Sam Webb: A lot of people were convinced that they would make their way to the Sweet Sixteen, but how they got here, Tim, seems to have surprised almost everyone, with the reemergence of Glenn Robinson III, and the emergence of Mitch McGary as a force at the five-spot for them.
Tim McCormick: “It’s certainly the number one key on why they’re in the Sweet Sixteen, Sam. The numbers that McGary and Robinson put up were just amazing to me, and they’re definitely ready for the bright lights. If you combine their numbers in two games, they averaged 35 points per game, 19 rebounds; and the thing that really surprised me when I looked at the numbers, 80% from the field. These are freshmen, and if you add Nik Stauskas to the list, he averaged eight points per game. That means that three freshman starters averaged 43 points per game. You could never expect that kind of contribution. Maybe, say that Hardaway and Burke would go up and put up amazing numbers, but the foundation of Michigan’s team those first two games at the Palace were freshmen.”
Sam Webb: Fans are saying ‘ok, how much of this can be mimicked?’ What aspect of what they did before, be it Glenn or Mitch, should we expect to see coming up here against much tougher opponents?
Tim McCormick: “Well, the good news is that I would expect Hardaway and Burke, who were good, to be great against Kansas. Scouting reports are so deep this time of year, I would imagine that Kansas’ coaches have watched probably 20 full game tapes, and they know tendencies so well, therefore based on the first round of the NCAA tournament, I think Withey is going to make life really difficult for Mitch McGary. Why? Well, McGary plays at the rim, and I think you have to go back to Emeka Okafor to see a big man who’s a shot blocker, who can change shots without fouling better than Withey. Withey is the all-time leading shot blocker in the Big 12, so I think he’s going to change the effectiveness of Mitch McGary. Also, Robinson is best when you leave him alone. When the opposing defense is so focused on Burke or Hardaway, and he has room to run, to make open court plays, I think it’s going to be more difficult for Robinson, so the good news is that there are other components, and those guys need to be complementary players against Kansas.”
Sam Webb: You mentioned the scouting reports being deep, so give us the scouting report on Kansas, Tim. What’s the formula… the recipe, to beat them if you’re Michigan?
Tim McCormick: “I think that Kansas, first of all, needs to make it a half court game. If you look at the numbers, Kansas is the best defensive team in all of college basketball, with Withey in the middle, with Young, with Ellis. What they do is they block shots, they really close the lane very well, and if you can keep Michigan in a half court game, they’re far less effective. If you look at Michigan’s numbers this year, they’re 10-1 when they score over 20 points in transition. Their only loss was at Indiana, so Michigan thrives when the game is really fast. Second of all, what Kansas needs to do is they need to run more for Ben McLemore. This is a guy that in my mind is the best NBA prospect from Kansas since Paul Pierce; he’s going to be fabulous, but he really struggled in the NCAA tournament their first two rounds, did not make a shot the other night, and he’s capable of going up for huge numbers. Three times this year, I personally saw him score over 30 points against a Big 12 opponent, so I think those are the two key things that Kansas is looking for.”
Sam Webb: We’ve heard a lot of pundits talk about the lack of a pure point guard. How limited are they by the absence of a pure floor general?
Tim McCormick: “During their three game losing streak about six weeks ago, Bill Self came out and chastised Elijah Johnson, and said we’re basically playing without a point guard. I think that was an overstatement. They play point guard by committee, and I think that Michigan will have a significant advantage at that position, but they’re not a great breakdown team, and they’re capable of having long droughts on the offensive end, and you saw that in the first half this weekend against North Carolina. They could not score the ball. So I think that Michigan has a chance to get off to a quick start. This is a Kansas team that’s much better on the defensive end than they are on the offensive end; but one advantage for Kansas is that four of their five starters played in the national championship game last year against Kentucky, so they’re not going to shy away, and they’re not going to be intimidated.”
Sam Webb: Let’s look at the other side of the south regional. If Michigan is able to get past Kansas, who do you think makes it between Florida and Florida Gulf Coast, and kind of break down that matchup for me.
Tim McCormick: “Well, Florida Gulf Coast is the story of this tournament. They beat Georgetown and San Diego State with two huge first halves, and with Bernard Thompson and Brett Comer, they’re really exciting elite scorers. They had eleven dunks in two games. However, this is a different team. Georgetown struggles to score; San Diego State is irrational and up and down, and you never know what you’re going to get. Florida is a really good defensive team that can play transition basketball. I can’t see Florida Gulf Coast winning that game, and if you are playing Florida, even though they are a better defensive team than South Dakota State, better by far I think than any other teams in this region, I think that Michigan would have a great chance because of the pace of play. They want to go up and down. Michigan, in the Big Ten, when you grind them to a halt and make them play half court physical basketball, that’s not their strength. I think Michigan would have an outstanding chance to beat Florida. I don’t like Florida’s guards. I think they’re erratic. They are too reliant on their perimeter game. Kenny Boynton is capable of going 2 for 15, Mike Rosario has some big games, but he also disappears, and they just ignore Patrick Young, who would be a tough matchup for Michigan, so I think Michigan is going to beat Kansas, I think they’re going to beat Florida, and I think they’re going to the Final Four at this point.”
Tim McCormick: “Well, Michigan State is going to struggle in a couple of areas. Number one, Payne and Nix are two of the top five college power players in the country, when you look at them as a tandem. That’s the good news. The bad news is, to me, I think Kelly and Plumlee are #1. I’m not sure how Nix is going to be able to score over the top of Plumlee, and Kelly has struggled since the Miami game, and he has not shot the same, but I do think that he’s a guy that can match up with Payne. The other thing that I worry about with Michigan State is that Duke’s guards are better. They’re better perimeter shooters, and Rasheed Sulaimon, who was fabulous during the game against Creighton, I think that he is going to really going to be a really intriguing matchup against Gary Harris. Also, last year, Seth Curry played point guard. He’s not a point guard. Austin Rivers was his backup. Quinn Cook has really solidified that position, so I like Duke a lot, and it’ll be just a classic game that I can’t wait to see. I think that they’ll be able to rebound against Michigan State, and I think that they’ll win.”
Sam Webb: Who makes it to the Final Four from that region? Louisville? Duke? Who do you have making it there?
Tim McCormick: “I think that Duke will beat Louisville. Louisville’s been the best team so far in the entire tournament, based on their defense, but I don’t trust Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. I’ve seen them change their character and the way they play from time to time, and at some point, I don’t when it will be, I feel like they will have an off game and get beat.”