After an exciting win against Arizona State in the Round of 64, the Texas Longhorns advance to take on the 2-seed, the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan started the year slowly and lost Mitch McGary, last year's tournament revelation, to a season-ending injury after he played just 8 games. The Wolverines righted the ship in conference play, losing just 3 games in the Big 10 regular season en route to the title.
How were the Wolverines so good? Shooting. Shooting. And shooting. The Wolverines hit 39.4% from distance, 53.0% from inside the arc, and 76.0% from the charity stripe. They would love to settle this with a game of horsh. Swiss!
Michigan combines their sweet strokes (phrasing!) with a slow tempo and an abhorrence for turning the ball over. John Beilein's group isn't particularly good at getting second chance opportunities, and they don't scare anyone defensively. Ipso facto, if Michigan isn't scoring, Texas has a chance.
Derrick Walton - The 6' 1" freshman has a little bit of Trey Burke to his game. Luckily for him, Walton doesn't have that Burke-sized burden thrust upon him, and he has scored in double figures just once in the past 10 games. As a frosh, the former top 75 recruit is blessed to play with a strong supporting cast. He just needs to distribute the ball, limit turnovers, and hit his 3's to be an asset.
Nik Stauskas - The 6' 6" sophomore wing won Big 10 Player of the Year honors. If he played for Duke, he'd be reviled by the nation. Stauskas leads the Wolverines in scoring at 17.4 PPG, with percentage splits of .478/.451/.822. I expect Barnes to use a little bit of his Andrew Wiggins strategery and try to force Stauskas to play inside the perimeter but out of the paint (i.e., make him hit midrange shots).
Caris LeVert - The 6' 6" sophomore has stepped into Tim Hardaway's starting gig without missing a beat. Sometimes, life's unfair and the rich get richer. LeVert does a fair bit of ball-handling for the Wolverines, and according to this nifty graphic from shotanalytics.com, he's much more potent on the left side of the court. If Texas had the technology today to clone Demarcus Holland in order to cover both Stauskas and LeVert, that would be super.
Glenn Robinson - Another 6' 6" sophomore designed to cause havoc on the perimeter, Robinson had a chance to declare for the NBA Draft but decided to return to Ann Arbor. Despite his limited height, Robinson is a beast inside, shooting 86.7% at the rim (per hoop-math.com), and Josh Smith-esque outside, hitting just 26.7% on 102 3-point attempts. The most well-known Wolverine, Robinson may also be the most exploitable by Texas.
Jordan Morgan - The 6' 8" senior has filled in admirably for McGary as a high efficiency big, shooting 69.5% from the floor. Unlike Arizona State running post plays through Jordan Bachynski, Morgan functions more as a space-eater and finisher, not a set-play offensive threat.
Key Bench Players:
Zak Irvin - The 6' 6" freshman is the crown jewel of Michigan's recruiting class. He was a high 4* recruit and played at the same high school as Michigan State's Gary Harris. As a freshman, Irvin functions primarily as a catch-and-shoot 3 point threat, attempting 138 3's and hitting 40.6%.
Spike Albrecht - The 5' 11" sophomore is best known for scoring 25 points against Louisville in last year's title game. He hasn't done much this year, but he can hit a 3.
Jon Horford - The 6' 10" junior will spell Morgan and give pretty much the same effort and skill set. With the additional two inches, Horford is a better shot-blocker than Morgan.
Keys to the Game:
1) Jonathan Holmes, again - Can I copy and paste what Tjarks wrote about Holmes for Arizona State? Holmes didn't take over against undersized Sun Devil 4's, but he needs to maximize his effort versus Glenn Robinson. Holmes has two inches, 20 pounds, and 1 year of experience over Robinson. Barnes needs to unleash his big dogs inside and exploit the size mismatch here and talent mismatch in the next key.
2) Feed Killa Cam - Last night, Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh had some highlights defensively, but Bachynski did some work inside. Luckily for Ridbeh, their defensive assignments will be much easier against Michigan. That means maximum energy can be expended on the offensive side of the floor. Texas needs to win the interior battle on the boards and through the nets.
3) Contest all shots - The Wolverines have four rotation players who have attemped at least 100 3's and made over 40%. Ken Pomeroy might scoff, but Texas needs to make Michigan earn those points. Don't leave shooters open, don't allow shots to occur in rhythm, and stifle dribble penetration that will free up perimeter opportunities.
4) Win the junkyard dog game - Texas writers were snarky enough to point out that the Longhorns' last four makes against the Sun Devils came on second-chance opportunities. To them I say, "so what?" We already know Texas is a terrible shooting team, but the Longhorns are also a plus offensive rebounding team. With Michigan likely to deploy some zone, Texas will need to clean up its missed shots and score any way it can.
The game is at 4:15 Central on CBS. Hook 'em!