LOS ANGELES — It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? After missing the broad sides of several barns in Wichita, Michigan was due.
Overdue, now that you mention it.
Not your fault, Billy Kennedy.
Or yours, D.J. Hogg.
The Wolverines were due to put all the offensive pieces together on somebody again, and somebody soon.
Texas A&M, welcome to the Somebody Club.
Sorry ‘bout the tire tracks.
The Elite Eight beckons, because L.A. Michigan was Big Apple Michigan. Crisp. Ruthless. Airtight. The Wolverines knocked down almost as many treys in the first 20 minutes at Staples Center — 10 — as they had in the previous two NCAA Tournament games combined (13).
With 3 minutes left in a 99-72 pounding of the No. 7-seed Aggies Thursday night in the first of two regional semifinals, Michigan, the 3 seed in the West and Final Four sleeper, had already knocked down 13 treys and netted 20 points off A&M turnovers.
Not your fault, T.J. Starks.
Well, OK. It actually sort of was.
The Wolverines more or less did, at the jump, what the Aggies did to defending national champion North Carolina in the second round. A&M had raced to a 42-28 halftime lead in Charlotte, N.C., eventually stunning the No. 2-seed Tar Heels 86-65.
What was expected to be a Sweet 16 classic turned into a body-bag game early and stayed there.
When the Aggies zone didn’t work — Michigan simply found the gaps, time and again, or shot over it — A&M pulled out the full-court traps to open the second half.
Too little, too late.
And to think: We spent so much time wringing our hands over the Aggies height, we forgot how careless they can be with the rock in theirs. The 7 seed having come into the Sweet 16 ranked No. 243 out of 351 schools nationally in turnovers per game (13.6) and No. 225 in opponent steals per game (6.4).
Sure enough, barely 6 minutes into the contest, the Wolverines had forced more turnovers (4) than they’d allowed field goals (3). Michigan zipped out to a 16-6 lead, with 9 of those points coming off A&M giveaways.
Midway through the first period, Michigan had scored 11 of 27 points off Aggies turnovers, with Zavier Simpson’s fast-break layup capping a 15-4 run that put the 3 seed up 27-10 with 9:59 left in the half.
The first half also gave us an early contender for move of the night, when, with 16:43 left in the period, Wagner went behind his back with his right hand and half-hooked it in with his left, the swaggiest of swag putting the Wolverines up 9-2:
Moe Wagner showin' off the handles earlyyyy 👀pic.twitter.com/C8GmtIRcKu
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) March 22, 2018
Mo Wagner appreciation tweet pic.twitter.com/eXmhrzS0hM
— Andrew Ites (@sportswithjim) March 22, 2018
They may not play like this every night; Wichita was evidence enough of that, when the defense — and some breaks — had to pull The Fightin’ Beileins over the line. Twice.
But March runs are what happens when fortune meets stops and coaching. There’s something happening here, and Thursday was another gorgeous reminder of what the ceiling looks like. And with one game standing between the Wolverines and San Antonio, the sky is the freaking limit.