Thanks to some late-game heroics by sophomore point guard Trey Burke in the Sweet 16, the Michigan Wolverines are making their first Elite Eight appearance in 19 years.
Burke scored eight points in the final 1:16 and hit the game-tying three-pointer, which helped propel the Maize and Blue past the Kansas Jayhawks in overtime. The Wolverines' dramatic victory has set up a South region championship tilt with the third-seeded Florida Gators for Sunday afternoon.
Taking down the Gators will be a difficult task for Michigan. Head coach Billy Donovan's club plays tenacious defense, has the quickness and physicality to create numerous matchup problems and rarely gives up open looks.
This style of play helped Florida dismantle the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles in its Sweet 16 clash on Friday night.
All of the aforementioned factors helped the Gators become the No. 7 team in the nation in field-goal percentage defense. Opponents only shot 37.9 percent against Florida.
The Gators may not be an offensive juggernaut (71.8 points per game), but they are still one of the most efficient teams in the nation. Florida knocked down 48 percent of their shots, which ranks No. 10 in all of college basketball.
Coaching is one of the areas where the Gators will have a slight advantage. Donovan has taken Florida to three Final Fours, captured two national titles and will be making his third straight appearance in the Elite Eight.
Meanwhile, Michigan head coach John Beilein is appearing in a regional championship game for just the second time in his 35-year career. The West Virginia Mountaineers bowed out against the Louisville Cardinals 93-85 in the 2005 Elite Eight.
Donovan also boasts a 2-1 record against teams coached by Beilein. The two clashed for the first time in 1994, during Beilein's tenure with the Canisius Golden Griffins. The Marshall Thundering Herd, coached by Donovan, rolled past Canisius 102-92.
Beilein avenged the loss during the 2002-03 campaign, his inaugural season at West Virginia. The Mountaineers topped Donovan's Gators 68-66 in Charleston, W.V.
Florida won the third meeting between the two coaches when it took down West Virginia 70-57 the following season in Miami.
Still, the fourth-seeded Wolverines can slay the Gators by following a simple blueprint. How well Michigan executes the following keys will determine whether or not the school makes its first Final Four since 1993.
Defend the Perimeter
Florida loves to shoot the three. Senior shooting guard Mike Rosario and Co. have made 298 treys this season and will undoubtedly be looking to carve up Michigan's inconsistent defense.
Two players the Wolverines have to keep track of at all times on the perimeter are senior big man Erik Murphy and freshman shooting guard Michael Frazier II. Both shoot better than 46 percent from beyond the arc.
Freshman small forward Glenn Robinson III will likely draw the assignment of covering Murphy. Frazier comes off the bench and will be covered up by either Tim Hardaway Jr., or Nik Stauskas.
Expect to see much more of Caris LeVert against the Gators if Stauskas continues to struggle defensively.
Rosario is also not someone Michigan wants to leave open either. Although he's just 37 percent from distance this season, he has managed to hit 59 three-pointers.
Opposing teams have shot 32.5 percent from downtown against the Wolverines this season.
At times, Michigan just hasn't been able to defend the perimeter. The Wolverines gave up an average of nine threes in two losses to the Wisconsin Badgers, while they surrendered 10 treys in a shocking defeat at the hands of the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Michigan's success or failure on Sunday will hinge on how well its guards defend the three-point line.
Win the Battle in the Paint
There will be two battles to watch out for in the paint this weekend. Rebounding and points in the paint are both going to play a significant role in deciding who moves on to Atlanta.
In five of Florida's seven losses this season, the Gators finished with a negative rebounding margin and surrendered nine or more offensive boards.
The recent emergence of freshman big man Mitch McGary has helped the Wolverines win the battle on the glass in the NCAA tournament. Michigan is averaging just over nine offensive rebounds in its three matchups leading up to the Elite Eight.
Keeping the Gators from scoring in the paint may be the most important key of all for the Wolverines. Kansas piled up 60 points in the paint on Friday, which allowed the Jayhawks to shoot 54 percent against Michigan.
Junior big men Will Yeguete and Patric Young combine to score 15.6 points and grab 12.2 rebounds per game. Both will be tough assignments for the Wolverines' bigs.
However, Florida has a tendency to struggle when it is forced to rely on jump shots rather than converting baskets inside. The Gators shot just 38 percent against Florida Gulf Coast because the Eagles kept them out of the paint.
The Wolverines can live with Florida beating them by knocking down long jumpers. Being battered in the paint, though, is not something Michigan will survive for a second time.
At the offensive end, McGary has given the Wolverines an added dimension, piling up 19.6 points per game in the tournament. A 25-point effort against Jeff Withey in the Sweet 16 has further validated McGary's newfound offensive prowess.
Michigan will have plenty of chances to score in the lane, especially with Burke and Robinson attacking the rim at a high rate.
Edging out the Gators on the glass and interior scoring is vital to Michigan's success in this Elite Eight matchup.
Ride the Hot Hand
One of the most pleasant surprises for the Wolverines in the NCAA tournament has been the performances of Burke's supporting cast.
No one player has been responsible for Michigan's deep run. Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr. both dropped 21 on the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
Trey Burke and Mitch McGary led the way for the Wolverines in their win over the VCU Rams with 18 and 21 points, respectively. The two were also Michigan's top scorers against Kansas.
In order for Michigan to end its lengthy Final Four drought, the team will need to ride the hottest hand for as long as possible.
Hopefully, Burke and Hardaway are the ones doing most of the damage. If those two struggle, though, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary will have to pick up the slack.
Everyone has been up to the task at various points of the Big Dance, but the Wolverines need at least two of their top performers to catch fire against the Gators.
This game could go either way. When push comes to shove, though, it is hard to pick against Michigan given how outstanding Burke has been over the past two games. McGary coming to life has given the Wolverines the ability to pound the ball inside, which has helped free up the perimeter.
Two weeks ago, Michigan did not even come close to stacking up with Florida in a head-to-head matchup. What a difference a little momentum makes.
Prediction: Michigan by four
Follow me on Twitter: @Zach_Dirlam.
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