Michigan v Indiana

For as good as the Big Ten was, Michigan is its last Final Four hopeful

13 Comments

For as dominant as the Big Ten appeared to be throughout the conference schedule, generous in giving us marquee matchups every week, how could we have ended up here on the verge of a Final Four that doesn’t include a single team from the conference?

We began with the possibility of three or maybe even four Big Ten teams in Atlanta, but now it all comes down to one: Michigan.

The Wolverines are the conference’s last hope to have a representative in the Final Four after No. 2-seed Ohio State fell to No. 9-seed Wichita State on Saturday in the Elite Eight and both Indiana and Michigan State were knocked out in the Sweet 16.

There was a sense during the conference season that we could see a “Big Ten Effect” in the NCAA tournament that we seem to see with college football in the SEC. That “effect” is when all the teams from a particular conference beat up on each other throughout the regular season, but are stronger for it in the postseason.

It appeared to be coming true after the Round of 64 when the conference was 6-1, with only Wisconsin losing to Ole Miss. But then Illinois and Minnesota each lost their Round of 32 games. That led to the Sweet 16 losses mentioned earlier and Ohio State’s loss on Saturday, which leads us here. It is simply scheduling that led us here, with Michigan playing a day later than the Buckeyes, but the fact remains: there is only one team left standing from the Big Ten.

So what can the Wolverines do to beat Florida and advance to the Final Four?

Michigan comes into this game knowing that against a strong defensive team like Florida, they do not turn the ball over at a high rate. That should help to keep the Gators from flipping turnovers into points and getting out into transition offensively.

A major concern for Florida should be whether or not it can find a go-to scorer down the stretch and whether or not it can seal a game in the final minutes. With a team like Michigan that can get out on the run led by point guard Trey Burke and has three-point shooters like Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway, Jr., Florida will need to lock down defensively or leads can disappear quickly.

Coach Billy Donovan’s team showed it could come back from a major early deficit against a transition-oriented team after falling into a 15-4 hole against Florida Gulf Coast. The difference this time around will be that the Gators will likely not have the benefit of turning so many turnovers into points. Michigan will not turn the ball over at the same rate as FGCU.

Florida will want to exploit any weakness it can in the paint on both ends of the floor, which means Patric Young needs to be a presence in the paint against Mitch McGary. Michigan was able to neutralize Kansas’ advantage in that department in its Sweet 16 win.

Tip off is at 2:20 p.m. ET, followed by the day’s other Elite Eight matchup, Louisville-Duke, at approximately 5:05 p.m. ET.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Leave a comment

Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Leave a comment

Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.