A few years ago, college basketball began changing the rules to make it more difficult to play defense. So Leonard Hamilton re-invented his system, and Florida State has become more difficult to contain on the offensive end. About that same time, Michigan head coach John Beilein examined his system and admitted that he often ignored the defense to his own detriment. So he brought in defensive assistants to beef up what had been a soft and lackadaisical approach.
Now, Michigan has one of the best defenses in the nation (4th in defensive efficiency), and FSU has to figure out how to attack the Wolverines if the ’Noles want to make it to the second Final Four in program history.
The key to Michigan’s defense is taking away the 3-point shot. Defending 3s is far more about how many you allow the other team to take than it is how many they make. The latter part is somewhat random. The former part is what you control. And there are only five teams in the nation that allow fewer 3-point attempts than Michigan.
They also sell out to take away transition. The Wolverines are 276th nationally in offensive rebounding, mostly due to everyone running back on defense rather than attacking the glass. They also have a gifted defender in point guard, Zavier Simpson, who can slow down any ball handler. Against Florida State, which has one of the shortest offensive possession lengths of any high major program, scoring in transition is going to be critical. More than a third of Braian Angola’s points come in transition, and PJ Savoy is shooting 45% on 3s in transition.
The ’Noles are simply going to have to find a way to play downhill. And this against a team which is built to take that away.
The Wolverines are essentially the Big Ten version of Virginia. Their tempo is 310th on offense. They play at a grind. Although, as we’ve seen annually from Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, when you’re the favored team it doesn’t always pay to limit possessions.
Michigan is going to want this game played at a crawl, while FSU wants a hectic, fast game. The Wolverines commit fewer turnovers than all but one D1 program, and they rebound on defense, so extra possessions will be limited.
On offense, they take a ton of 3s, but aren’t overly adept at making them, shooting just 1.4% above the NCAA average. They destroyed Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 by going absolutely bananas from deep, making 14-24 3s. But that was an outlier. If they can repeat that level of shooting, tip your cap, as they’ll be moving on.
Mo Wagner, a 6-11 junior, leads the team, scoring 14.4 per game. He’s a tremendous matchup problem, as he shoots 41% from deep. Only about 15% of his 3s come in transition, so he’s more of a pick and pop issue.
When he’s able to stay on the floor (he can be foul prone), Michigan runs either a 5-out set, or 4-1 with him in the middle. When he’s in the middle, Florida State’s bigs will have to be quick to follow, as he’ll jump to set screens, before immediately flaring for the 3-pointer.
When he’s not in the game, Michigan has the obligatory big stiff that seems to be contractually obligated for all Big Ten rosters. The 7-1 Jon Teske essentially comes in to screen and be a pest.
Sophomore Charles Matthews is the highest-volume player on the floor, but he isn’t the most efficient player, shooting only 31% from deep. He scores 12.9 per game largely by getting to the rim in half-court sets, and he has good size at 6-6.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman matches Matthew’s 12.9 ppg. The 6-4 senior is a solid 3-point shooter (37%), although he attempts more 2s than 3s. He’s also the only Michigan starter who shoots over 70% from the line. As a whole, Michigan is 326th nationally, making just 66% of their freebies, but they don’t rely much on getting there.
Duncan Robinson, a 6-8 senior, was the Big Ten 6th Man of the Year, and he comes off the bench to jack 3s. He’s made 39% and scores 9.6 points per game.
All told, Michigan’s offense is 25th nationally. They have solid, but not great shooters. They’re elite at taking care of the ball. The FSU defense is going to have to be locked in on 3-point shooters, and when the ’Noles get stops it’s critical to get the rebound and run.
The game is projected to tip at 8:49 PM from Staples Center in Los Angeles and will be broadcast on TBS. For the 3rd straight game, Florida State’s the underdog, this time to the tune of 4.5 points.