Game Preview: Sweet 16 Michigan

A third straight Sweet 16 for Florida State and Leonard Hamilton has brought them face-to-face with the Michigan Wolverines, a team that FSU has more familiarity with than you might realize. The biggest familiarity is obviously that these two teams played in the Elite Eight in 2018, with Michigan winning 58-54 and advancing to the Final Four. So essentially, Michigan is the reason I don’t have a Final Four ring. This one is personal to me, I need my revenge. FSU also heavily recruited Hunter Dickinson, Michigan’s leading scorer, played Chaundee Brown a ton at Wake Forest before he transferred, and Coach Hamilton actually coached Juwan Howard for a little bit with the Washington Wizards. Now, Hamilton and Howard will be coaching against each other in the Sweet 16 20 years later. One is the last Big 10 team standing, while the other is the last 4-seed standing. Incredible.

Florida State is 1-3 all time against Michigan, with the only win coming in 2007. In 1/4 matchups in the Sweet 16, the 1-seed is 18-7 since 2005, including 7 straight wins dating back to the 2016 tournament. A 4 seed has not beaten a 1 seed to go to the Elite Eight since 2014, when Michigan State beat Virginia, before losing in the Elite Eight to eventual national champion UCONN. When the 1-seed is a five-point favorite or less, they are 9-3. FSU has a tough road ahead of them, but there are a lot of things that match their style of play that gives them a huge chance in this game. Something I’m watching for is some of these teams, like Florida State, have not been home since before their conference tournaments over two weeks ago. Do we see that play into performances, or does the familiarity in their current environment and limited travel lead to some really great basketball like we saw in the NBA bubble?

This game will be on Sunday at 5pm EST on CBS, live from the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN.

1 Seed, 4th Overall Michigan Wolverines (22-4, 14-3) Breakdown

Michigan was one of the best team through the regular season, at one point sitting 18-1 and one of the top 3 teams in the country. Down the stretch, they dealt with their fair share of injuries, and limped into the tournament losing 3 of their last 5 games (sound familiar?). The biggest injury being Senior and team captain Isaiah Livers being out indefinitely with a stress injury in his foot, which was announced just before the Big 10 tournament. His impact on Michigan’s team went beyond the box score; his off ball creation and cutting, his IQ and his leadership, and his experience in the blue and maize are not things that can be replicated in your usual “next man up” mantra. Yes, he is still on the sideline and being a vocal leader there and in the locker room, but Michigan desperately misses his presence on the floor. Entering the tournament, Michigan was just 6-7 without Livers available to play in the last two seasons. I’m sure some people will be thinking, “well just how good is Michigan if they’re the only Big 10 team out of 9 that made the tournament to be left standing,” but do not get it twisted, this is a very good team.

They have won both games in the tournament to bring them to bring them to 8-7 without Livers. Those two NCAA games against Texas Southern and LSU were two wildly different games that FSU won’t look to copy much of. Texas Southern was completely undersized and outmatched, like most 16 seeds against a 1 seed, and were just too inefficient from the floor. LSU was a track meet, as the Tigers have one of the best offenses in the country (5th in KenPom’s offensive efficiency), but one of the worst defenses in the Power 7 conferences (124th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency). Florida State will be looking more at the Illinois game from a few weeks ago, where Illinois suffocated Michigan on both ends of the floor without Player of the Year finalist Ayo Dosunmu, and it started with their ball denial.

Illinois, especially their big man Kofi Cockburn, is just so big and physical, and they made life tough for Michigan’s guards in terms of getting down hill and attacking the basket. The Illini were just doing great job of fighting around screens.

Michigan’s offense is very, very good and very, very versatile. Here is a breakdown of their most used possessions: Spot-ups (28.8% of possessions, 1.014 points per possession, 88th percentile nationally), Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler (15%, 0.753 PPP, 50th%), Post-Up (14.4%, 1.071 PPP, 98th%), Transition (11.4%, 1.134 PPP, 89th%), Cuts (6.2%, 1.134 PPP, 77th%). Normally I don’t go below 10%, but that’s a pretty high amount of cuts, and it speaks to the intelligence and unselfishness of this offense. To explain it better than I can, and in much faster fashion, here is one of my favorite YouTube channels breaking down their offense.

