Preparing for a team by watching their film is the only way to go for teams that haven’t played before.
Sometimes, it’s simply not enough.
That was Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton’s predicament Sunday. He thought he had a good handle on the Michigan offense, but dealing with it in person was overwhelming for his fourth-seeded Seminoles in a 76-58 loss.
“I thought they did an excellent job in their preparation and their execution,” Hamilton said. “Many times, when you watch teams on film, you feel like you have a pretty good idea of their strengths and their weaknesses. Many times this year, people have looked at us in a similar fashion. Once they got on the court, our system sometimes is not quite what people think it is, and this is the case here.
“This team executed so well. Their spacing was unbelievable. They were extremely patient. We had a hard time turning them over. They really, really played off of their big guy [Hunter Dickinson]. We spent so much time trying to defend Hunter, and they get to their perimeter shooters when the clock would run down to with about 10 seconds left on the shot clock … they continue to keep staying in their system, and they executed and made plays right toward the end.”
That’s what a good team will do, he said, and that’s what the Wolverines did to his squad repeatedly. After shooting 33 percent in the first half, they exploded for 69 percent in the second and made 17 of their 18 buckets in the paint. They dished 15 assists and attacked the rim relentlessly in dictating the action.
They played to their strengths better than FSU did theirs, Hamilton added, and that was the coach’s key entering the game.
“I said prior to the game that the team who would win this game would be the team who was the best version of who they were, and I think they were the best version of Michigan tonight,” he said. “Even though I thought we could have played a little better, I’m not real sure that Michigan didn’t have a lot to do with our inability to play as well as we have played sometimes during the course of the year.”
It started with senior point guard Mike Smith, he continued.
“Hats off to Smith. He’s hard to rattle,” Hamilton added. “I thought that the two things we thought would be the biggest challenge for us would be — because we switched one through five — was to keep the ball away from Hunter, and we worked our butts off, but we never really seemed to. We worked so hard in trying to defend him and Smith, and I thought it opened up opportunities for other guys to get the cuts.”
Michigan’s defense, meanwhile, held the Seminoles in check in the first half, limiting them to 33 percent. Hamilton’s team was better in the second, but U-M’s efficiency on offense always kept the Wolverines a step ahead.
Even when the Seminoles cut it to five, U-M responded with a run that put it away.
“We shot 46 percent the second half, which was not horrible, but obviously their execution gave them a lot higher percentage shots than we did,” he said. “Plus, for the game, I think we shot six free throws, and they shot 23. They were much more aggressive in terms of executing, getting the offensive rebounds and the put-backs and driving to the basket and spacing the floor.
“I thought we fouled them a little too much, and we didn’t get the same type of aggressiveness on our offensive end. And there lies the loss to a very good basketball team … if I did underestimate one thing, they were really big, strong, wide-body guys who really did a very good job of playing to themselves and within themselves, and they executed a lot better than we did. They put themselves in positions where they could get fouled.”
If they continue to play the way they played Sunday, he said, they’ll be tough to beat.
“Their focus and their execution and their spacing and the way they were connected today … they were almost flawless in their execution. I was extremely impressed with how ready they were to play,” he said. “They maintained their composure from start to finish; they never deviated.
“They had that stretch there where I think we might have cut it to four or five there in the second half, but they continued to keep executing. There were about three or four possessions there where I thought we defended them about as well as they can be defended, and I thought we were having a good possession, and then one of our players would turn their head, and they would make a dive cut and finish a basket there after we had spent a lot of energy defending them for part of the shot clock.
“So that’s a team that really, really knows who they are. They know how to play to each other, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all for them to be standing there on Monday night with their finger up saying they’re number one.”