Michigan has the look of a title contender in throttling Texas A&M

LOS ANGELES — The best defensive team John Beilein has ever coached also started to blister the nets the way Michigan has in the past.

The result was a convincing victory that served as a reminder why the Wolverines were a trendy national title pick before the NCAA tournament began.

An avalanche of 3-pointers helped third-seeded Michigan bury seventh-seeded Texas A&M 99-72 in the first of Thursday night's two West Regional semifinals. The Wolverines sank 10 threes in the first half alone, helping them open a double-digit lead after less than seven minutes and expand it to as many as 29 just before halftime.

When Texas A&M went man-to-man, Michigan identified the mismatches, attacked off the dribble and moved the ball crisply to find open shooters. When the Aggies fell back into a 2-3 zone, the Wolverines exploited the soft spots or forced the defense to collapse and then shot over the top.

Seven different Michigan players sank 3-pointers, including four from guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and three from big man Moritz Wagner. The Wolverines shot 61.9 percent from the field and 14 of 24 from behind the arc to set up an Elite Eight matchup with either Gonzaga or Florida State on Saturday evening.

13 PHOTOS
The best photos from March Madness: Round of 32
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The best photos from March Madness: Round of 32
SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 18: Jevon Carter #2 of the West Virginia Mountaineers shoots against Ajdin Penava #11 and Jon Elmore #33 of the Marshall Thundering Herd in the first half during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Viejas Arena on March 18, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 18: Mfiondu Kabengele #25 of the Florida State Seminoles celebrates with Braian Angola #11 after defeating the Xavier Musketeers in the second round of the 2018 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 18: The Nevada Wolf Pack celebrate after defeating the Cincinnati Bearcats in the second round of the 2018 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - MARCH 18: Nick Ward #44 of the Michigan State Spartans shoots the ball against the Syracuse Orange in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Little Caesars Arena on March 18, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - MARCH 18: Matt Haarms #32 of the Purdue Boilermakers celebrates defeating the Butler Bulldogs 76-73 in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Little Caesars Arena on March 18, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 17: Phil Booth #5 of the Villanova Wildcats goes to the basket for a slam dunk against John Petty #23 of the Alabama Crimson Tide in the second half during the game in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament held at PPG PAINTS Arena on March 17, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 18: C.J. Burks #14 of the Marshall Thundering Herd passes against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second half during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Viejas Arena on March 18, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 18: Braian Angola #11 of the Florida State Seminoles dives for a loose ball against Quentin Goodin #3 of the Xavier Musketeers during the second half in the second round of the 2018 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 18: Elijah Thomas #14 of the Clemson Tigers goes up for a shot against the Auburn Tigers in the first half during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Viejas Arena on March 18, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 18: Theo Pinson #1 and teammate Kenny Williams #24 of the North Carolina Tar Heels react at the end of their game against the Texas A&M Aggies during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 18, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
WICHITA, KS - MARCH 17: Jordan Poole #2 and Moritz Wagner #13 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrate Poole's 3-point buzzer beater for a 64-63 win over the Houston Cougars during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at INTRUST Bank Arena on March 17, 2018 in Wichita, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - MARCH 17: Ben Richardson #14 of the Loyola Ramblers and Jordan Bone #0 of the Tennessee Volunteers react after the Loyola Ramblers beat the Tennessee Volunteers 63-62 in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at the American Airlines Center on March 17, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
WICHITA, KS - MARCH 17: Udoka Azubuike #35 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after being called for a foul against the Seton Hall Pirates in the second half during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at INTRUST Bank Arena on March 17, 2018 in Wichita, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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That Michigan is in the Elite Eight for the third time in the Beilein era is a mild surprise considering the modest expectations for the program entering the season. The Wolverines started the season buried in the other's receiving votes section of the AP Top 25 after losing three of their four leading scorers from last year's 26-win Sweet 16 team.

Whereas most of Beilein's best Michigan teams have been known for their spacing, skill and 3-point shooting, defense has been the hallmark of this year's Wolverines. They miss the playmaking of Derrick Walton, the wing scoring of Zak Irvin and the inside-outside proficiency of D.J. Wilson, but they have compensated at the other end of the floor by getting better at applying ball pressure, defending ball screens and keeping opponents off the offensive glass.