It should be noted that this video was made just before they lost Isaiah Livers to injury, and before they lost 3 of their last 5 games. The principles are still the same though. Those pistol actions especially worry me, because that’s a great way to beat denial defense and pressure defense. The help side defense on the opposite end of the floor is going to have to be aware of everything happening on the other half of the court. I’m expecting FSU to stick someone underneath the basket at all times on those early actions. The only issue with that is Michigan is a very unselfish team and will pass up good shots to get great shots. Florida State will have to react on the motion of the pass and not the flight of the pass. The issue that creates (there are a lot of issues guarding this offense )is Michigan often catches to get downhill and catch passes already on the run. It’s not like Florida State where they catch to look to shoot and get an awareness of everything happening. Michigan just ATTACKS and relocates over and over. It’s a very professional system, which is no surprise given Juwan Howard’s 6 years as an NBA assistant coach.

Some things about their system that favor Florida State though are they are 202nd in free throw rate (free throws per free throw attempt) and 121st in offensive rebound rate. When teams beat Florida State, it’s usually due to an abundance of free throws and offensive rebounds. Michigan’s season high in offensive rebounds is 12, whereas their season high in free throw attempts is 26. Both of their tournament games have seen them with 25+ free throw attempts, which is something to monitor. If they’re making up for their lack of creation from Livers out with free throw attempts, it makes them much more dangerous.

Defensively, again it’s a very professional system. Read and react on drives to the basket, contest every shot, but it’s not a huge help defense. Here are how their defensive possessions end up: PnR Ball Handler (20.1%, 0.828 PPP, 18th%), Spot-up (19.8%, 0.854 PPP, 80th%), Transition (11.9%, 0.996 PPP, 47th%). Teams have been isolating heavier than usual against them recently to some success, basically any time they drive except on drives against Franz Wagner. Like Colorado, they’re going to play man-to-man until they need to switch to a zone for a possession or two to either slow the pace down or because their bigs are dealing with foul trouble.

They’re just really solid at playing straight up. They very, very rarely force turnovers, ranking 5th worst nationally in forced turnovers per game and 8th worst in forced turnover rate, which is yet another thing that really benefits Florida State. They have only had 8 games forcing more than 10 turnovers, peaking out at 15. For comparison, FSU has had 9 games with MORE than 15 turnovers this season, capping out at 25. Texas Southern has a similar turnover rate on the season to FSU, and turned it over just 10 times against Michigan. If that few of turnovers happens for FSU, their offense is talented enough to score at will when they’re not turning it over. Michigan also does a great job of not picking up fouls, ranking 36th in opponent free throw rate, and with only 7 games where their opponent shoots 20 or more free throws. FSU has had 14 games with 20 or more free throw attempts. These abnormal free throw shooting games actually favor Michigan, as it allows them to play at their slower pace.

With Livers out, their production starts with Hunter Dickinson. Most of the time, Michigan will just let him operate in the post where he can either score or play make. On occasion, Michigan will initiate their sets with Dickinson in the high post where he mainly just dishes, but he has the ability to shot that 15-footer. If he wants to, let him. Only 20 of his total 239 shots have come from beyond 10 feet, and he’s made just 8 of them. He’s certainly capable, but he’s not exactly comfortable with it. Either let him shoot or drive to the rim and finish over length. When he’s in the post, he is going over his right shoulder as a lefty. He’s very good over his right shoulder.

FSU will want to stonewall his left, force him to go over his left shoulder and force him out of his comfort zone. Of his 131 post-up possessions this season, only 11 have ended with a shot over his left shoulder, compared to a whopping 91 (69.4% of possessions) ending with a shot over his right shoulder. Florida State certainly has the size and skill to match up with him, but they have to stay disciplined and out of foul trouble with their bigs. Where Dickinson struggles is in the defensive pick-and-roll. He has really slow feet in space.

I’m expecting a heavy dosage of pick-and-roll from Florida State, they key will be attacking and getting downhill. Dickinson is a guy FSU recruited heavily, so they’re as familiar with his tendencies as anyone.

