In Florida State’s opening game of the NCAA Tournament, much of the attention was on UNC-Greensboro senior point guard Isaiah Miller. In the second round, the focus was on Colorado senior star McKinley Wright IV.
Now, after knocking off both of those opponents to advance to the Sweet 16, the big topic apparently will be whether or not one of No. 1 seed Michigan’s best players will be available to compete when the teams clash this Sunday at 5 p.m. ET in Indianapolis.
Senior forward Isaiah Livers, who is one of the Wolverines’ team captains and second-leading scorer at 13.1 points per game, was sidelined with a foot injury during the Big Ten Tournament.
Livers has missed both of Michigan’s first two games in the NCAA Tournament, and second-year head coach Juwan Howard would only say he is “out indefinitely” following Monday’s victory against No. 8 seed LSU.
With nearly a week to prepare for the matchup, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton insists he is not giving the topic much thought.
“We are not going to do anything different than we would do if he is playing or not,” Hamilton said. “We have a defensive system. It won’t be Florida State against Livers. It will be Florida State’s defensive system versus Michigan’s offensive system, and Michigan’s defensive system versus Florida State’s offensive system.
“I mean, they have shown that they are capable of winning games with or without any one particular player on their team. So obviously they are a very good basketball team, and they are solid. And I’m sure that, like most teams in America, we all have been without players during the course of the year.”
Michigan was not successful in its first game without Livers, a 6-foot-7, 230-pounder who also is the team’s third-leading rebounder (6.0 per game) and best 3-point shooter (50 of 116, 43.1 percent). With the senior forward on the sideline, the Wolverines fell to rival Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, 68-67.
They have since rebounded to cruise to an 82-66 victory over No. 16 seed Texas Southern in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament and then knock off No. 8 seed LSU on Monday, 86-78.
The Wolverines are led by 7-foot-1 freshman center Hunter Dickinson, whose name should be familiar to FSU fans who follow recruiting. Dickinson was a top-50 recruit in the 2020 class and chose Michigan over finalists FSU, Duke and Notre Dame.
He averages 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
The Wolverines (22-4) also boast three other players who average more than nine points per game — sophomore guard Franz Wagner (12.8), senior guard Eli Brooks (9.7) and senior guard Mike Smith (9.3). Reserve guard Chaundee Brown actually scored a season-high 21 points Monday against LSU.
“They are an outstanding team,” Hamilton said. “Just like in Colorado, the intensity we played with, the mindset, the focus we played with [Monday night] was a direct result of the respect we have for the outstanding job that Colorado has shown that they are capable of doing this year.
“And now when you look at Michigan, there’s more of the same. They have done a tremendous job. They are very well-coached. They are loaded with talent. They execute very well. … Our kids our excited. We lost to Michigan in the Elite Eight a few years ago. So I’m sure that they will be ready. And I know in order for us to be successful, we’ve got to be at our best.”
Indeed, FSU dropped a 58-54 decision to Michigan in the Elite Eight of the 2018 tournament. M.J. Walker is the only current Seminole who played in that game; he scored two points and grabbed two rebounds off the bench.
Livers is the only current Wolverine who participated; he started but only played 12 minutes, scoring two points and grabbing four rebounds.