One reason for Michigan's improvement is Beilein creating a defensive coordinator position on his staff and hiring Luke Yaklich to fill it. Another has been an injection of toughness and athleticism from sophomore point guard Zavier Simpson and Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews. It has also helped that forward Duncan Robinson has dedicated himself to becoming a two-way player instead of just a shooter and big man Moritz Wagner has evolved into an active, committed rebounder.

Michigan entered Thursday's game with the third-ranked defense in Ken Pomeroy's efficiency ratings, 34 spots better than the program's previous high during Beilein's tenure. The Wolverines endured some stretches of poor shooting during their first two NCAA tournament victories against Montana and Houston, but their defensive proficiency kept them in striking distance until their offense rounded into form.

Texas A&M was supposed to pose an unusual challenge for Michigan's defense because of the size, strength and skill of its frontcourt. That never materialized because Simpson's fierce defensive ball pressure made it difficult for Aggies point guard T.J. Starks to get the ball to Robert Williams and Tyler Davis.

Starks had a nightmare game against Simpson, shooting 2-for-11 from the field and finishing with as many points (5) as turnovers. Williams had only one first-half basket and ended the game with 12 points and 6 rebounds. Most of Davis' 24 points also came in the second half.

That wasn't nearly enough to threaten Michigan on a rare night when its offense was as effective as its formidable defense.

In the final seconds of Thursday's game, walk-on C.J. Baird entered the game and promptly drained a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to the delight of the maize-and-blue-clad fans in the building.

It didn't matter who shot the ball Thursday night for Michigan. No matter what it was going in.

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The academic ranking of 2018 March Madness teams
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The academic ranking of 2018 March Madness teams

Penn

NCAA ranking: 64

U.S. News & World Report: #8 National University

(Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

Duke

NCAA ranking: 6

U.S. News & World Report: #9 National University

(Photo by Michael Berg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

UCLA

NCAA ranking: 41

U.S. News & World Report: #21 National University (tie)

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Virginia

NCAA ranking: 1

U.S. News & World Report: #25 National University

(Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Michigan

NCAA ranking: 11

U.S. News & World Report: #28 National University

(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

North Carolina

NCAA ranking: 5

U.S. News & World Report: #30 National University (tie)

(Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Florida

NCAA ranking: 21

U.S. News & World Report: #42 National University (tie)

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Miami (FL)

NCAA ranking: 22

U.S. News & World Report: #46 National University (tie)

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Villanova

NCAA ranking: 2

U.S. News & World Report: #46 National University (tie)

(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Ohio State

NCAA ranking: 20

U.S. News & World Report: #54 National University (tie)

(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Purdue

NCAA ranking: 7

U.S. News & World Report: #56 National University (tie)

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Texas

NCAA ranking: 39

U.S. News & World Report: #56 National University (tie)

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Syracuse

NCAA ranking: 44

U.S. News & World Report: #61 National University (tie)

(Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

Clemson

NCAA ranking: 19

U.S. News & World Report: #67 National University

(Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images)

Texas A&M

NCAA ranking: 25

U.S. News & World Report: #69 National University (tie)

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Virginia Tech

NCAA ranking: 31

U.S. News & World Report: #69 National University (tie)

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Texas Christian University (TCU)

NCAA ranking: 24

U.S. News & World Report: #78 National University (tie)

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Florida State

NCAA ranking: 38

U.S. News & World Report: #81 National University (tie)

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Michigan State

NCAA ranking: 9

U.S. News & World Report: #81 National University (tie)

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

North Carolina State

NCAA ranking: 37

U.S. News & World Report: #81 National University (tie)

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Buffalo

NCAA ranking: 51

U.S. News & World Report: #97 National University (tie)

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Oklahoma

NCAA ranking: 40

U.S. News & World Report: #97 National University (tie)

(Photo by David Stacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Auburn

NCAA ranking: 13

U.S. News & World Report: #103 National University (tie)

(Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Loyola-Chicago

NCAA ranking: 46

U.S. News & World Report: #103 National University (tie)

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Tennessee

NCAA ranking: 10

U.S. News & World Report: #103 National University (tie)

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Alabama

NCAA ranking: 36

U.S. News & World Report: #110 National University (tie)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Arizona State