Franz Wagner is the next player to talk about, and yes, he is the brother of Moritz Wagner who played for Michigan the last time these two teams met. They couldn’t be more different player. Moritz was a stretch big who wasn’t the greatest defensively. Franz is a long a wiry wing who is elite defensively and capable of locking down any player at any position. He can shoot as well, shooting 37.2% on 3.6 3PA per game, but can be a little hesitant at time. Once he gains confidence in a game and he’s not afraid to fire away, he’s a dangerous player. Defensively, his 93.3 points allowed per 100 possessions and defensive box plus/minus of +5.9 lead this team by a WIDE margin. He’s also first in steals, first in steal rate, first in defensive win shares, and second in blocks. Who he guards for most of the game will be interesting, because he could very well guard either RaiQuan Gray or Scottie Barnes and limit either of their effectiveness. Offensively, as mentioned in the breakdown video from hoopvision, they run those zipper cuts for him to get him going, which will either be completely halted from FSU’s switching, or it’s going to give FSU’s switching absolute fits.

Eli Brooks has picked up the scoring with Livers out, with 11+ points in each of the last 4 games, including 21 against LSU. He has the most 3-point make of anyone available to play, and can catch fire if given a couple of inches of space, and 45.4% of his total possessions this season have been spot-ups, and 73.8% of those spot-up possessions have been no-dribble jumpers. Every player on the roster you have to close-out with high hands, but you have to play it smartly given how well they move off-ball and how quickly they can get downhill. Despite standing at 6’1″, he’s admirable defensively and is second on the team in steals and defensive box plus/minus.

Mike Smith is a transfer from Ivy League school Columbia, and has gone from being a 22 PPG scorer at Columbia to being a great facilitator in an elite offense. He’s still capable of pouring on the buckets, with 5 games above 15 points this season, and he’s a threat to score from anywhere. 45% of his possessions come in the pick and roll, and when you combine his speed with Dickinson’s skill, it’s a really dangerous combo. Smith is not someone that you can allow to get a full head of steam and get downhill. I expect Florida State to load him up on ball pressure, because he’s had moments this season where he has not handled full-court pressure well. Pressure also keeps him from entering his early actions.

Chaundee Brown is a player Florida State fans should be very familiar with if they watch most games, as he has played Florida State three times when he was at Wake Forest. In those 3 games against FSU, he averages 15.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.3 APG, and 2.3 made 3s per game. He’s still not much of a facilitator, with the lowest assist percentage on the team, but can be an absolute lightning rod offensively. He’s coming off of his best game as a Wolverine, scoring 21 points on 6/9 shooting from the floor and 3/6 from 3. It’s very rare you go up against another team in another conference and you have THIS much experience with one of their main players. The staff was always very complementary of Brown when he was at Wake Forest, they’ll know how to limit his effectiveness.

Michigan isn’t a very deep team. Only about 7 guys play more than 10 minutes per game with Livers out, with the other two players being Brandon Johns Jr, who is likely to start, and Austin Davis. Johns is a long and athletic wing, but isn’t a very reliable scorer, with the second lowest offensive rating of any of their main players. Austin Davis wouldn’t get much playing time if he wasn’t a senior. He’s smart and has solid footwork, but he can be exposed in certain matchups. When the offense is going through him, usually it means nothing else is working. He was their best player in their blowout loss to Illinois, for example. Terrance Williams is another player you may see for a few minutes, but he’s not very good. He has the lowest offensive rating of anyone mentioned.

