Photo via the Chicago Tribune
By Dylan Wittenberg
The Michigan Wolverines, winners of the Big Ten Tournament, have advanced to the 2017 Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. The number seven seed of the Midwest region, the Wolverines have defeated the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Louisville Cardinals en route to their current place.
Michigan seniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin have been key pieces to the Wolverines early tournament run. Walton Jr., who began his outstanding play in the Big Ten Tournament, has averaged 18 points so far in the NCAA Tournament. His late three against Louisville helped seal the deal for the Wolverines. Irvin, on the other hand, has been slightly less of a factor over the past few weeks, although he is averaging 13.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
Two other important players for the Wolverines so far in the tournament have been Moritz Wagner and DJ Wilson. Wagner had one of the best performances of the entire tournament against the Cardinals this past Sunday, scoring 26 points and adding three points. His late scoring efforts pushed the Wolverins past the Cardinals. Wilson, on the other hand, has shown good play more consistently, attributed most likely to his experience on the court. He’s averaging 18 points per game in the tournament.
Besides great individual talent on the floor, Michigan has proved to be able to win the close games. They’ve won their first two NCAA Tournament games by a combined 5 points. Down the stretch, Michigan’s talent and experience and composure have given them just a little more fight than their opponents.
Against the Oregon Ducks, this equation of talent of experience and composure can certainly get the job done. Oregon, while talented, has leaned on the shoulders of Dillon Brooks over its recent stretch of games. The Ducks looked tired and very played out against the Rhode Island Rams in their second round victory. If this game goes down to the end, Michigan has the skills to pull off yet another upset.
If Michigan advances to the Elite Eight, either the Purdue Boilermakers or Kansas Jayhawks will await them. Michigan has beaten Purdue, and even though it is nearly impossible to beat the same team, let alone a the same top 25 team, three times in the same season, Michigan has proven to be able to take care of the Boilermakers. In the case of Kansas, Michigan will have to play a great game to win. The key match up would be Walton Jr. against Frank Mason III, Kansas’ best player and maybe the National Player of the Year. Should Walton Jr. hold him down, the Wolverines have a chance. Wilson would most likely cover star freshman Josh Jackson, who made quick and easy work of the Michigan State Spartans in the Jayhawks’ second round victory. Michigan can win this game.
If Michigan advances to the Final Four, either the North Carolina Tar Heels, Butler Bulldogs, UCLA Bruins, or Kentucky Wildcats. Although all of these teams have a good case of being superior to the Wolverines, once you get to the Final Four, anything can happen.
Michigan isn’t the most talented team left in the tournament. They aren’t the most experience or well coached team left in the tournament, either. But together, as one, they can beat any team left in the tournament. Watch out for the Wolverines.