Last March, not many people were giving Michigan Basketball a chance at a legitimate run to the Final Four. Little has changed this year. The Wolverines aren’t one of the trendy names on the watch list, giving way to the Lousville’s, Florida’s, and even Michigan State’s of the March Madness world. But every run starts somewhere, and Michigan’s will begin on Thursday night against the Wofford Terriers. The game will be televised on CBS and opening tip set for 7:10 eastern with Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel on the call.
Who the heck is Wofford?
Wofford is actually a decent team, finishing 20-12, 11-5 in the Southern Conference. They won their conference tourney by knocking off Citadel, Georgia Southern, and Western Carolina on consecutive days. The Terriers have won 13 of their last 15 games, priding themselves on defense, allowing just 62.4 ppg.
The problem is they haven’t really played anybody of note and the few respectable teams they have faced have pounded them. Wofford lost to Minnesota by 22, VCU by 15, and Saint Louis by 14. This will be their 3rd tourney appearance in the past five years. They lost in the first round to Wisconsin in 2010 by just four points and then to BYU in ’11 by eight.
Karl Cochran is their leading scorer at 15.7 ppg and he also drilled 77 three-pointers during the season. Spencer Collins (12.8 ppg) and Lee Skinner (11.2 ppg) are the other Terriers that average in double figures.
Their game plan will be to put a premium on possessions and hope it flusters Michigan into a poor shooting performance. Do that and they’ll have a legitimate chance at pulling the increasingly popular 15-seed upset over a 2-seed.
Why it won’t happen
John Beilein’s team shook off a few NBA departures and an injury to preseason All-American Mitch McGary to put it together and roll through the Big Ten schedule to the tune of a 15-3 mark and the regular season crown. They eventually lost in the Big Ten Tournament finale to Michigan State this past Sunday. The Wolverines enter March Madness at 25-8 overall and are a 2-seed in the Midwest.
Big Ten player of the year Nik Stauskas leads an impressive offensive attack, getting double digit help from his friends Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III.
Freshman point guard Derrick Walton, Jr. just keeps getting better and consistent contributions from Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, Spike Albrecht, and Zak Irvin give the Wolverines a lot of weapons.
The Wolverines are among the best in the country in the following key categories:
- They commit the fewest fouls per game (14.5)
- They rank 7th nationally in fewest turnovers per game (9.4)
- The Wolverine offense scores the 5th most points per possession (1.17)
- Their 280 made threes ranks 13th nationally
- Their 39.4% three-point percentage ranks 14th in the country
When Michigan gets into trouble it is generally against bigger, athletic teams. See Arizona and Michigan State last Sunday. If Morgan and Horford can pull their weight then there isn’t a team in the field of 64 that Michigan can’t roll over.
What to watch for
Cohesiveness. Chemistry. Team first attitude. These have been the characteristics that have defined the 2013-14 Wolverines. But one thing looms in the not-so-distant future – NBA glory. Will Nik Stauskas play for the scouts or for his brothers in Maize and Blue? Will Glenn Robinson III try to take on more than he should to prove he doesn’t need a junior season in Ann Arbor?
There is absolutely no reason to believe that either one of these things will happen but these are young kids chasing a big dream. If Michigan can stay focused, then I love their chances to blow through the first weekend (with a round of 32 matchup against the winner of Texas/Arizona State on Saturday) and potentially rematch with Duke in the Sweet 16.
Expect a double-digit win on Thursday to get this party started.
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