Wolverines refuse to be 'punked,' back in Elite Eight

Wolverines refuse to be 'punked,' back in Elite Eight
March 29, 2014, 11:00 am
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Vinnie Duber

Thanks to that old tournament maxim, Michigan is back in the Elite Eight.

As for how they did it, well, hate to sound like a broken record here, but “survive and advance” is a pretty apt description.

The Wolverines had a huge lead on Tennessee all Friday night, until the Vols made a furious push late in the game keyed by Michigan turnovers and a scoring drought. But hold on the Wolverines did for a 73-71 win. Another minute in that one, and it might have been “Rocky Top” playing at game’s end, not “Hail to the Victors.”

Michigan attempted to inbound the ball with 10 seconds left, only for Caris LeVert to step on the end line and turn the ball over, the Wolverines’ third straight giveaway. Tennessee got the ball to Jarnell Stokes, but he immediately plowed into Jordan Morgan, playing good defense, picking up an offensive foul and giving the ball — and the game — right back to the Wolverines.

“Well, they set a screen for him to come open, so I knew that the play was going to be for him,” Morgan said after the game. “And I just know he likes to play bully ball, he's in a stance ready. I don't know. I just was there. It's just something I do. I take charge. That's what I do.

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“We heard all week about they had mismatches and how we couldn't guard them inside. I guess people forgot we play in the Big Ten and we won the Big Ten outright. So we're not really soft around here,” the senior big man continued. “That's not who we are. We lift a lot of weights. So it's just — I don't know, it's a pride thing for us. We're not about to get punked.”

If anyone was punked and continues to be punked, it’s the bracket-pickers. Not many had last year’s runner-up making it to the Elite Eight. Even fewer projected Michigan to reach back-to-back Final Fours. And while that feat still requires a Sunday win over Kentucky, the Wolverines are certainly capable of making it happen.

No Trey Burke? No Tim Hardaway Jr.? No Mitch McGary? No problem.

It’s Michigan’s first back-to-back trips to the Elite Eight since the Fab Five days in the early 90s. That team also went to back-to-back national championship games, something this year’s group of Wolverines is trying to do. But this group wants to do something Webber, Howard, Rose, King and Jakcson didn't: walk away with a national championship win.

“There's going to be plays in the game here and there. The whole thing is these kids always believe and they never stop,” head coach John Beilein said. “They just never stop believing we're going to win the game.”