The Wolverines and Ramblers will play in San Antonio on Saturday, March 31. A look at the Cinderella story of the 2018 NCAA tournament. Video by Ryan Ford/DFP
LOS ANGELES — John Beilein knew he had the pieces to do something special back in October. He hinted at it, too.
After guiding his Wolverines to the FInal Four on Saturday in the Staples Center, how about we never doubt him again?
Because this changes everything for the Michigan basketball coach. Lots of coaches get to a single Final Four. Not as many get back.
It’s damn hard to do.
It’s also damn hard to change how you coach, especially at 65, after decades of success operating a certain way. And yet that’s exactly what Beilein did.
He adapted. Because he knew making deep runs in the tournament were more likely with if you’re team could survive a game when it didn’t make shots.
That’s happened three times now this March. In the first two rounds, and again Saturday in the 58-54 win over Florida State in the West Region final.
When the Wolverines missed 18 3-pointers … and made just four. Their hot shooting Thursday night in the Sweet 16 got them to the regional final. Yet that wasn’t going to happen again.
And didn’t. Which is why Beilein knew he needed to emphasize defense.
So, credit his evolution. And credit him for reaching out to learn.
Those choices led him here, to the ladder under the rim, where he took a pair of scissors and snipped a strand of net to cap off a regional final.
It’s the second time of his career.
It’s likely not his last.
2. A different player steps up every game
When FSU cut the lead to three with less than 4 minutes left, and U-M was struggling to score, Charles Matthews took the ball on the right wing, speed dribbled between his legs to find his rhythm, took a hard dribble left and bolted into the paint.
As he closed in on the rim, he stopped, pump faked, spun back toward the free throw line, and hit a fadeaway jumper.
Then ran back down the court wagging his tongue.
And why not?
He’d just hit the biggest shot of the game. The final piece to a tough, assertive 17-point effort.
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Matthews arrived as a transfer from Kentucky. He brought high-level athleticism and a streaky jump shot. It took him a while to learn Beilien’s offense, and a while longer to learn where he fit.
On Saturday, in the regional final, against the most athletic and aggressive defense U-M faced all season, Matthews showed why Beilein wanted him.
For games like this.
When all that beautiful movement turns to sludge, and getting a bucket requires not just skill, but fortitude and strength.
For most of the game, that was Matthews. He attacked the lane. He hit 3s. He speed dribbled his way into the teeth of FSU’s nasty defense.
And smiled. And danced. And accepted the region’s most outstanding player trophy.
And then danced some more.
3. Once again, it’s all about the defense
U-M scored 27 points in the first half. The Wolverines turned it over eight times. They struggled against Florida State’s length and quickness, trying to force passes into lanes that closed quickly.
Yet, U-M led at the half.
It’s striking to watch it up close, to listen to the Wolverines talk and direct each other and slide around the court, walling off the rim. In the second half, they were suffocating.
The Seminoles scored four points in the first 9 minutes. The Wolverines were everywhere. Jumping passing lanes. Closing out on shooters. Altering shots at the rim.
Now, Florida State isn’t the most efficient offensive team. But they averaged 72 points a game and had no chance to get close to that.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor. Download our Wolverines Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!