Team Stats PPG/RPG (ORBs/DRBs)/APG/SPG/BPG/ToPG/FPG          FG%/3PT%/FT%

Michigan Produces: 76.8/37.5 (9.0/28.5)/15.8/4.3/4.3/11.2/15.0          48.5/38.5/78.0

Michigan Allows: 65.9/31.1 (9.3/21.8)/9.9/4.9/2.7/10.0/16.4          39.3/32.7/75.8

Player Stats

#1 Hunter Dickinson 14.2/7.5 (2.2/5.4)/0.9/0.3/1.4/2.3/2.5            60.6/00.0/77.0

#21 Franz Wagner 12.8/6.3 (0.7/5.7)/3.0/1.3/1.0/1.3/2.2                 49.4/37.2/83.1

#55 Eli Brooks 9.7/3.2 (0.4/2.8)/3.0/1.1/0.2/1.1/1.1                          43.2/40.9/92.7

#12 Mike Smith 9.2/2.7 (0.4/2.3)/5.4/0.5/0.0/2.2/1.5                      42.6/42.5/83.3

#15 Chaundee Brown 7.9/2.9 (1.2/1.6)/0.6/0.1/0.3/0.8/1.6             47.2/39.8/69.0

#51 Austin Davis 5.3/2.8 (1.0/1.3)/0.2/0.2/0.1/0.8/2.3                     71.0/NA/53.8

#23 Brandon Johns Jr 4.5/2.2 (0.3/1.9)/0.5/0.2/0.4/0.9/1.5          51.3/36.8/81.6

4 Seed, 13th Overall Florida State Seminoles (18-6, 11-4) Breakdown

If there is one thing that motivates Florida State more than anything, it’s revenge. Clemson beat this team by 10 early in the season, before FSU turned around and beat Clemson at home by 19 three weeks later. Lost to UNC late in the season before beating them in the ACC semifinals. If you go back a few seasons, Xavier manhandled Florida State in the 2017 tournament. FSU beat them in the next tournament, and Chris Mack has still yet to beat FSU since that first Xavier game. Michigan knocked FSU out of the tournament in 2018 with a chance to go to the Final Four. While that was a few seasons ago, there are still plenty of guys on both benches that were present for the game.

For Michigan, Isaiah Livers started the game, but only played 12 minutes, allowing Duncan Robinson to play, and Austin Davis was a reserve on that team. For FSU, MJ Walker played 8 minutes, while Anthony Polite, RaiQuan Gray, and Wyatt Wilkes were all redshirts, and Justin Lindner, Harrison Prieto, Will Miles, and Travis Light were still the scout team leaders. Not to mention the coaching staff still being almost the same outside of Coach Smith. This team vividly remembers that game and the chances they had to win that game. They want this opportunity.

Florida State has to be aggressive in this game, especially in attacking ball screens. Scottie Barnes, RayQuan Evans, and RaiQuan Gray are going to need to get downhill at whatever cost. No hesitating and waiting for the defense to react, attack Dickinson’s body directly; play through contact.

MJ Walker will have to show up offensively in this game too. No more taking 4 or 5 shots, shoot it when you’re open, no hesitating. Michigan isn’t going to be one of those teams that reaches in trying to strip him of the ball all game like Georgia Tech. Florida State has won every game this season when they turn the ball over 13 or fewer times. Michigan has only had two games all season forcing more than 13 turnovers, and one of those was an overtime game against Oakland. This offense can be really dangerous as long as they’re not ending possessions early with turnovers.

Because Michigan is a slower paced team, it may be tougher for them to get to the scoring benchmarks they’re used to against a really long and athletic Florida State team that played phenomenal defense in the opening weekend. FSU is 17-0 when their opponent scores 75 points or less, with their last opponents being their best scoring defensive outputs on the season. At least through two games, the Seminoles appear to be locked in defensively, and they’ll want to continue that if they want to go to their second Elite Eight in the last 3 tournaments. The difference is they were playing teams with one major creator on offense. Now they’ll be going against a Michigan team that can create through anyone and their best player is their post presence. That’s a unique challenge for this FSU team.

Injury Report

Michigan’s Isaiah Livers is still out indefinitely due to a stress injury in his foot. While he’s not officially been declared out, there’s not much optimism surrounding his chances to play.

Scottie Barnes and MJ Walker have been dealing with nagging injuries, but with an extra week to rest and recover, they should be a little more rejuvenated.

