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_