Charles Matthews Is The Key To Michigan’s National Championship Dream

Michigan sophomore Charles Matthews, the Most Outstanding Player at the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional, has been the most consistent player for the Wolverines during their surprising March Madness run. 

Michigan’s Charles Matthews carries the Wolverines to the Final Four

Charles Matthews flirts with a double-double in the Elite 8. Matthews posted 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks to help Michigan advance to the Final 4. Watch highlights, game recaps, and much more from the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament on the official NCAA March Madness YouTube channel.

They face a tough road ahead in tonight’s national championship game against a dominant Villanova Wildcats squad that stands head and shoulders above everyone else in college basketball.

But if Matthews has learned anything during his career, it’s that one can stand the tallest in moments of struggle.

A Chicago native, Matthews was a part of the city’s pipeline of prep phenoms, along with the likes of DeAndre Liggins, Anthony Davis and Tyler Ulis, to commit to John Calipari’s machine at the University of Kentucky.

He’d learned the game and flourished as a kid playing under the legendary Sonny Parker, former Duke star and current Milwaukee Buck Jabari Parker’s father. He thrived playing AAU with former Michigan football player Tai Streets Meanstreets program. 

As a junior, he averaged 17.0 points and 5.0 rebounds, leading his St. Rita’s squad to a sectional final. Playing with Ulis and Georgetown-bound Paul White on the AAU scene, major programs like Illinois and Michigan State made scholarship offers.

The Journey: Charles Matthews and Vic Law as High School Teammates

Michigan’s Charles Matthews and Northwestern’s Vic Law were high school teammates at Chicago St. Rita.

But it was hard to resist the allure of Rupp Arena and the Kentucky program once Calipari showed up on the recruiting trail.

As a freshman with the Wildcats in 2015-16, he played in all of the team’s 36 games. After finishing as the runner-up behind Villanovas Jalen Brunson for Illinois’ coveted Mr. Basketball distinction, Matthews struggled to make an impact as a college freshman. 

He averaged a mere 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds per game while dealing with a nagging hernia injury and wrestling to emerge from the pack of his star-studded peers in Lexington.

One of the top recruits in the country after a stellar prep career, he got lost in the sauce at Kentucky and fell off the radar. He decided that he needed to hit the reset button and start over, ultimately deciding to transfer to Michigan.

He’d watched film of the Wolverines and asked his high school coach at St. Rita’s to reach out to Jim Beilein to gauge his interest.

In Ann Arbor, the transition from elite recruit to playing on the scout team while having to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer rules was eye-opening. He was dumbfounded when in his first practice, the Wolverines spent 40 minutes alone working on simple chest passes, making sure their thumbs were pointed in the right direction and that the ball had the proper spin on it.

Charles Matthews leads Michigan with 20 points against Montana

Charles Matthews scored a team-high 20 points to lead the Wolverines to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Watch highlights, game recaps, and much more from the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament on the official NCAA March Madness YouTube channel.

The process was not easy, but the more he examined Beilein’s coaching style, the more he understood why Michigan can play and thrive against any style of basketball an opposing team throws at them.

Once he found his groove on UM’s scout team, his teammates, who went on to win the Big Ten tournament en route to a Sweet 16 appearance, had a hard time dealing with him on the practice floor. In one scout-team practice, he had a 40-point game. In others, he dominated on defense. He attacked the strength and conditioning program, adding 20 pounds of muscle, and drove himself to not only compete in every drill against the starters, but to dominate.

At both ends of the ball, hes just being a guy thats real long and rangy and can guard multiple positions and play above the rim, said Derrick Walton Jr., Michigans co-captain last season, when asked about Matthews’ progress in the practice gym. I think the skys the limit for him. His talent and his intangibles.

The Wolverines blend talent, intelligence and athleticism with Beilein’s exacting emphasis on execution that extends to both ends of the floor. Beginning with the Big Ten Tournament and on through the Final Four, Matthews turned the ball over more than once just once in nine games.

Moritz Wagner, aka Mo’ Buckets, was the star of the team’s semifinal win over the Cinderella Loyola-Chicago squad on Saturday night with his monstrous 24-point, 15-rebound performance. But Matthews’ performance was no joke either. He scored 17 points, missed only five shots, snagged five rebounds and swiped three steals.

In his first season as a Wolverine, the 6-foot-6 Matthews has started every game while averaging 13.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. 

He got out the gate strong with a 20-point performance in the season’s opening game against North Florida and three games later, turned in a masterful performance against LSU with 28 points and eight rebounds. 

Charles Matthews Michigan vs LSU – Full Coverage | 11.20.17 | Career-High 28 Points!

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On December 9th against UCLA in a 78-69 overtime win, he scored 20 points and grabbed eight boards while making 74% of his shots. Against Alabama A&M two weeks later, he put up 31 points while converting 80% of his field goal attempts. 

In the NCAA Tournament, he scored 20 against Montana in the opening round, posted 18 against Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 and notched 17 apiece in the Elite Eight and the Final Four against Florida State and Loyola-Chicago.

Matthews was inconsistent for much of the Big Ten season, but the silky-smooth wing man is hitting his groove at the optimal time.

“Very happy for (Charles Matthews) for being named the West Region’s most outstanding player and making the Final Four,” John Calipari tweeted after Michigan marched on to San Antonio. “A terrific player and a great young man.”

John Calipari on Twitter

Very happy for @1CMatthews for being named the West Region’s most outstanding player and making the Final Four. A terrific player and a great young man.

With Wagner getting all of the attention after his incredible performance against Loyola, don’t get it twisted. 

Charles Matthews is Michigan’s most talented overall player. And given his journey to get here, he’s not taking anything for granted.

The Wolverines look like a long-shot tonight against Villanova. But they play the best, most vicious perimeter defense that the Wildcats will face this year. And after his freshman season in Kentucky, Matthews looked to be a long-shot to emerge as one of the country’s best players.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews scores 17 points in the Wolverines Final Four victory

Charles Matthews drops 17 points on Loyola Chicago in Michigan’s Final Four victory. Watch highlights, game recaps, and much more from the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament on the official NCAA March Madness YouTube channel.

But he’s arrived, and so has Michigan. 

And in one game, anything can happen. If the Wolverines shock the world to win this year’s national championship, don’t be surprised if Charles Matthews plays a huge role in making that happen.

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