NCAA Tournament 2017: Michigan quickly becoming more than a feel-good story

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Michigan basketball has gone from March darling to tournament thriller.

This team is now a win away from the Sweet 16, and if it plays on Sunday the way it did on Thursday, Michigan will be in the second weekend of the Big Dance. Out of nowhere, the Wolverines have become the riveting plot thread of March. 

The team’s plane scare last week, before the start of the Big Ten tournament, created national headlines. In the wake of that off-the-runway near disaster, Michigan produced an all-time conference tournament story when it won its league title as the No. 8 seed. 

The question that lingered for four days: Could that Big Ten rush carry over into the NCAAs? Yes. The No. 7 Wolverines got by 10th-seeded Oklahoma State 92-91 in the best game of the tournament up to this point. And more to the point: While the plane-horror background is the element that has so many people clued in and paying attention to this team, the real reason to watch is the O.

Michigan’s looking like and playing as if it’s the best offensive team in college basketball right now. Maybe that is true. The defense is fairly optional, but that philosophy wound up not costing UM on Friday afternoon in Indianapolis. The Wolverines got by the No. 1-rated offense in college basketball, Oklahoma State, thanks to flirting with NCAA Tournament records.

Michigan was 11-of-15 from 3-point range in the second half, made 16 3s in the game, went 18 for 22 from the foul line, assisted on 19 of its 29 baskets and only had four turnovers — and narrowly got by Oklahoma State!   

Check this stat out: Michigan-OSU gave us the closest high-octane game in the tournament in more than 50 years.

Derrick Walton Jr., who is having one of the all-time-awesome final stretches that any senior from the Big Ten’s had, put up 26 while being guarded by a future first-round pick, OSU’s Jawun Evans (who went for 23). Walton also had 11 assists (Evans had 12). The teams swapped leads more than 15 times. 

Here’s more on just how great that second half was in particular. For reference, scoring 1.2 points per possession is really good. Hitting at 1.3 is exceptional, finding the 1.4 line is not sustainable, and flirting with 1.6 is finding contact with another realm. 

And BOTH teams did it. The exact efficiency. 

The Wolverines have now won six straight. They are an easy team to root for and a wonderful team to watch. The offense is a beautiful pinwheel of flare screens and 3s, with the occasional dip in for a bucket in space. Hard to get this team to take a bad shot. Michigan’s certainly flawed, but when it’s clicking it’s captivating. If you’re second-guessing picking against them to reach the Sweet 16, that’s understandable, but at this point just put the bracket aside and let yourself enjoy it.

Michigan’s far from the best team in this tournament, but it’s become the most mesmerizing one. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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