Defensive-minded Seminoles look to knock off the top-seeded Wolverines for spot in the Elite Eight
The 2021 NCAA Tournament has certainly featured its share of shocking, bracket-busting upsets through the first two rounds. But there's one Sweet 16 matchup this weekend that many expected to happen.
The No. 1-seeded Michigan Wolverines will face the No. 4 Florida State Seminoles in the East Region semifinal on Sunday in the highest-seeded matchup of the Sweet 16. Of the nine Big Ten teams that made the NCAA Tournament, Michigan is the last one standing after defeating LSU in the Round of 32.
Florida State is one of two ACC teams that remain in the Tournament, with Syracuse being the other. The Seminoles defeated Colorado 71-53 in the Round of 32.
Michigan and Florida State have met on the hardwood four times, with three of them being in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines hold a 3-1 advantage.
The last time Michigan and Florida State played each other was in 2018 when the Wolverines defeated the Seminoles 58-54 to advance to the Final Four.
East Region: No. 4 Florida State (18-6) vs. No. 1 Michigan (22-4)
Time: Sunday, March 28 at 5 p.m. ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
Spread: Michigan -2.5
Keys for Florida State
One of the strengths of this Seminoles team is it features a number of players who have the ability to lead the team in scoring. In the first round against UNC Greensboro, it was RaiQuan Gray doing just that with 17 points. Against Colorado in the Round of 32, Anthony Polite, who had never recorded more than 15 points in any game at Florida State, finished with a career-high 22 points, to go along with five rebounds and four assists. On the season, M.J. Walker leads the team at 12.3 points per game. He, Gray, Polite and Scottie Barnes (third on the team with 10.4 ppg) all average double figures for FSU.
But Leonard Hamilton's team also gets it done on the other end of the court. The Seminoles are 15th in the nation by holding opponents to 39.3 percent shooting overall and only 32.6 percent on 3-pointers. UNC Greensboro and Colorado combined to go 13-for-52 (25 percent) from long range. Michigan enters this game 11th in 3-point percentage (38.5 percent) and 18th in overall field goal percentage (48.5), so FSU will need to maintain its defensive performance to increase its chances of knocking off the top seed.
Keys for Michigan
The Wolverines are the top seed but haven't been the same team since Isaiah Livers was sidelined by a stress fracture in his right foot. Second on the team in scoring (13.1 ppg) and third in rebounding (6.0 rpg), Livers' presence down low has been missed and could really show up against a deep and athletic Florida State team that has plenty of size.
Michigan is one of the nation's best shooting teams period, ranking in the top 20 nationally in field goal, 3-point, and free-throw shooting (78.1 percent, 17th). The key player for the Wolverines is Hunter Dickinson, the 7-foot-1 freshman who leads the team in scoring (14.2 ppg) and rebounding (7.5 rpg). Florida State has a pair of 7-footers to counter Dickinson, but Tanor Ngom plays limited minutes and Balsa Koprivica (9.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.4 blocks per game) has struggled with foul trouble the first two games of the NCAA Tournament. Dickinson also needs to make sure he does what is necessary so he can stay on the floor or head coach Juwan Howard will be forced to go with a smaller, guard-oriented lineup.
This game is going to come down to which of the unsung heroes will step up? Michigan's Eli Brooks is my guess as he's coming off of a season-high 21 points (with seven assists) in the Round of 32 victory over LSU. He also is 8-for-15 from beyond the arc in the NCAA Tournament.
Brooks, along with big man Hunter Dickinson, could pose several issues for a Florida State team that has problems taking care of the basketball at times. The Seminoles will keep it close throughout, but Michigan's offensive efficiency should prove to be the difference.
Prediction: Michigan 74, Florida State 69
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.