NCAA Tournament 2018: Michigan won’t play this ugly again, so Houston should be scared

WICHITA, Kan. — You know who should be scared as hell right now? Looking at you, Kelvin Sampson.

Because we’ve seen this act before from these Michigan Wolverines. Hell, we just saw it in New York. Show up at a tournament, play like you haven’t picked up a basketball in a week, set the game back 40 years with your shooting, and survive more than advance.

Iowa shot the lights out.

Montana shot the shot clock out.

But if we’ve learned anything from watching this squad, it’s that when a Michigan team goes cold one game — and the Wolverines’ 61-47 win over Montana late Thursday night in the 2018 NCAA Tournament was a masterpiece of terrible offense, a Mona Lisa of brickdom — they don’t tend to stay that way the next.

Again: Over to you, Kelvin.

Good luck with that, sunshine.

Because the cobwebs are off, now.

The training wheels, too. We hope.

The Wolverines (29-7) opened the Big Ten tourney two weeks ago with a 3-for-19 performance from beyond the arc in a squeaker over the Hawkeyes.

They drew Nebraska next — desperate, win-or-we’re-going-to-the-NIT Nebraska. We all know what happened next: Michigan drained 11 of 23 treys, burying nice guy Tim Miles and his Cinderella Cornhuskers in the process.

Granted, no one’s going to confuse Sampson or the Houston Cougars, Saturday’s second round opponent, with Cinderella.

Or Montana with the broad side of a barn.

This was one for the ages, all right. The dark ages. Michigan and Montana gave us a second half that went 3-and-a-half minutes without a point.

And 10 minutes without a shot clock.

With 16:45 left in the contest, the Wolverines up 38-30, a fuse at INTRUST Bank Arena reportedly blew, plunging both baskets — and logic — into darkness.

Which was only apropos, given that both teams were shooting a combined 28-for-64 (.438) and 5-for-17 (.294) from beyond the arc at the time. And a game with no flow suddenly had no shot clock for at least 9 minutes.

Hey. Nowhere to go but up, right?

“You can see from week-to-week that Michigan is improving,” Turner Sports analyst and former Elite Eight coach Steve Lavin had observed earlier this week. “It’s beautiful basketball to watch when it’s clicking.”

And when it’s not clicking, well, you get late Thursday night.

An aesthetic masterpiece, it wasn’t. Whether because of the Wolverines’ 11-day layoff — thanks again, Jim Delany — or the unfamiliar-court thing or the late start (10:26 p.m. tip), Michigan looked rusty early, turning it over on two of its first three possessions and falling behind 7-0 about 2 minutes into the tilt.

Montana’s switches and traps on the perimeter at the outset caught the 3 seed out of sorts in its half-court sets, while the Grizzlies’ cat-quick guard combo of Michael Oguine (11 first-half points) and Ahmaad Rorie (10 in the first period) was able to find lanes to the rim, especially after Simpson got slapped with his second foul just before the first television timeout. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman picking up a foul 11 seconds into proceedings didn’t help, either.

Coach John Beilein adjusted to the switches and countered with quickness from his wings. Charles Matthews’ layup off the glass with 15:41 left got the 3 seed on the board and snapped a 10-0 Montana run that opened the contest.

Montana’s emphasis on chasing Abdur-Rahkman and Moe Wagner early gave Matthews space to work with, and the Chicago native took advantage. The Wolverines’ swingman connected on 6 of 8 attempts in the first half, posting a team-best 12 points and 7 boards before the break.

Wagner’s first 20 minutes, by contrast, were ones to forget. The German giant fell over after winning the opening, an eerie harbinger for the rest of the period. Michigan’s star big man wound up 0-for-3 from the floor in the first half, and his last attempt as the clock expired — a driving layup that rolled off his fingers only to get stuck hard between the rim and the backboard — seemed to sum up his early evening. He left the court with a smile and the absurdity and anticlimax of it all, but Beilein appeared to be less amused.

Survive. Advance.

Accent on the former, kids.

“John Beilein’s team is clearly better defensively this season,” Lavin noted, “but they win with their precise offense.”

This time, um, not so much. Maybe we try Saturday without the shot clock and see what happens. Hell, at this point, it couldn’t possibly be any worse.

The post NCAA Tournament 2018: Michigan won’t play this ugly again, so Houston should be scared appeared first on Land of 10.

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