Michigan, Wisconsin continue to fly Big Ten banner high in NCAA Tournament
Big Ten country came out in full force to support both Michigan and Wisconsin on their quests to make the Sweet 16 and beyond. Both accomplished that goal today, but in contrasting fashion.
Here’s the wrap-up of both games in the third round of the NCAA Tournament in Milwaukee.
Michigan 79, Texas 65: If good things do indeed happen to those who wait, the Michigan Wolverines’ quest of making it to back-to-back Final Fours may rest on the shoulders of a couple of players who needed to exhibit extreme patience as they waited their turn to make an impact.
Four players scored in double figures for Michigan as the No. 2 seed Wolverines turned away the seventh-seeded Texas Longhorns 79-65 in a Midwest Region third round game and now sees the Maize and Blue head to Indianapolis for its second consecutive Sweet 16. For the second straight game, Nik Stauskas paced the Wolverines in scoring, putting in 17 points as he was just as good facilitating the offense as he was finishing possessions with points. Stauskas was one of four players in double figures in points for Michigan.
But the key to the game might have been the play of big man Jordan Morgan and sophomore sharpshooter Caris LeVert. Over the past two seasons, Morgan had been phased out of regular minutes with the emergence of Mitch McGary, especially during last season’s NCAA Tournament and Michigan’s run to the national title game. McGary’s season-ending back injury this campaign thrusted Morgan back into the spotlight inside, and the senior has more than capitalized. Texas appeared to have a big advantage inside going into the game, with Longhorns’ center Cameron Ridley – coming off a 17-point, 12-rebound, four-block performance in a win over Arizona State on Thursday – owning a size a strength advantage that could potentially have exploited Michigan’s suspect interior defense. Morgan answered the bell, recording his second double-double in as many games (15 points, 10 rebounds) while being chiefly responsible for holding Ridley to six points and only five field goal attempts.
While Morgan was handling his business in the paint, LeVert was taking care of things on the perimeter, scoring 11 of his 14 points on the evening in the first half to pace the Wolverines. As a freshman last season, LeVert only averaged 2.3 points per game as he sat behind the likes of future first-round NBA draft picks Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. Needing to shoulder more of a scoring load going into this season, LeVert has increased his scoring average almost sevenfold (13.1 points per game) while starting every game this season.
Just like Michigan’s second-round win over Wofford, the Wolverines blazed out of the gate in the first half (54% shooting), only to find their shooting touch off in the second (9-of-26 shooting). Texas was able to cut into an 18-point first half deficit by switching up defenses, incorporating a 2-3 zone as well as three-quarter court pressure. An Isaiah Taylor runner at the 8:00 mark in the second half cut Michigan’s lead to six at 58-52, but that was as close as the Longhorns would get. Glenn Robinson III hit a jumper and a three-pointer immediately afterward, putting the game on ice.
Wisconsin 85, Oregon 77: In what turned into an emotional and sometimes chippy affair, Wisconsin stormed back from a 12-point halftime deficit to thwart the seventh-seeded Ducks’ bid at an upset in the West Regon. After the buzzer sounded, the Badgers players stormed onto the court, chest-bumping and hugging, knowing they earned this victory to stay alive in March.
Those end-of-game scenes were hard to imagine in the first half when Oregon was able to establish its fast-paced tempo and force the Badgers into a shootout-type of contest. Wisconsin appeared to not have the foot speed and quickness to consistently match the Ducks, and Oregon was able to mix in countless drives and finishes at the basket with a deft outside shooting touch. The Ducks hit five of their nine three-point attempts in the first half, and with just under a minute left the first half, they owned a 49-35 advantage. The lead was 49-37 at halftime, with the Badgers staring at the prospect of letting down approximately 10,000 red-clad supporters who made the short trip east from Madison.
The second half saw the Badgers explode, hitting 11 of its first 17 shots to quickly get back in the ball game – and make the BMO Harris Bradley Center sound like the Kohl Center east. Wisconsin grabbed the lead less than seven minutes into the second on a Frank Kaminsky jumper, and Wisconsin was threatening to pull away after it went up six midway through. Oregon, as it did after a January swoon that saw it lose six out of seven, battled back, and took a 75-74 lead on a Joseph Young three with 2:50 remaining.
What then followed was the possession that ended up swinging the momentum of the game in decisive fashion. Wisconsin grabbed four consecutive offensive rebounds after missed shots (with a timeout sandwiched in between the third and fourth missed shot), and on its fifth crack at the basket, Ben Brust hit a right-wing three that gave the Badgers the lead for good at 77-75 with 1:07 left. Wisconsin hit eight out of 10 from the free-throw line to seal the win.
All five starters in the game for Wisconsin scored in double figures, with Kaminsky leading the way with 19. Young led all scorers with 29 for Oregon, while Jason Calliste had another strong game off the bench for the Ducks, scoring 22 and hitting all 11 of his free-throw attempts.
Milwaukee may have provided the least bit of drama of the four host cities in the Thursday/Saturday rotation, yet still had as much excitement as you would want from March Madness.