CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 18: (L-R) Nolan Smith #2, Kyle Singler #12 and Mason Plumlee #5 of the Duke Blue Devils sit on the bench in the second half while taking on the Hampton Pirates during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 18, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
It's been pretty smooth sailing for the Duke Blue Devils this season. Their status as an elite team went mostly unquestioned except for a stunning 93-78 loss at St. John's in January. And after that loss Duke rolled off seven straight wins, including victories over tourney teams North Carolina and Temple. The Devils did lose road contests to UNC and Virginia Tech late in the year, but they rebounded with an absolute destruction of the ACC Tournament. Duke's run consisted of three double-digit winning margins and culminated in a 75-58 win over North Carolina.
Of course, throughout the entire ACC season Duke was without one of the best players in the country, Kyrie Irving. As if they needed another offensive weapon, the athletic point guard finally returned from a December toe injury to score 14 points in 20 minutes against Hampton in Duke's NCAA Tournament opener.
Michigan is going to have their hands full, and not just with dynamic guards Irving, Nolan Smith and Seth Curry. The poor Wolverines don't seem to have the size to deal with Duke big men Kyle Singler, Mason Plumlee and Miles Plumlee. Jordan Morgan and Evan Smotrycz are the only Michigan players above 6'8 to get regular playing time and both are freshmen. It's difficult to imagine the Wolverines not getting obliterated on the inside.
All that said, Michigan is coming off of its most dominant win of the season, a 75-45 thrashing of Tennessee. In the game before that, they hung with Ohio State for 30 minutes before finally fading away. Still, Ohio State only had one scoring big man to worry about and Michigan survived for a while by double teaming and quickly rotating out to the perimeter. Sullinger also couldn't block shots like the Plumlee brothers can, so there will be more for Michigan to worry about when they are trying to score.
Michigan will probably need to shoot lights out from 3-point range in order to steal a win today. Intead of actually playing Morgan and Smotrycz, maybe John Beilein will want to go small and either force the Plumlees off the court or at least make them guard the perimeter. This strategy might at least make the Blue Devils uncomfortable instead of playing into their hands with freshmen forwards on the floor. However, it still doesn't explain how Michigan will handle potential player of the year Nolan Smith or his incredible shooter sidekick Seth Curry.
Wow. I've gone through most of the preview without mentioning Michigan's two star players Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. That's probably because it goes without saying that both of these guys will need to be outstanding for Michigan to triumph. Seth Curry isn't a very good defender, so whenever he's on the floor, Michigan should look to penetrate with whoever Curry is lined up with. Morris in particular needs to get himself in the paint often and will probably need to kick to an open shooter to avoid having his shot blocked. As a last resort, Hardaway is a great talent and can create his own shot when necessary.
It doesn't look good for Michigan today, but crazier things have definitely happened. They haven't been to regionals since 1994, so an upset today would be a huge win for the program.