South Carolina's Frank Martin: Michigan Has the Look of a Championship Team

South Carolina's Frank Martin: Michigan Has the Look of a Championship Team

Basketball

South Carolina's Frank Martin: Michigan Has the Look of a Championship Team

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan basketball is 10-0, and while ranked No. 5 right now in the AP Top 25, it’s amazing to think that the Wolverines were ranked No. 19 in the preseason poll, with many pundits not even expecting the maize and blue to be in the field of 25.

But Saturday saw another scrappy contest for the Wolverines, yet Michigan emerged with another double-digit victory, this time over South Carolina.

Michigan didn’t exactly dominate in Saturday’s 89-78 victory over the Gamecocks, but it still asserted its will and did what it needed to do. For the second consecutive time that these two teams faced off — with the last time being in 2016, in Columbia — South Carolina was unranked against a ranked Michigan team. However, the result this time around was much different.

Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin said after the game he knew what to expect from this version of Michigan basketball: a team that will get after it, that won’t stop coming at you on both ends of the floor, and one that’s playing at an extremely high caliber.

“I told our players, the one thing Michigan will do is they play like a championship team,” Martin said. “There’s no doubt that they played for a national championship this year, and they’re going to compete at that level again, because they don’t take plays off. They’re clean in everything they do. That’s a credit to the coach and that group of guys.”

It’s a far cry from where Michigan was two years ago. The Wolverines were ranked No. 23, and South Carolina was unranked. But the maize and blue headed down to Columbia and got smacked by the Gamecocks, 61-46, in the team’s first loss of the season. It looked bad in the moment, but South Carolina, made its way to the Final Four, where it ultimately lost to national runner up, Gonzaga.

Now, here we are, two years later, and the roles are reversed, in some ways.

Not in a sense that one team is ranked and the other isn’t and the lesser team will prevail, but more so in the mindset of the players and how the teams play on the court.

That 2016-17 South Carolina team may have been unranked in that fifth game of the season, but it played a championship caliber game. Now, this Michigan team, featuring many players and components from the runners-up squad this past season, is playing a familiar brand of basketball as far as Martin sees it.

And that brand is one of a team that could win it all.

“Two years ago, when they came to us, we kind of had that element,” Martin said. “That means we came up with every loose ball. We came up with every hard rebound. We came up with – when we set screens, we set screens. When we cut, there was a purpose to our cuts. Everyone worries about the ball going into the basket – that’s a result of everything else being done the right way. They’ve got that DNA right now. They don’t make a cut – there’s never a wasted cut, a wasted pass or a wasted dribble watching them play on offense. So that’s why they’re so efficient.

“Their players are in the right place. There’s never two guys within five feet of each other. The spacing is always phenomenal. Then, defensively, again, going back to John – everyone always speaks about his offense, but no one’s ever really giving his teams credit for how good they are defensively. I think we’re all starting to see that. They’re long, they’re all 6’6”, so passing the ball gets really hard. They guard you. I was watching the Villanova tape, and Villanova was trying to drive them, and it was hard to finish! They don’t get out of the way, and that’s what championship teams do.

“I don’t know how I can phrase it any better than they don’t get out of the way. You never get an easy basket against them. Every basket is like – you have to be on your P’s and Q’s – if not, it’s hard to get a good shot against them.”

Michigan will now have a week off as it prepares to take on Western Michigan next Saturday. It will then have another week off before facing Air Force and eight days between that game and its matchup against Binghamton.

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