KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Michigan’s fifth-year seniors C.J. Lee and David Merritt almost played in their last collegiate game last night against Clemson.
For a moment during Michigan’s 62-59 win over the Tigers, Merritt thought that was the case.
“Actually, it was a quick thought when they started making their run,” Merritt said of Clemson’s 11-0 run late in the second half. ” ‘Oh, this could be the last time.’ ”
Michigan will face No. 2 seed Oklahoma at 5:50 Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma beat Morgan State last night, 82-54.
It wasn’t, but Merritt and the Wolverines (21-13) will have their hands full during their second-round game on Saturday.
The seventh-ranked Sooners (28-5) are led by Blake Griffin, a candidate for NCAA Player of the Year and the possible No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. The 6-foot-10 power forward averages 21.9 points and 14.3 rebounds per game.
Michigan doesn’t have a single player who matches up well with Griffin, so the Wolverines will probably look to contain him as a team. Michigan will likely deploy an array of defensive schemes to slow him.
After winning 25 of its first 26 games, Oklahoma lost four of its last six to limp into the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners’ most recent loss was by one point to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals.
“It’ll be a great matchup,” redshirt sophomore Anthony Wright said. “Once again, two contrasting styles. And we’ll see whatever coach has planned for us after tonight.”
Both Wright and Lee said the team will enjoy the win, but will quickly shift its focus toward Oklahoma. Michigan coach John Beilein had three full days to prepare for Clemson and its quick full-court press. Now he has part of Thursday night, Friday and part of Saturday to prepare for one of the nation’s best teams. And Griffin isn’t Oklahoma’s lone weapon.
Big 12 Freshman of the Year Willie Warren plays sidekick to Griffin. Warren averages 14.7 points per game and is one of the best guards in the conference. He’s quick, physical and scored 20 or more points in seven different occasions.
Blake’s older brother, Taylor, brings down six rebounds per game and scores 9.6 per contest. And 6-foot-3 point guard Austin Johnson is tied for 15th in the nation with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.55:1.
The Sooners are coached by former Duke star Jeff Capel, who has taken Oklahoma to a new level in just his third season.
Michigan could have come to Kansas City and been satisfied with just making the Big Dance for the first time in 11 years. And although the Wolverines came here to win, Saturday’s contest won’t be easy.
“Obviously, we’re going to enjoy this now,” Lee said. “But after today, it’s over. We’re onto our next game. Like we said before Clemson, the only game we’re guaranteed is our next one. Our focus needs to start when we get back to the hotel.”