It might only be December, but madness will surely ensue this Saturday, as Michigan basketball will host the top-ranked team in all the land, the Arizona Wildcats. Coach Sean Miller and ‘Zona come into this weekend’s matchup undefeated (10-0) and primed for even more success, already boasting an impressive repertoire of wins in the young season, including an NIT Tip-Off Championship over Duke.
Comparably impressive was the performance put forth by the Wolverines a week ago, trouncing Houston Baptist by a margin of 54 points, maximizing momentum before a week-long break going into the matchup with Arizona. The Wolverines have accrued three losses already this season, all of them coming away from the Crisler Center, en route to a fall out of the top-25.
Michigan will certainly have their hands full on Saturday, as Arizona’s impressive frontcourt will look to take advantage of the lack of depth in front for the Wolverines. The showdown that will take place between Mitch McGary and freshman sensation Aaron Gordon is sure to be incredible, but Michigan will be faced with the “tall” order of holding off 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski and 6’8” Brandon Ashley, a formidable combo of opponents for any team. Equally arduous will be the seasoned Arizona backcourt of T.J. McConnell, a transfer from Duquesne and member of last year’s Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team, and Nick Johnson, the team’s leading scorer averaging just under 17 points per game so far this year.
These are two teams that are based on wildly different fundamentals; On the one hand, there’s Arizona, relying on glass presence (tops in the nation in rebounding percentage) and frontcourt dominance, backed up by an experienced backcourt. On the other end, we find Michigan, living and dying by the 3-point basket and relying on speed and defense.
Michigan has a very special opportunity on Saturday: not only to topple the number-one team in the country on their home floor, but to disprove the disbelievers who label this year’s Wolverines as an incomplete shadow of the 2013 Championship Runner-Up.
There are a few options for Michigan in their attempt at neutralizing the top team in the land: they can choose to rely even more on their trio of big men, McGary, Morgan and Horford, while emphasizing a presence on the boards on both ends of the court from the remaining cast of characters. Suggest to GR3 that he should live inside the 3-point line, and he could serve as a valuable asset on the glass, as well as picking up second chance opportunities.
Option Two would be to forego the necessary preparations and try to start off hot with the 3’s. A packed house should have the Wolverines ready to fire, and a strong start from Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Co. is a perfect fuel for that fire. We know how well this team can shoot from downtown, but we also know how demoralized they can become if the first few shots don’t fall. Against Duke, Michigan put forth a strong effort, but struggled with a double-digit deficit for the majority of the game, in part due to a rough start from the field. A hot shooting start is the catalyst that Michigan needs to maximize the remaining facets of their game, namely a strong interior defense, and take down the Goliath that is Arizona.
Saturday’s matchup is sure to be a showdown, marking the 9th all time meeting between the Wolverines and Wildcats, but the first ever in Ann Arbor, as the game tips off at noon from the Crisler Center.