And then there was one.
Out of nine Big Ten Conference teams that made the 68-team NCAA Tournament field, only Michigan is left to fly the conference’s once-proud, heavily-tattered banner. And though the Wolverines carry their top seed into a East Region semifinal against fourth-seeded Florida State on Sunday in Indianapolis, they haven’t been and won’t be at full strength.
Second-leading scorer Isaiah Livers (13.1 points, six rebounds per game) missed the past three games with a stress fracture in his right foot that occurred in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal win over Maryland on March 12.
When asked Monday night after an 86-78 win over eighth-seeded LSU if Livers would return against Florida State, Michigan coach Juwan Howard responded tersely, “Out indefinitely.”
Heading into the matchup with the Seminoles (18-6), the Wolverines (22-4) could use Livers’ experience as well as his 43.1 percent shooting from 3-point range. While Michigan boasts a top-20 offense in field-goal percentage (48.5), free-throw percentage (78.0) and 3-point percentage (38.5), establishing 7-foot-1 freshman Hunter Dickinson (14.2 ppg) could be problematic against the long, strong Seminoles.
Florida State has held opponents to 39.3 percent field-goal shooting and 32.6 percent 3-point accuracy. The Seminoles choked off Colorado’s potent offense Monday in a 71-53 win, limiting the Buffaloes to 35.7 percent field-goal shooting and 6 of 25 from 3-point range while forcing 19 turnovers.
“I thought our players were locked in with the defensive game plan,” Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said. “That’s why I am so proud — the fact that they continued to execute what we had in our game plan. That took a tremendous effort and a high level of concentration.”
Florida State coupled terrific defense with good shooting. It more than offset 15 turnovers by canning 52.2 percent from the field and getting a career-high 22 points from junior Anthony Polite. He was 4 of 7 on 3-point attempts and also chipped in five rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Prior to Monday, Polite never scored more than 15 points in a game.
“Seeing the shots go in is just going to boost my confidence,” he said.
Polite is one of four double-figure scorers for the balanced Seminoles at 10.2 ppg. The leader is M.J. Walker at 12.3, followed by RaiQuan Gray at 12.0 and sixth man Scottie Barnes at 10.4. Florida State hits on 38.2 percent of its 3-point attempts but commits 14.4 turnovers per game.
The Seminoles will have to value the ball to beat the Wolverines, who commit just 11.2 turnovers a game and offer the kind of versatility a team must have to solve Florida State’s defense. Franz Wagner (12.8 ppg) and Eli Brooks (9.7), who went for 21 points and nailed 5 of 9 3-point tries in the win over LSU, are capable of hurting any opponent that devotes too much attention to Dickinson.
“My shot is feeling as good as it’s felt all year,” Brooks said.
The winner will advance to Tuesday’s regional final to face either second-seeded Alabama or 11th-seeded UCLA, who play Sunday night.
–Field Level Media