In just a few hours, the 4th seeded Florida State Seminoles will square off with the 1st seeded Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional Semifinals. With the teams combining for 7 Sweet 16 appearances in the last four NCAA Tourneys, the battle for spot in the Elite 8 features two of the nation’s most successful programs when it comes to recent March Madness.
So it’s not too surprising that this second weekend showdown is a rematch from just a few years ago. In FSU’s recent run of Big Dance success, the ‘Noles have drawn several opponents multiple times.
Florida State saw Xavier two years in a row, getting upset by the 11th seeded Musketeers in 2017 before returning the favor one year later in a second round shocker.
The Seminoles also split a pair with the Gonzaga Bulldogs, blowing out the ‘Zags in the 2018 Sweet 16 before dropping a tough loss one year later in the 2019 Regional Semifinal.
Now it’s the Wolverines who become the third team to have a pair of March matchups with FSU since 2018. While this year’s game has an Elite 8 appearance on the line, the 2018 FSU/UM game was itself a Regional Final, meaning the winner went to the Final Four.
Florida State was a 9 seed that year, making it’s first trip to the second weekend in March since a 2011 Sweet 16 appearance. The third-seeded Wolverines, meanwhile, were making their 3rd Elite 8 appearance in 6 years. In a back and forth affair, Michigan prevailed with a 58-54 victory, holding off a ferocious late-charge after the ‘Noles had gone down 54-44 with just over two minutes left in the game.
While the game feels like yesterday for many fans, three years might as well be a decade in the world of college basketball. Michigan doesn’t even have the same coach anymore, with then headman John Beilein already being hired and fired as head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. In fact, just one player on either squad who is expected to play today participated in the 2018 barn-burner: M.J. Walker scored two points on three shots in 8 minutes of action, while also grabbing two rebounds and swiping three steals. (Michigan senior Isaiah Livers also played in the game, scoring two points and grabbing four rebounds in 12 minutes, but he is not expected to play today due to a foo injury).
So if so much has changed since then, what, if anything can we take from the 2018 matchup? Honestly, not a whole lot.
Despite having future NBA sharpshooters Duncan Robinson and Jordan Poole (currently making major contributions with the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors respectively), Michigan didn’t shoot it that well as a team in 2018, ranking just 156th in the country. This year’s edition of the Wolverines ranks 11th in the nation from downtown, lighting up the nets at 38.5% on the season, and an even better 39.7% in conference play. Similarly, FSU was just 168th in the nation at three-point shooting in 2018 at 35.0%, compared to 38.2% this season (15th), and a whopping 40.3% in league play. Ironically, both Michigan and Florida State attempt a lower volume of threes this season than in 2018, despite both making a significantly higher percentage.
The free throw shooting story is much the same. Both teams ranked in the bottom 100 of the country in 2018, while both teams rank in the top 75 of the country this season.
Defensively, Michigan was elite in 2018 and is elite again this season, ranking 3rd and 11th in the nation respectively. But how they lock teams down has changed. In 2018, Michigan turned teams over nearly 20% of their possessions, kept opponents off the offensive glass, and were equally efficient at preventing twos and threes. Under new coach Juwan Howard, the Wolverines are one of the lowest defensive turnover rates in all of college basketball at just 14.6% of their opponents possessions. But they make up for it with truly elite interior defense, allowing opponents to shoot a miniscule 42.4% of their two-point shots.
So, while there aren’t many similarities between the two teams on the court, it’s still fun to think about getting some March revenge. If recent history is any indication—and if you’re cool with super small sample sizes—FSU has split both pairs of matchups with Gonzaga and Xavier, meaning the Seminoles are due for a win.
Want to take the history trend one step further? Florida State and Michigan have also met twice in the other March tournament, the NIT. The first meeting coming in the 1997 NIT Championship game in Madison Square Garden, and then a rematch coming a decade later in a second round NIT tip-off in the Tucker Center. The outcomes? The Seminoles and Wolverines split the pair, with the maize and blue winning in 1997 and the garnet and gold getting revenge 10 years later.