Coming off a tough yet competitive loss at Iowa State on Sunday, Michigan (2-1) enters one of the most hyped preseason tournaments of the college basketball non-conference slate: the 7th installment of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Michigan opens up against Long Beach State on Thursday, Nov. 21 at 5pm on ESPN2, and depending on that result will play Friday, Nov. 22, at 6pm or 8:30pm and Sunday, Nov. 24 at 11:30am, 4:30pm, or 6:30pm. All tournament games through the Championship on Sunday will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2. Dave O’Brien, Dan Dakich, Alvaro Martin, and LaPhonso Ellis drew the short stick in Bristol and will be courtside in beautiful San Juan broadcasting the action.
Even for just an eight team field, the Puerto Rico Tip-Off field is talented and deep. The top half of the draw features a potentially juicy semifinal of Kansas State versus Georgetown. Kansas State started off last season slowly, including a loss to Michigan in the Preseason-NIT at Madison Square Garden, but quietly gained momentum under first year head coach Bruce Weber to become Co-Champions of the Big 12 alongside Kansas. The Georgetown Hoyas have long been a national powerhouse, and spent much of last season ranked in the top ten and going on to become Co-Champions of the Big East, before ultimately suffering a monster upset to 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast in the NCAA tournament. Northeastern and Charlotte are also on this side of the draw.
In the bottom half of the bracket, Michigan faces off against Long Beach State out of the Big West Conference, led by former Gonzaga and Minnesota head coach Dan Monson. Should Michigan advance past the 49ers, they will take on the winner of a very attractive matchup between Florida State and VCU. The Seminoles will enter the tournament already at 5-0, while VCU is ranked 10th nationally. A potential rematch of last year’s NCAA tournament showdown between Michigan and VCU, in which the Wolverines embarrassed the Rams 78-53 in Auburn Hills, looms large.
Quarterfinal Matchup: Long Beach State
Long Beach State (1-3) has struggled early on in the 2013-14 season, with their lone win coming against Hawaii Pacific and two pretty decisive losses against tougher competition in Arizona and Kansas State. Almost half of the 49ers’ points come from two players: junior guard Mike Caffey and senior big man Dan Jennings.
Jennings is the man to watch for Michigan, he is averaging a double-double so far at 14.5 points per game and 12 rebounds per contest. With just one game and only a handful of practices under his belt, Michigan’s Mitch McGary must challenge Jennings on both ends of the floor.
Unfortunately for Long Beach State, they are shooting just 37.7% from the field, 323rd nationally. A lot of misses will in turn allow for Michigan’s fast break to get going. A frenetic pace will favor the Wolverines, which will open up opportunities for Derrick Walton Jr., Caris LeVert, and Nik Stauskas to attack the rim or set up outside for 3-point attempts. Overall, the matchups favor Michigan in this one.
Michigan should not have trouble advancing past Long Beach State in the quarterfinal. After that, Michigan has a significantly more difficult task versus Florida State or VCU. Expect the Rams to be waiting for the Wolverines on Friday, which would present a very unique rematch from a year ago. Known for their relentless pressure defense trademarked as “HAVOC” by their outstanding head coach Shaka Smart, VCU is going to attack Michigan’s young guards from the opening tip.
Last year, Trey Burke was able to break the pressure. If this game does come to fruition, it will be a telling early test for Michigan’s Freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr and company. This time, it appears to be advantage VCU. If Michigan is fortunate enough to get to the Final, a much better matchup against Georgetown could follow. In any form or fashion, a championship in Puerto Rico would be a humongous boost to a young and developing Michigan squad.
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