Juwan Howard is one game from leading his alma matter to the Final Four after two trips there as a player.
Leonard Hamilton will have to wait another year.
The two coaches faced off in the Sweet 16 with Michigan easing past Florida State 76-58 in a game expected to be much closer and more contested.
The game really came down to two things: The Wolverines were able to find easy shots at the basket with their offense cutting up the usually stingy Seminoles defense, and FSU settled for jump shots that didn’t find the mark frequently enough.
Before the tournament, pundits, including this one, cited the loss of second-leading scorer Isaiah Livers as the reason the Wolverines were the No. 1 seed most likely to fall first. Instead, they’ve reeled off three consecutive wins, showing a grit and resolve to extend their season and prove doubters wrong.
A lot of the credit goes to Howard. In just his second season and first NCAA Tournament as Michigan’s coach, he has rebuilt his team’s confidence after Livers was sidelined. The Wolverines lost three of their last five games before Selection Sunday.
To fill the void, others have stepped up to play key rolls. Against LSU in the second round, Chaundee Brown came off the bench to score 21 points. Sunday it was Brandon Johns Jr. Entering the game averaging just 4.5 points, he stepped up to tie Hunter Dickinson for the team lead with 14 against the Noles. Brown added 12 from the bench.
After an impressive first half that ended with them leading by 11, the Wolverines didn’t flinch when Florida State cut their lead to five after intermission. Michigan kept doing what was working. It broke down Florida State’s defense and then shared the ball to find a teammate for an open look, which was often a layup. It was a startlingly efficient performance against a big and athletic opponent that had allowed an average of 53.5 points in its two tournament wins.
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Midway through the second half and with a double-digit lead, they had essentially stolen Florida State’s will. The Seminoles had run out of options with drives not paying off and jump shots early in the shot clock continually clanking off the rim.
When a Dickinson dunk off a pass from a driving Franz Wagner pushed the lead to 19, the rest of the game was a formality with seven minutes left.
The final basket for Michigan was a three-point play by Howard’s son Jace. An appropriate ending for an almost flawless victory over a team that was a dark-horse Final Four pick when brackets were revealed.
The loss was another tournament disappointment for Hamilton. He’s never been to a Final Four in his 33 seasons as a head coach, which has included stops at Oklahoma State and Miami (Fla.) before arriving at Florida State 18 years ago.
He’s been like a fine wine and gotten better in his older age. This was his third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance after just one previously in his career. Hamilton got to the Elite Eight in 2018, and coincidentally, it was Michigan that stopped him with a 58-54 victory. Gonzaga knocked out the Seminoles in 2019.
Hamilton’s best chance to reach the milestone may have been last year. The Seminoles were 26-5 and the ACC regular-season champions before the season was shut down.
Even as several key players departed, he rebuilt this year’s team picked to finish in the middle of the conference. The Seminoles finished second and looked to have the ingredients to take down Michigan and whatever opponent was next.
Instead, they’re headed home.
Don’t be surprised if they’re back in this spot. M.J. Walker is the only senior among the four players that average double figures. Perhaps, that breakthrough will come after knocking on the door another time.
Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith