By contrast, Michigan is one of the slowest tempo teams in the country. The Wolverines are at 64.7 possessions per 40 minutes, good for 324th in the country. The only Power 5 teams that play slower than Michigan are Wisconsin, Northwestern, Virginia, and Georgia. The style works for Michigan given its ability to suffocate you on defense and score with efficiency on offense.
The argument is not that one is better than the other, it is just pointing out that each team is going to try to play to its comfort-level tonight. The team that is able to control the pace could put itself in a great position to advance to the Final Four.
It will be interesting to watch how the other team responds playing outside of its comfort zone. Michigan is able to play at a faster pace, especially if they are making three-pointers. Thursday’s victory over Texas A&M is a good example. The Wolverines had 70 possessions in that game and thoroughly dismantled the Aggies. For Florida State, they, almost inexplicably, have turned up the defense and tried to grind teams down in the half court in NCAA Tournament play. The strategy did wonders in their dominant victory over Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen.
Looking and considering some other factors, it appears that Michigan might have more of the advantage to play to its style. For one, NCAA Tournament games tend to naturally to slow the pace, given the moment and feel of the game. Also, one of the easiest ways to get the pace going is by turning the ball over. Only Nevada ranks better than Michigan in taking care of the basketball. The Wolverines only average 13.9 turnovers per game, and the Seminoles are 130th in the country in forcing turnovers. For Florida State to pull the upset they will need their athleticism on the perimeter to disrupt Michigan’s ability to get open looks and run its offense. Don’t expect Michigan to hit 14 three’s again, but holding Michigan’s shooting percentages low will be imperative for the Seminoles tonight.
A really interesting game tonight from Los Angeles. People are already penciling in Michigan for the championship game, but there could be some trouble going up against this Seminole team. Florida State will be bigger and more athletic, but so was Texas A&M and that didn’t seem to matter. If Michigan takes care of the ball, controls the flow of the game and grinds Florida State’s offense down in the half court, expect the Wolverines to be heading to San Antonio.