NCAA ranking: 43

U.S. News & World Report: #115 National University (tie)

(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Kansas

NCAA ranking: 3

U.S. News & World Report: #115 National University (tie)

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Missouri

NCAA ranking: 32

U.S. News & World Report: #120 National University (tie)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Seton Hall

NCAA ranking: 29

U.S. News & World Report: #124 National University (tie)

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Arizona

NCAA ranking: 16

U.S. News & World Report: #124 National University (tie)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Arkansas

NCAA ranking: 26

U.S. News & World Report: #133 National University (tie)

(Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Cincinnati

NCAA ranking: 8

U.S. News & World Report: #133 National University (tie)

(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Kentucky

NCAA ranking: 17

U.S. News & World Report: #133 National University (tie)

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

San Diego State

NCAA ranking: 45

U.S. News & World Report: #140 National University (tie)

(Photo by Josh Holmberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Kansas State

NCAA ranking: 34

U.S. News & World Report: #145 National University (tie)

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rhode Island

NCAA ranking: 28

U.S. News & World Report: #156 National University (tie)

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Maryland – Baltimore County

NCAA ranking: 63

U.S. News & World Report: #159 National University (tie)

(Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Texas Tech

NCAA ranking: 12

U.S. News & World Report: #176 National University (tie)

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Lipscomb

NCAA ranking: 59

U.S. News & World Report: #181 National University (tie)

(Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

West Virginia

NCAA ranking: 18

U.S. News & World Report: #187 National University (tie)

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Houston

NCAA ranking: 23

U.S. News & World Report: #192 National University (tie)

(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

New Mexico State

NCAA ranking: 47

U.S. News & World Report: #198 National University (tie)

(Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

California State University -- Fullerton

NCAA ranking: 61

U.S. News & World Report: #202 National University (tie)

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Nevada

NCAA ranking: 27

U.S. News & World Report: #202 National University (tie)

(Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Montana

NCAA ranking: 56

U.S. News & World Report: #207 National University (tie)

(Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

South Dakota State

NCAA ranking: 49            

U.S. News & World Report: #216 National University (tie)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Georgia State

NCAA ranking: 60

U.S. News & World Report: #223 National University (tie)

(Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Wichita State

NCAA ranking: 14

U.S. News & World Report: #231-300 National University

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Texas Southern

NCAA ranking: 68

U.S. News & World Report: #231-300 National University

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

University of North Carolina -- Greensboro

NCAA ranking: 52

U.S. News & World Report: #231-300 National University

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Wright State

NCAA ranking: 57

U.S. News & World Report: #231-300 National University

(Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Davidson

NCAA ranking: 48

U.S. News & World Report: #10 National Liberal Arts College

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Bucknell

NCAA ranking: 55

U.S. News & World Report: #33 National Liberal Arts College

(Photo by Brian Utesch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Creighton

NCAA ranking: 30

U.S. News & World Report: #1 Regional University (Midwest)

(Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Providence

NCAA ranking: 35

U.S. News & World Report: #1 Regional University (North)

(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Butler

NCAA ranking: 33

U.S. News & World Report: #2 Regional University (Midwest)

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Gonzaga

NCAA ranking: 15

U.S. News & World Report: #4 Regional University (West)

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Xavier

NCAA ranking: 4

U.S. News & World Report: #5 Regional University (Midwest)

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

College of Charleston

NCAA ranking: 53

U.S. News & World Report: #12 Regional University (South)

(Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

St. Bonaventure

NCAA ranking: 42

U.S. News & World Report: #21 Regional University (North)

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Murray State

NCAA ranking: 50

U.S. News & World Report: #32 Regional University (South)

(Photo by Stephen Furst/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Marshall

NCAA ranking: 54

U.S. News & World Report: #43 Regional University (South) (tie)

(Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportwire)

Radford

NCAA ranking: 65

U.S. News & World Report: #43 Regional University (South) (tie)

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Stephen F. Austin

NCAA ranking: 58

U.S. News & World Report: #73 Regional University (West)

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Iona

NCAA ranking: 62

U.S. News & World Report: #75 Regional University (North)

(Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

North Carolina Central

NCAA ranking: 67

U.S. News & World Report: #80 Regional University (South)

(Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Long Island University -- Brooklyn

NCAA ranking: 66

U.S. News & World Report: Not ranked

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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