Projected Starters


G: Mike Smith

G: Eli Brooks

G: Franz Wagner

F: Brandon Johns Jr

C: Hunter Dickinson

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: MJ Walker

G: Anthony Polite

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Balsa Koprivica

Keys to the Game

Ball Pressure and Ball Screens

Michigan’s guards, especially Mike Smith, are not used to press defenses. They have only seen 82 possessions of press defense all season. 18 of those have come in the NCAA Tournament. While they were able to fare against Texas Southern and LSU, Texas Southern didn’t start pressing until it was too late, and LSU’s press was mostly a 1-2-2 press. They haven’t seen a team with Florida State’s ball pressure and length all season, where they just pick you up man-to-man the length of the floor. At best, Mike Smith will be guarded by either RayQuan Evans or MJ Walker, which is still a 5 or 6 inch height difference, a major difference in college basketball.

If you force Michigan to start their sets a couple extra feet beyond the 3-point line, you take away their quick hitters, you take away easier 3s, and you might force Michigan into a couple of turnovers.

As far as ball screens, you’re going to see a heavy dosage of them from Mike Smith, meaning someone is going to be switched onto Hunter Dickinson. Everyone on the roster has to be ready for a battle in the post. FSU should also expect to run a heavy dose of ball screens given Michigan’s weaknesses defending pick-and-rolls.

Hunter Dickinson vs Balsa Koprivica

Florida State’s game plan for Dickinson will be interesting, as a lot of Michigan’s offense runs through him. They’ll give him the ball in the high post and let him dish passes, they’ll put him on the low block and let him eat on slower defenders, and he is skilled enough to beat just about anyone. I don’t see him getting in early foul trouble, but if he did, it would be a huge blow to Michigan, as Austin Davis is not someone they want to play heavy minutes against a really athletic Florida State team. It wouldn’t surprise if FSU came into this with the same gameplan that Minnesota had, which was to consistently send bodies at him when he catches the ball, while still fronting the post like they normally do.

Active hands, use your length and athleticism, and force him off of his operating areas; make him catch the ball 15-feet away from the basket. The last thing you want for Florida State is for him to catch the ball with a foot already in the paint. Balsa Koprivica is going to have to stay out of foul trouble in this game. Him averaging 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes is not going to get it done in this game, he needs to be in there as much as possible. Also with Dickinson, you cannot allow him to get in his comfort zone on hook shots. 8 times out of 10, he’s using his left hand hook over his right shoulder. If you stonewall him and force him into a tough shot, you’ll stand a chance. If you allow him to use his body to get around the post defender and gain a little bit of space, it’s a wrap; he’s too skilled around the rim.

Who Does Franz Wagner Guard

Wagner is one of the better defenders in the country, and is easily the best defender on this team, leading the Wolverines in defensive rating and defensive box plus/minus by a wide margin. Who does Juwan Howard decide to stick him on? Will it be Scottie Barnes, FSU’s talented freshman who hasn’t performed that great through two tournament games but will clearly be a difference maker, or RaiQuan Gray, who has been superb since FSU got into conference play? The issue is whoever Howard sticks Wagner on, Mike Smith and Eli Brooks have to guard someone. When Brandon Johns is in the game, he’ll be able to take the other of Barnes/Wagner, but Michigan’s best lineups are when Chaundee Brown is in the game, as Johns is metricly one of the worst offensive players on the team. Brown is the exact opposite. He’s a lightning rod offensively, but him and Mike Smith are the two worst defenders on the team. How long can Michigan afford to keep both of them on the floor at the same time? We’ve seen MJ Walker able to get in the post and bully defenders occasionally, if Michigan sticks Smith on Walker, I don’t see it going well.

I’m of the opinion that Wagner will start on Gray, and if Barnes starts to take over in the pick-and-roll, he’ll switch over to guard him. Either way, it’s a huge watching point in this game.

Game Prediction

Michigan opened as a 2.5-point favorite, with an over/under of 143.5.

This game could really go either way. Much like the Colorado game, there isn’t a result that would surprise me, although I do think a high scoring affair is out of the question. I get the feeling this is going to be much like the 2018 game; a sloppy, low-scoring battle that could come down to the last minute. In the end, I think there are too many stylistical matchups that Florida State can take advantage of, and I will take the ‘Noles in a tight one.

FSU 63-61.

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