Michigan and Oregon weren't supposed to be here. We'll stop short of calling them improbable Cinderellas, but two weeks ago the Wolverines and Ducks were far from popular bets to sniff the Final Four, which one of them is guaranteed to do in Kansas City on Saturday against the winner of Kansas vs. Purdue.
The Wolverines return to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2014, using more hot shooting to knock off second-seeded Louisville — their fourth straight game shooting better than 49 percent. Two weeks ago, they entered the Big Ten Tournament as a potential double-digit at-large NCAA Tournament seed fighting off the effects of a bizarre trip from Ann Arbor to Washington, D.C. Suddenly, they're two wins away from another Final Four.
Oregon, meanwhile, is one of three remaining teams yet to face a single-digit seed. Nonetheless, the Ducks appeared primed for tourney disappointment after losing Chris Boucher in the Pac-12 Tournament. Minus the versatile 6-foot-10 forward, many wondered if they could regroup quickly enough to avoid an opening weekend upset.
Though there were contentious moments in their three-point win over Rhode Island, a game in which they trailed by 10 in the second half, Oregon showed they can win in different ways and will force Michigan to prepare a bevy of different gameplans for their Sweet Sixteen matchup.
Michigan has received eight double-digit scoring games from their five starters in two tourney games, led by Derrick Walton Jr.'s 26 against Oklahoma State and Moritz Wagner's 26 against Louisville. D.J. Wilson has 36 total points; Zak Irvin has 27; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has 22.
The Wolverines are getting production from all their key players at the key moments, but everything starts and stops with Walton, whose stellar combination of scoring, facilitation and ball security have spurred 12 wins in their last 14 games. They have 10 turnovers in the tournament. Total. Or one every eight minutes, leading to a staggering team assist-to-turnover ratio of 3:1.
Walton has 17 of their 30 total assists and just three turnovers, including zero in the four-point win over Louisville. His remarkable decision-making has opened the floor for his teammates' length, versatility and inside-outside shooting to take over. Not to mention his own scoring (36 points in two games).
Oregon will have trouble with the length of Wagner and Wilson, with the loss of Boucher from the country's second-best shot-blocking team weighing heavy thus far — they have four total blocks in two games after averaging nearly seven per game this season.
But don't let the absence of Boucher fall into the rearview mirror. Jordan Bell and Kavell Bigby-Williams combine for three blocks per game, with Bell being a particularly dangerous defender. He can run the floor in defensive transition, which the Rams learned on Sunday.
Offensively, it's all about Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey. They've combined for more than half of Oregon's points last weekend (88 of 168), and they're doing so with responsible execution of Dana Altman's high-volume offense — they've ranked 24th or higher in total field-goal attempts in five of his seven years.
Brooks and Dorsey have shot 31-for-55 from the field (56 percent), leading the Ducks to a 52-percent clip as a team. Despite their spread-out system, they use offensive rebounding (30 total) to create impossible-to-defend mismatches.
As unwise as it is to pick against Michigan right now, their defensive rebounding are concerning. They've given up 70 offensive boards in their last five games and although they've been able to withstand the additional chances, it's fair to wonder how long that'll continue, especially against a team shootings lights-out from deep.
But don't bet the farm on this one. It's toss up.
Oregon 84, Michigan 79