If you follow college hoops, it's pretty obvious that the University of Michigan owns the state. But on Thursday night, the Wolverines have a golden opportunity to move one step closer to owning the nation when they square off against Texas A&M with the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament on the line.
Is owning the state enough?
Now, I'm sure that opening sentence upset some of the Michigan State fans who are still in denial, but it's a fact. Not only have the Wolverines won the last three games against the Spartans by an average of 16.7 points per game but they have won nine of the last 16 in the series. John Beilein may not have gotten the credit he deserves until recently but he has more than held his own against Tom Izzo, who is already in the Hall of Fame.
But, just owing the state is not enough for this Michigan squad who has won 11-straight games by an average of 11.9 points. You see, the Wolverines have always been a solid offensive team under Beilein and now they have a great defense to go along with it. Because of that, expectations are extremely high heading into Thursday's Sweet 16 matchup against the No. 7 seeded Aggies and anything less than a win will be disappointing.
If the Wolverines are going to take the next step towards a National Championship, they will have to be much better than they have been in their first two tournament games. After beating Montana 61-47 in one of the most painful college basketball games I have seen in a while, Michigan needed an amazing last-second three-point shot from freshman Jordan Poole to barely survive against a determined Houston team, 64-63.
The Wolverines will have to improve
During the first two rounds of action, Michigan has shot only 28% from beyond the arc, something that will have to change if they want to beat a very talented and motivated Texas A&M team who is coming off of an impressive win against No. 2 North Carolina.
Not only are the Aggies long, but they are extremely athletic and you bet they will be crashing the offensive boards (No. 21 nationally with 10.9 per game) against a Michigan team that only allows 6.6 offensive boards per game (No. 14 nationally) to their opponents. If the Wolverines can control the boards, their chances of coming out on top grow exponentially. John Beilein has acknowledged that A&M will be the Wolverines toughest challenge to date in terms of controlling the glass and he could not be more right.
If Michigan is able to shoot closer to 40% from beyond the arc and hold the Aggies to around 8-9 offensive boards, I like their chances of moving on to the Elite 8.
Can Michigan own the nation?
If Michigan can step up their game and handle Texas A&M, they will move on to the Elite 8 where they will face the winner No. 4 Gonzaga and No. 9 Florida State, who also play on Thursday night. Were the Wolverines to win that game, which would take place on Saturday, they would move on to the Final Four where the highest seed they would face in the semifinals is No. 5 Kentucky.
Kentucky has been playing very well and they would be a tough matchup for Michigan if they make it that far. That being said, I would give the Wolverines about a 60% chance of winning that game and advancing.
If Michigan advanced to the NCAA National Championship they could be staring either Duke or Villanova right in the face. In my opinion, both of those teams (especially Duke) would be the clear favorite to beat the Wolverines and that would be the end of their run.
So, for Wolverines fans, they will just have to enjoy running the state of Michigan because owning the nation is something that is currently out of reach.
*Unless both Duke and Villanova lose before the finals!