How sweet it is: Michigan basketball reaches fifth-straight Sweet 16, will play Villanova Thursday

‘People who were hating on us before the tournament are going home to watch us next week’

Michigan's Hunter Dickinson (1), and Eli Brooks (55) celebrate after they defeated Tennessee in a college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) (Darron Cummings, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SAN ANTONIO – The Michigan Wolverines have advanced to their fifth consecutive Sweet 16 after upsetting the No. 3 ranked Tennessee Volunteers 76-68 in the round of 32 on Saturday (March 19).

Awaiting them in the dance is a familiar face and location. They’ll face the No. 2 seeded Villanova Wildcats Thursday in a rematch of the 2018 NCAA Championship, where the men in maize fell 79-62 in San Antonio.

Michigan’s journey has it as one of the remaining double-digit seeds advancing to the Sweet 16, the 14th straight year at least one such team has done so.

Read: Michigan basketball erases 15-point deficit to beat Colorado State in first round of NCAA Tournament

The No. 11 seeded Wolverines are currently a five-point underdog against the Wildcats. They rematched before Thursday during the 2018-19 season in Pennsylvania, where Michigan routed Villanova 73-46.

The Wolverines are playing with a chip on their shoulders, which would hinder some, but not this team.

After blowing a 17-point second-half lead to Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines went into Selection Sunday not knowing if they would make the NCAA Tournament. Now, they’re dancing in the Sweet 16 for the fifth consecutive year, which is a first in school history.

Read: Upset: Second-half surge sends Michigan basketball to round of 32

A great support system strung together the back-and-forth season.

“It’s a beautiful moment to be here and to witness the guys that I’ve been in the trenches with,” said head coach Juwan Howard. “Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson -- to see them out here and supporting this team and taking time from their schedule away from their families, it means a lot. I would never forget this day and I appreciate all of the support they have behind the scenes, been in my corner since day one.”

Hunter Dickinson put on a performance in the first weekend, breaking his head coach’s record for most points scored through two games of an NCAA Tournament, a record Howard set in 1994.

Dickinson went 8-13 from the floor for 27 points and 11 rebounds vs. Tennessee. He went 8-10 Thursday (March 17), pouring in 21 points to lead the men in maize past Colorado State.

“Making it to the Sweet 16, as literal as it is, (is) sweet, because nobody believed in us,” Dickinson said. “Everybody thought that we shouldn’t even be in the tournament, and now people who were hating on us before the tournament are going home to watch us next week.”

Although Dickinson led the way for the Wolverines, the play of the day went to senior guard Eli Brooks, who impersonated his former backcourt buddy Zavier Simpson with the junior skyhook to extend the Wolverines lead in the waning moments.

When you have people telling you that you can’t do something, it can become an advantage, as adversity reveals character. Michigan is playing with confidence through all the self-inflicted wounds they sustained this season.

“They did everything that it took to make winning plays throughout the game,” Howard said. “I’m so proud of their resolve during the ups and the downs with runs. Give Tennessee credit, they’re a well-coached, well-balanced team, but I’ve got to give my guys credit about how they competed from start to finish.”

Saturday’s victory gave Michigan back-to-back wins for the first time since Feb. 8 and 10.

“It’s all about attention to detail,” Howard said. “It’s also about the sacrifice for the entire group. It’s also our staff being so dialed into preparation, and it’s also the trust, as the trust is real, and so, I’m excited for this moment. It’s great that we have the Michigan fan base that’s been supporting us from start to finish.”

Michigan and Villanova be the first game to tip off at the AT&T Center in San Antonio on Thursday. It’s scheduled to begin at 7:29 p.m. on TBS.

About the Author:

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.