ARLINGTON, Texas – Cowboys Stadium was much kinder to the University of Michigan this time around. About seven months ago the Wolverines were embarrassed by SEC football power Alabama, 41-14, in Jerry Jones’ $1.2 billion football home.
On Easter Sunday, Michigan gave similar treatment to the SEC’s last remaining team in the NCAA Tournament, dominating Florida 79-59.
Here are my five thoughts on Michigan reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1993.
1.) The Wolverines deserved to be confident after their improbable comeback victory over Kansas, but not even they could have envisioned getting off to the start they did against Florida. The underdog Wolverines raced out to a 13-0 lead, increased it to 24 and, frankly, never came close to looking back. Michigan won in this fashion because of the confidence it gained two days before, erasing a 10-point deficit in the final minutes against the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks. The Wolverines thought they came out sluggish against Kansas and didn’t want to repeat that trend. Come out like they did on Sunday and Syracuse is in trouble next weekend in Atlanta.
2.) They’re never going to be more popular than the Fab 5, but Michigan certainly has an impressive group of freshmen. Glenn Robinson III, Spike Albrecht, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas all turned in strong performances in the biggest game since Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwon Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson were playing in Ann Arbor. Robinson had the game’s best highlight, a one-handed flush to finish-off a second-half lob. Albrecht was the scrappy point guard off the bench who contributed seven points and three steals. McGary was, well, he was McGary, a bruising body under the bucket that seems to have a motor that never stops, evident in his eight points in the opening three minutes. Stauskas was responsible for almost single-handedly crushing the Gators’ hopes with six triples. How good could Michigan be if they stayed together for a couple more seasons?
3.) Back to Stauskas. If Florida had any hopes of closing to within a manageable score before halftime, Stauskas did a good job of breaking the Gators’ spirits. After nailing his sixth triple, the freshman shooting guard had 17 points, the same amount as Florida’s entire team. Michigan had 41. That’s the tough part of a one-game elimination scenario, if a guy gets a hot hand from three, it’s tough to overcome and there’s no tomorrow to re-group. When did Stauskas, who finished 6-of-6 from three, think he was going to have a good game shooting?
“During warm-ups, I felt it right away,” he responded. “I felt it was going to be one of those days. I told Trey (Burke), ‘If I’m open in the corner I’m going to knock it down.’ And he found me.”
4.) Florida doesn’t thrive at scoring the basketball. There’s not a player on the roster averaging more than 12.6 points per game. Michigan going up early was Florida’s kryptonite. The Gators were forced to play catch-up and that resulted in poor shooting. With six minutes remaining, they were 19 of 49 from the field and 1 of 9 from three. Florida, who opened 0 for 6 from the field, has experienced success this season because of defense. And that wasn’t a strong-point on Sunday, either. Michigan’s 47 first-half points were the most the Gators have allowed in any half this season.
5.) A bit of an odd NCAA tournament atmosphere at Cowboys Stadium. The announced attendance was 36,585 but it felt like even less than that. Kansas getting bounced had a significant effect. Having the game on Easter Sunday also didn’t help. The size of the building prevents it from ever having that college-campus feel. Although, I imagine it will be different next year during the Final Four, when students from the schools competing are in the endzones and a greater number of fans make the trip. Of course, if you’re Michigan, everything about the venue was just perfect. Well, except for the temperature. Michigan coach John Beilein complained about the warm temperatures after both Wolverines victories. “I’m sure they have a thermostat somewhere here,” Beilein joked. “Both teams looked fatigued to me.”
Beilein had plenty of praise, too.
“It was tremendous,” he said. “The security, the way they ran this whole operation was as good as I have ever seen in my life. This is as good as it gets. The way this whole tournament was run, they’re having a great prep for the Final Four.”