Michigan Wolverines' Blueprint to Win the 2014 NCAA Tournament
Michigan won the Big Ten regular-season championship and followed that up with a runner-up finish in the conference's postseason tournament.
The Wolverines were the best team in the Big Ten during the regular season and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament as a result. They will face Wofford (20-12) in the first round.
The Wolverines didn't always blow opponents away throughout the season. In their Big Ten conference tournament win over Ohio State, the Wolverines did just enough down the stretch to come away with a 72-69 victory.
Head coach John Beilein believes the Wolverines have made their own luck throughout the season, because his team plays with intelligence and a hard-edged toughness.
"You look at so many of our games down the stretch here, they've ended just like this and the ball keeps bouncing our way," Beilein told reporters after beating Ohio State, per CBS Sports. "You only can have that type of luck if you have guys like these guys sitting next to me.
All stats courtesy of BigTen.org, unless otherwise noted.
It doesn't always have to be complicated. Michigan rose to the top of the Big Ten this season because they were the most talented team in this powerful conference.
The thing they did better than anyone else was shoot the basketball. Whether it was from the field or the free-throw line, Michigan was without peer when it came to shooting the ball successfully.
Michigan led the Big Ten in field-goal shooting, knocking down .480 percent of its shots. Rival Michigan State was second with a .472 mark, but Michigan was clearly better in this area.
The Wolverines also knocked down 76.3 percent of their free throws. That was quite a bit better than second-place Minnesota, which made 74.8 percent of its shots from the foul line.
While the Wolverines helped themselves on defense with 4.8 steals per game, which helped to create good scoring opportunities, that figure ranked seventh in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are clearly an excellent shooting team that can succeed in clutch situations.
The Stauskas Factor
We talked about Michigan's success shooting the ball in the previous slide, and Nik Stauskas may be the best example of why Michigan is strong in that area.
However, there's a lot more to Stauskas's game than simply shooting well. Stauskas led the Wolverines with an average of 17.5 points per game this year. He connected on 48.3 percent of his shots from two-point range and 44.5 percent of his three-point attempts.
He can clearly knock down the open shots. However, what makes Stauskas special is his ability to rise to the occasion in big games. Stauskas was at his best in both regular-season victories over Michigan State, as he took over both games in the second half.
He also cemented Michigan's victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament semifinal with an eye-catching up-and-under move that gave the Wolverines a 71-68 lead with a little over two minutes left in the second half.
“That’s a shot I work on all the time, just a little reverse lay-up with some spin on it,” Stauskas told Brendan Quinn of MLive.com. “I was pretty confident going into that one.”
Go to the Glass
Weaknesses tend to get exposed in the NCAA tournament.
There is little doubt that Michigan is one of the most talented teams in the field, and they are capable of blowing out strong teams or coming back from major deficits. Their athleticism and shooting key those abilities.
However, there are questions about Michigan's muscle and strength, and that manifests itself in their inability to rebound the basketball. The Wolverines have averaged 30.3 rebounds per game, a figure that ranks dead-last in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines can't expect to have dominant shooting games throughout entire the tournament, and they may need to play a couple of hard-nosed games where they hold their own on the boards if they are going to have a long run in the Big Dance.
The Wolverines have basically had a dream season. They were at their best in two regular-season games against Michigan State, which were both key victories.
However, when they faced the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game, they got hammered 69-55, and that's how they go into the tournament.
The Wolverines should be able to look back on their accomplishments and realize how well they have played this year and how tough they have been. But what if that loss sticks in their minds? For example, Nik Stauskas made just 4-of-14 shots in the conference final, while Glenn Robinson was 2-of-8 and Caris LeVert was 2-of-10. Those are all bad days that may not be so easy to get over.
The players will say the right words in the days leading up to their first tournament game. But will they mean them, or will they wonder why they couldn't play better against their in-state rival in the conference championship game?
Predictions for NCAA Tournament Draw
There are always upsets in the first round, so Michigan could be vulnerable if they can't get over their loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament championship game.
But Beilein is not about to let his team feel sorry for itself, and by the time they line up against the Southern Conference's Wofford Terriers on March 20, they should be ready. It won't be easy, but Michigan will survive.
Look for a meeting with Texas in the second round. These two national programs will attract a lot of attention, but Michigan has too much quickness and offensive prowess to lose in the second round. This is the game Stauskas asserts himself and dominates.
Michigan will advance to the third round, and that's going to be a problem. Duke may have lost to Virginia in the ACC championship game, but they have a stellar freshman in Jabari Parker. Michigan will not have an answer, and they will lose touch in the latter stages of the second half. This is where their season will come to an end.