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It’s game day for half of the Sweet 16, and Michigan looks to keep going a story that has turned heads across the nation.
The Wolverines can play — just ask Purdue, or Oklahoma State, or Louisville. But the added aspect of their airplane incident prior to the Big Ten Tournament caught the attention of many who are not normally Michigan fans.
It also perhaps intensified the fandom of those already on board. All head coach John Beilein knows is this: people are following his team closely.
“I was just talking with my AD about this today,” Beilein noted on Wednesday in Kansas City. “I try to keep my email and texts all answered. I'm not going to share who hit me up, but there's 200 — it's not unlikely to see 100 texts on your phone or e-mails, they're coming in in the dozens all the time.
“So it's really good that the people you know [are keeping up]. Over all these years, you meet a lot of people and the people that can sort of identify with this team and appreciate what these young men have done, it's great. At some point I'll answer them all, but it's not going to be until somebody tell us me you can't play anymore and I hope it's after a championship.”
So do his players, who attribute their strong tournament effort thus far to the calmness and confidence they feel. The statistic jumping out most recently involves Michigan making 90 percent of its uncontested shots thus far in the tournament.
Mention of it garners a shrug and a smile, along with the desire to keep it up.
“I just feel like our team is playing loose right now,” senior forward Zak Irvin said. “We have a lot of freedom, and I’ve got a great point guard next to me who is finding people and getting them in their spots and I feel like it's contagious, when one of us gets it going we all get it going and we're out there having fun.”
He referred to senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr., who concurred with the confidence portion of Irvin’s analysis.
“We have so many actions that get us open shots and we work on it daily and it's been yearly and we got great shooters,” Walton said. “So I think it's a testament to the system we play in and our individual abilities to knock down open shots.”
Irvin summed up his team’s feelings, entering the most recent biggest game of the year.
“I just think our team is doing a great job with limiting distractions, because I think it's so easy right now to get off track and just lose focus and I think our leadership and our seniors have done a great job with that,” he said. “It's been one heck of a run that we're on and we're playing really well right now. We just don't want it to end.”
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