Wofford up first as Michigan seeks Final 4 return
MILWAUKEE (AP) Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III can’t wait to create some new highlights for his family at the NCAA tournament.
The second-seeded Wolverines (25-8) begin their quest to return to the Final Four by playing 15th-seeded Wofford on Thursday night at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, a venue that should draw a healthy number of Michigan fans.
Robinson knows the place well. His father played home games there for eight seasons in the NBA. The elder Robinson was one of the best players the Milwaukee Bucks have had in the last two decades, averaging 21 points a game in the building.
”Coming back and kind of remembering some of those memories are great,” Robinson III said Wednesday. ”I can’t wait to step foot on that floor and get to play here.”
It’s up to the Southern Conference champion Terriers (20-12) to try to send the Robinsons home disappointed. It might take a near-perfect game for that to happen.
But Wofford coach Mike Young is used to these circumstances. His team was a No. 13 seed in 2010, and a 14 the following year.
No doubt he hopes his team can pull off another 15th-seed stunner, just as Florida Gulf Coast did last season. Wednesday, though, was about relishing the moment.
The hospitality. TV cameras following them around the Bradley Center. An open practice in an NBA arena.
”Enjoy this day, this environment. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved in getting here,” Young said. ”But when (the ball) gets in the air … let it rip.”
Five things to watch for as Wofford tries to take down the Big Ten regular-season champions:
GOOD GUARDS: Michigan remains a young team, but that youth is buttressed by the experience of last season’s run to the national championship game and the satisfaction of winning the regular season in the grind-it-out Big Ten.
Leading scorer Nik Stauskas (17.5 points), the Big Ten player of the year, is a sophomore, as are the next two top scorers, Caris LeVert (13.3 points) and Robinson (13.0 points). Stauskas and LeVert are joined by freshman Derrick Walton Jr. in the backcourt.
”To go through the Big Ten schedule that we have, we have persevered despite the youth in the backcourt,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. ”Really proud of the way they conducted themselves with poise during our season.”
BULLISH TERRIERS: Undersized Wofford feels underappreciated heading into the NCAAs. Six-foot-6 forward Lee Skinner (11.2 points, 8.6 rebounds) wouldn’t have it any other way.
”I love it. … Being underestimated and people not knowing who we are, giving us the chance to spread our name,” Skinner said.
It’s an attitude to be expected for the underdog Terriers, even if they had the stingiest defense this season in the Southern Conference (62.4 points per game allowed).
The tallest guy in the projected starting lineup is 6-foot-7 sophomore CJ Neumann. The three-man backcourt ranges from 5-foot-11 Eric Garcia to 6-foot-4 Spencer Collins, with 6-foot-1 Karl Cochran leading the team in scoring, averaging 15.7 points per game.
”You know, the underdog deal, you know, that’s the way it is when Wofford comes to games such as these,” Young said. ”I don’t think we need any more motivation than that – a storied program with a terrific coach. … Let your hair down and you fight, you go at it and our team will do that.”
FUNDAMENTALS: At one stage of Michigan’s practice, Beilein divided his team into three groups. Two worked on opposite ends of the floor on foul shooting, while the third gathered at midcourt around the circular NCAA logo and practiced dribbling. They alternated stutter-steps and bobbing up and down with the ball while moving sideways.
Those little things especially impressed Wofford’s coach.
”I’m most impressed with how skilled they are,” Young said. `’They do not turn the ball over. They do not beat themselves.”
AVOIDING AN UPSET: When asked, Robinson said Michigan players hadn’t heard of Wofford before the draw was announced Sunday. They started studying up quickly. Stauskas called the Terriers a ”really high IQ basketball team.” The early review of film showed a lot of movement on offense but not a lot of ball screens.
”We’re not going to take anyone lightly,” he said.
SLOWING DOWN: The best way to limit Michigan’s athleticism is to limit its possessions and force the Wolverines into a halfcourt game, Cochran figures. The slower, the better. ”We’re going to have to play that much harder and try to fumble them into our style of play,” he said.