Michigan basketball readies for Florida in Elite 8 matchup

164966879Michigan basketball pulled off the most improbable of comebacks on Friday night and now will play on Easter Sunday at 2:20 eastern against the 3-seeded Florida Gators. The game will air on CBS and put Michigan in position to reach their first Final Four since the Fab Five owned the hardwood.

So far Michigan has worked their way through the 13th seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits, 5-seed VCU, and now #1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks with an 87-85 overtime thriller on Friday night. Florida has plowed through Northwestern State (14), Minnesota (11), and Florida Gulf Coast (15). Obviously their competition will be a little stiffer this time around.

[Key moments from Michigan’s win over Kansas]

With so much left to play for, so much has already come to light. When reflecting on last night’s ferocious comeback in regulation and the subsequent overtime win, a lot of things come to mind.

  • Mitch McGary’s playing time was spared throughout the season by John Beilein. The trustworthy coach has turned the big fella loose in the tourney and it is paying huge dividends. Consider that Mitch McGary & Blake Griffin (2009) are the only players in the last 15 seasons with consecutive games of 21+ points and 14+ rebounds in tournament play.
  • Trey Burke’s heroics have erased any distant questioning as to whether he returns to Michigan next year. He’s gone and it’s up to us to enjoy the rest of the ride. The last player to score over 20 points and hand out 10 assists in a Sweet 16 game was Billy Donovan, Florida’s current coach. At one point last night Burke was 4-14 from the field and 1-8 from three. He made 5 of his last 7 shots and all of his final 3 three point attempts.
  • Even with Burke leaving next year, if guys like Tim Hardaway, Jr., Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary make the smart decisions to return to Ann Arbor, Michigan is probably the preseason #1 team in America.
  • Burke’s 3-pointer might’ve been this year’s version of the Sean Higgins put-back during the 1989 Final 4 matchup with Illinois that eventually propelled Michigan to their National Championship. Sometimes it takes a breakthrough shot and Burke drilled it.
  • And finally, last night reminded me of how passionate college basketball still is. Having just retrieved my laptop from the repair shop (broken after Ben McLemore banked in a three and I took out some frustration on an unsuspecting piece of machinery), and actually falling to the floor in despair more than once during the game, I was brought back to what it was like to watch sports as a kid. And you know what? It was a lot of fun. I wonder will that game will rank on this list.
Michigan Basketball's Mitch McGary

Mitch McGary is on a roll

And now Michigan turns all of their attention toward beating a deep and talented Florida roster. Florida is a strong defensive team and can hurt opponents both inside and out with their offense.

Florida features three guys 6’3’’ and under that all play about 30 minutes per game. As a result, Michigan will have the size advantage with their lengthy guard/forwards Robinson, Hardaway, and Nik Stauskas.

Michigan will try to attack from the inside out. Look for Stauskas and Hardaway to try to create action off the dribble and Burke will be carving into the underbelly of the Gator defense all afternoon trying to set up his teammates for open looks.

Florida doesn’t mind an up-tempo game but my hunch is that they will try to grind the pace down a bit and make Michigan work hard for their buckets. Defensively, you can be sure that Donovan took note of Michigan’s complete inability to shut down the driving attack that Kansas put on display Friday night against the Wolverines. The Jayhawks scored 60 points in the paint. With Florida being a shorter team and their bigs not overly athletic, Michigan should fare better in that department this time around.

Key matchups:

Burke v. Scottie Wilbekin – Wilbekin will more than likely be tasked with covering Burke for most of the game while getting help from Kenny Boynton. Wilbekin has a few inches on Burke but Trey has the muscle and is obviously the more talented player. Look for Trey to get off to a better start with his shooting and to put up another vintage performance. Wilbekin will struggle with Burke’s physicality.

Mitch McGary v. Patric Young – Young is a 6’9’’, 249 pound beast who averaged 10 points and 6 boards throughout the season. What he’s going up against though is the hottest big man in the country. McGary is on a roll right now and should have an even easier time against a shorter Florida front line than what he dealt with in Kansas’ Jeff Withey.

The feeling here at isportsweb.com is that Michigan is on their way to the Final Four. With the added contributions of McGary and the elite play of Burke, Michigan definitely has enough offensively to get the job done. If their defense can rally together and help off the ball as needed then the next stop will be Atlanta.

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  • Rob White

    I definitely went through the full gamet of emotions during the Kansas game. From despair, to excitement, nervousness, elation. It was awesome. I can’t wait for Sunday’s game, that should be another gem.