As Michigan climbs deeper in the NCAA Tournament, the tests don’t get any easier.
The Wolverines shot their way past No. 10 seed Oklahoma State’s downhill guards and uptempo offense in the first round, and scrapped past No. 2 seed Louisville’s interior strength and stifling defense in the second round.
Heading into Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup against No. 3 seed Oregon, seventh-seeded Michigan will face a whole new set of unfamiliar challenges, namely Ducks star forward Dillon Brooks and guard Tyler Dorsey.
“I watched their (75-72) win over Rhode Island (on Sunday),” Michigan coach John Beilein said on WTKA’s “Michigan Insider” on Monday. “We got our hands full again with a great team but that’s the way it’s going to be when you’re down to 16 (teams).”
Brooks, a 6-foot-7 junior, dominated the Oregon headlines throughout most of the season as the team’s leading scorer at 16.4 points. A force in the post and on the perimeter, Brooks has recorded at least 18 points in 12 of the past 14 games, including 19 points on a 7-for-20 shooting performance to help the Ducks survive and advance.
But Dorsey has become the driving force and star of the show for Oregon. After averaging 12.4 points throughout an up-and-down regular season, Dorsey, a 6-4 guard, has scored at least 21 points each of the past five games, highlighted by Sunday’s 27-point performance against Rhode Island where he hit the tying and winning 3-pointers in the final two minutes.
“It’s just my teammates. They’ve been finding me, and all I’ve been doing is spotting up and making the simple play and the right play, the right basketball play,” Dorsey said. “Like Coach (Dana Altman) always says, keep my focus first on defense and rebounding and the offense, let it come.
“That’s all I’ve been doing these last couple games and my teammates have been having confidence in me and I’ve been knocking down the shots.”
During his late-season surge in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, Dorsey is averaging 23.6 points on 64.6 percent shooting (53.6 percent on 3-pointers), four rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 steals over the five-game span.
“I think the biggest factor is Tyler is a player. He’s not just a scorer,” Altman said. “I thought for a while he locked in on his offense and we weren’t getting him the ball enough for a period in the season and that was my fault. When he’s playing as a player, not just a scorer, I think that’s when he really comes alive.
“That scorer mentality I want him to have, but defense and rebounding, when he focuses on those two he becomes a special player. He becomes really special. I think that’s part of the reason why he’s exploded here lately, is that he’s been a complete player, offense, defense, and the boards.”
And just as Dorsey has been peaking, so has guard Derrick Walton Jr. and the Wolverines, winners of seven straight and 12 of the last 14. While Altman has only caught a glimpse of Michigan this season, he has seen enough to know what type of problems await.
“I watched one of Michigan’s games in the Big Ten tournament and wow,” Altman said. “Beating Louisville with their athletes, I’ve only faced Coach Beilein’s team one time and it was in the NCAA Tournament in Cleveland (in 2005).
“He (Beilein) was at West Virginia and I was at Creighton, and we got beat by one point on a last-second shot. We did play Michigan in New York three years ago.”
Seniors Zak Irvin, Mark Donnal and Walton all started and played in that last meeting in Nov. 2014, a 70-63 Michigan win. While some of the faces are the same, both teams are drastically different.
Oregon leads the country in blocked shots (230), ranks 23rd nationally in defensive efficiency and ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 in transition offense and defense. But without top shot blocker Chris Boucher, the Ducks’ defense will be stressed by big men Moritz Wagner, D.J. Wilson and the rest of Michigan’s offense, which ranks third nationally in offensive efficiency.
“They’re hard to guard,” Altman said. “What (Beilein) does offensively is really unique and special and they’re an outstanding offensive team. Kind of a contrast.
“We know how difficult Michigan will be on Thursday. Hopefully we’ll be ready and be able to give them a good game.”
Michigan vs. Oregon
What: Michigan vs. Oregon in a semifinal of the Midwest Region.
When: 7:09 p.m. Thursday
TV/radio: CBS/WWJ 950
Seedings/records: No. 7 Michigan 26-11, No. 3 Oregon 31-5
At stake: Spot in Midwest Region final against Kansas-Purdue winner.
All about Oregon
Coach: Dana Altman (seventh season at Oregon)
How they got in: At-large bid
NCAA Tournament: Defeated Iona in first round and Rhode Island in second round