Historically known as a team that lived and died with the three-ball, No. 3-seed Michigan had spent the first weekend of the NCAA tournament proving history wrong.
In an ugly game in their opener against Montana, the Wolverines shot 5-for-16 from three while turning the ball over 14 times and managing a measly 61 points. Against Houston in the second round, Michigan shot 8-for-30 from beyond the arc, with one of those threes coming courtesy of Jordan Poole at the buzzer, sending the Wolverines into the Sweet 16 with a 64-63 win.
Put another way, Michigan looked the part of the defensive grinder that they turned into this season.
Against No. 7-seed Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, however, the Wolverines turned into the Golden State Warriors.
Michigan bested the number of three that they had made in the tournament to date, hitting 14-of-24 bombs while shooting 62 percent from the floor in a 99-72 win over an Aggies team that had finally, for the first time since November, looked the part of the SEC title contender that they have the talent to be.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 24 points, seven assists and five boards for Michigan. Mo Wagner chipped in with 21 points — 14 of which came in the first 15 minutes of the game — while Zavier Simpson added 11 points, five boards, five assists and five steals. Charles Matthews had 18 points. Duncan Robinson busted out of his slump with 10 points, including a couple of threes and a dunk to boot.
Put another way, the Wolverines were firing on all cylinders.
And that should terrify everyone on the left side of the bracket.
Entering this weekend’s games, Michigan was the best defensive team left in the tournament. They ranked third-nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and that’s not a fluke or a flaw within KenPom’s formula. The Wolverines can absolutely grind teams down defensively. They are so much more athletic on the perimeter than they have been in past seasons, and with Simpson playing as the point man for them on that end of the floor, they’ve simply overmatched everyone that has gotten in their path on that end of the floor.
That’s why they were able to win two games in the first weekend of the tournament despite scoring a total of just 125 points.
At some point, you knew they were going to find a way to be better on the offensive end, and the Aggies were the team they needed to see.
Texas A&M’s strength in their front line. Tyler Davis, Robert Williams, D.J. Hogg. They have so much size along that front line that it can overpower just about anyone this side of Duke. But what those big, burly dudes bring in the paint they lack on the perimeter, and Michigan was able to spread them out and beat them down the floor in transition. It didn’t help matters that the Aggies struggled with the idea of passing the ball to the guys in maroon instead of the guys in yellow during the first half, and the end result was a Michigan team that found their confidence.
At one point, they were 9-for-12 from three. They made 10 of their 14 threes in the first half. The score at one point was 52-23. It was a three-point avalanche of Villanovian proportions.
And here’s the kicker: The Aggies actually did manhandle Michigan inside. Tyler Davis and Robert Williams combined for 36 points on 17-for-25 shooting.
It didn’t matter.
Michigan will advance to face the winner of No. 4-seed Gonzaga and No. 9-seed Florida State tonight, and regardless of who they end up getting in the Elite 8, they will be taking on a team that is much, much, much better suited to matching up with Michigan’s spread attack.
But Michigan has their confidence back.
I don’t expect that we’ll be seeing them shoot 28 percent from three on Saturday.
And that defense?
It’s not going anywhere.
And the Wolverines won’t have to face a team seeded higher than them until the national title game.
This run may not be close to over yet.