Tennessee v Michigan

Michigan keeps exceeding expectations during another tournament run

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INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan was supposed to be in this position.

Heading to the Elite 8 behind a balanced offensive attack led by the Big Ten Player of the Year.

Except consensus preseason All-American Mitch McGary has been out of the lineup for Michigan since December 21st with a back injury that forced the sophomore big man to have season-ending surgery on January 7th.

Many left the Wolverines for dead with no chance of making it back to the Final Four after last year’s championship-game loss to Louisville. But now, No. 2 seed Michigan is one game away from doing just that after Friday’s 73-71 win over No. 11 seed Tennessee in the Sweet 16 of the Midwest Regional.

Behind a new Big Ten Player of the Year — sophomore wing Nik Stauskas — Michigan is sporting one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country as the Wolverines look like a major threat in the Midwest thanks to its potent perimeter attack.

“We have a really confident group here,” Stauskas said. “The fact that we’ve been through that run we had last year, we just have to go out and have fun. We know what we’re capable of doing and we just try to stick to our game plan and have fun doing it.”

Michigan entered Friday’s contest shooting 39.8% from three-point range this season and that trend of hot shooting continued against Tennessee on Friday. Michigan started 7-for-9 from distance in the first half before finishing 55 percent (11-for-20) for the game.

With five different Wolverines knocking down a three-pointer, Michigan forces teams to pick and choose who to help off of on ball screens and on the perimeter. With three guys in Stauskas, sophomore guard Caris LeVert and freshman point guard Derrick Walton that can operate pick-and-rolls and hit shots from the perimeter, the Wolverines can throw a lot of different looks at an opposing defense. And that doesn’t include the offensive versatility and athleticism of sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III.

“You saw that with Texas. I feel like we had a really balanced attack in that game,” Stauksas said. “It makes it toughest for teams to guard you if you have four or five or six guys who are capable of scoring at any time. They don’t really know what to do with that. I think you saw that in the first half (against Tennessee), especially, with our spacing on the floor, they didn’t really know who to help off of, who not to help off of and it kind of led to some easy baskets.”

While Stauskas and the perimeter threats were a known commodity entering the Tournament, the continued solid play of senior forward Jordan Morgan is a huge reason why Michigan is in its current position.

Morgan and Robinson III were thought to be at a disadvantage facing Tennessee’s interior duo of senior forward Jeronne Maymon and junior forward Jarnell Stokes but Michigan held the duo to 13 points on Friday as Morgan took the potential game-saving charge on Stokes with six seconds left and the Wolverines clinging to a 72-71 lead. The senior also had a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds for Michigan after recording back-to-back double-doubles to start the tournament.

“We heard all week about they had mismatches and how we couldn’t guard them inside. I guess people forgot we play in the Big Ten and we won the Big Ten outright,” Morgan said. “So we’re not really soft around here. That’s not who we are. We lift a lot of weights. So it’s just ‑‑ I don’t know, it’s a pride thing for us. We’re not about to get punked.”

People must have forgotten that Morgan and Robinson had to defend a healthy McGary in practice last season or that they went through a tough and physical Big Ten. Michigan played a difficult non-conference schedule with games against Iowa State, Arizona, Duke and Stanford. Morgan and his Michigan teammates feel prepared to face anything by this point.

“(I told them to) have a strong chest and try to keep them off the glass and that’s what they did out there tonight,” McGary said of his frontcourt teammates against Tennessee.

Although McGary is relegated to the role of America’s most famous cheerleader during the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the sophomore dressing in uniform and warming up with his teammates before the game seemed to give Michigan an additional emotional boost.

“Obviously I’m not going to play or anything like that but I feel more connected to my teammates when I dress,” McGary said. “I think it (gave my teammates a lift for) a little bit. I also didn’t want to take credit away from them because people make such a big deal about it. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal because I’m wearing a uniform just like them.”

People made a big deal of Michigan losing Mitch McGary, but the Wolverines keep humming along and winning close games. They’re 22-4 since McGary went down with the season-ending injury and now they’re in position to potentially make another Final Four.

Not many anticipated Michigan to be in this position — given this season’s adversity — except for the confident group of Wolverines that keep hitting shots and winning close games.

“I don’t know if we’re getting lucky or what we’re doing but we just seem to have a thing about pulling out games and winning in the last couple of minutes,” Stauskas said. “Maybe that’s our toughness or resiliency to get these wins but we’ve done a great job both offensively and defensively to hold onto these games.”

Stanford loses key veteran guard to stress fracture

Marcus Allen
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Stanford guard Marcus Allen will be out indefinitely after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot, the school announced on Monday evening.

“We want to make sure Marcus is fully healthy before returning to the court,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said in a statement. “Marcus played at a high level during our summer exhibition competition in Italy, where he was one of our leading scorers. We will certainly miss him as we continue to prepare for the season, but we are fortunate that this happened now and he will be back before he knows it.”

The loss of Allen is a potentially brutal blow in an already-thin back court. The 6-foot-3 Allen started 23 games as a sophomore last season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 boards. But he averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 boards as the Cardinal made a run to the NIT championship and looked poised to be able to replace the departed Chasson Randle’s production this year.

What’s worse is that without Allen, Stanford does not return a single player in their back court that averaged more than 11.5 minutes. Sophomore Robert Cartwright looks poised to step into the starting point guard role, but neither Dorian Pickens nor Christian Sanders looked like they were ready for that kind of role in the Pac-12 last season. Dawkins does return Malcolm Allen, Marcus’ twin brother, who sat out last season with a broken wrist.

The good news is that Stanford’s front court is strong enough to carry the Cardinal until Marcus is healthy. Rosco Allen, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey will be able to hold their own against any front line in the Pac-12, while Grant Verhoeven and freshman Josh Sharma will provide adequate depth.

Utah lands top-75 center Jayce Johnson

Larry Krystkowiak
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Utah picked up its center of the future on Monday as four-star center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Runnin’ Utes, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The 7-foot Johnson recently cut his list to Cal, Colorado and Utah with the possibility of reclassifying to the Class of 2015.

Regarded as the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson will look to attend Utah in December as a walk-on who will redshirt. While Johnson likely won’t play this season, he does give head coach Larry Krystkowiak another big man to use in practice to go against sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. A solid long-term prospect, Johnson has a good frame to add weight and he’s also skilled finishing with both hands. Utah now has its replacement for Poeltl if he opts to leave for the NBA after the season and he gets an extra semester to work with the program.

Johnson is coming off of his official visit to Utah this weekend as he joins junior college guard Jojo Zamora in the Class of 2016.