NCAA Tournament: Is Michigan's Run Sustainable?

The Wolverines are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. Can they continue riding their hot streak to the Elite Eight?

Everybody breathe... It's been a while since we've gotten the chance to sit back and relax for a minute.

The same day college basketball conference tournaments ended, the NCAA Tournament bracket was released. Then, the play-in games started two days later. The Round of 64 got fired up less than 48 hours after that, which was quickly followed by the Round of 32 to determine who would be moving on to the Sweet 16.

Up until Sunday night, college basketball has basically been on our TV continuously. Thankfully, we're currently in the middle of a three-and-a-half day rest to regroup before March Madness continues on Thursday evening. This gives us time to analyze what the heck just happened over the past week!

Among many storylines, the Michigan Wolverines' run through the Big Ten Tournament, the Round of 64 and the Round of 32 is as fascinating as any. Is their play sustainable, though?

Flying Under the Radar

The Wolverines offense has produced an offensive rating of 116.6 points per 100 possessions this season -- good for eighth in the nation. At a rather average pace (63.1 possessions per 40 minutes), that has amounted to 75.2 points per game on 48.4% shooting from the floor and 38.6% from three-point land. But those numbers really don't do the Michigan offense justice.

To do that, we need to look at advanced shooting measures like effective field goal percentage, true shooting and three-point attempt rate.

Michigan eFG% TS% 3PAr
Percentage 57.1% 60.2% 44.9%
NCAA Rank 8th 7th 19th

Taking an average of 44.9% of their field goal attempts from long range, the Wolverines are nearly as reliant on that shot as any other team in the nation. Entering the tournament, their three-point attempt rate was fourth among all teams. Now, it's first among all remaining teams, and the gap of 6.2% between them and the Oregon Ducks is quite significant.

Their three-point heavy offense hasn't led to inefficiencies, either. They're a top-10 shooting team by effective and true shooting percentage, which both account for the fact that a three-pointer is worth one more point than a two-pointer.

As for their defense, the Wolverines weren't quite as elite. They allowed 66.3 points per game and ranked outside the top 150 teams in defensive rating (102.8). One of their biggest issues -- coincidentally or not -- has been defending the three-point shot.

On the year, Michigan ranks 305th in the country, allowing teams to shoot 37.5% from beyond the arc. Three-point defense isn't so much about the percentage as it is about three-point attempt rate against, though. Limiting opponents' attempts from long range is within a defense's power, whereas what the opponent shoots -- contested or not -- is not.

With that in mind, the Wolverines' three-point attempt rate against is the eighth lowest of all teams, meaning they've actually been pretty good at limiting three-point attempts. However, teams have been lucky in the sense that they've shot an above-average percentage from downtown. Maybe their defensive flaw wasn't much of one at all.

As time has proven, the Wolverines' adequate defense and elite offense has made for a dangerous postseason team.

Streaking Through March

Since the beginning of the Big Ten Tournament, where Michigan was the 8 seed, the Wolverines have reeled off six straight wins, with five of them coming over tournament teams.

In two NCAA Tournament games thus far, Michigan has defeated Oklahoma State and Louisville -- two squads ranked ahead of them in our power rankings. From the results alone, it's clear that they're playing their best ball of the year, but are the deeper numbers so different from the regular season as to suggest a drop-off in play?

Offense eFG% TS% 3PAr
Season 57.1% 60.2% 44.9%
Tournament 60.2% 63.4% 40.7%
Difference 3.1% 3.2% -4.2%

Instead of being more or even equally dependent on the three-pointer, the Wolverines have gone in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, their advanced shooting metrics haven't suffered one bit. They've increased both by at least 3%, thanks to 47.8% shooting on their 46 attempts from deep.

Defensively, they've been the same team.

Defense 3P% 3PAr Defensive Rating
Season 37.5% 28.8% 102.8
Tournament 33.3% 28.8% 119.1
Difference -4.2% 0.0% 16.3

The decrease in defensive efficiency can probably be chalked up to the change in competition from Big Ten offenses to those of Oklahoma State and Louisville. As for their three-point defense, it's been just as effective. They've limited teams to a three-point attempt rate of 28.8% -- the same as their overall mark this season. The Cowboys and Cardinals just shot a lower percentage, in essence, proving the point about three-point percentage as a false indicator of defensive effort.

All total, Michigan has been an overachieving team in the tournament. Their current nERD of 14.71 is .29 higher than it was prior to their opening-round game (14.42). We'll have to wait and see if they continue to improve against the Ducks Thursday night, when the two teams face off in the Sweet 16.

Going Forward

According to Vegas, Michigan is a 1.5-point favorite. But, if you ask our numbers, Oregon is the better bet. We give the Ducks a 54% chance of advancing to the Elite Eight. After all, their nERD of 16.32 still suggests that they're the better team on a neutral court, which will be the case as the two squads square off at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

If the Ducks can disrupt the Wolverines' offensive flow and take advantage of their respectable yet exploitable defense, expect Michigan's run to end. Let's be real, though -- we all thought that would happen last round, too.