For those that missed it, Aerris Smith gave one of the most emotional postgame speeches in recent memory in his final game as a Terrier. Smith, a 6'8 forward and one of the emotional leaders, had been battling knee injuries all season, and decided before the Southern Conference tournament that he would get surgery after the tournament regardless. This is important both in that Wofford's tallest rotation player is 6'7, but also that the Terriers are playing in honor of their injured teammate. With that storyline as one of the many throughout this NCAA tournament, let's preview the teams for this Second Round game:
Wofford: Like most Big Ten fans, and most college basketball fans around the country, I admittedly hadn't watch much of Wofford play all season. They were the third best team in their conference, finishing at 11-5 and 20-12 overall. Their best win RPI-wise was against #163 Elon, and the majority of teams in their conference had RPIs in the range of 200-350. They have played against some "elite" competition, however, losing games at Minnesota, Saint Louis and VCU all by double digits. Their best player is 6'1 Junior guard Karl Cochran, averaging 16 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Cochran has been playing even better recently, though, averaging 20 points and 6 rebounds in the Southern Conference tournament and scoring 23 out 56 points in the championship. The Terriers don't rank in the top 100 in any offensive category, but are 23rd in points allowed, only letting opposing teams score 62.4 points per game. This should be a great matchup to see how Michigan plays against a defense that clearly wants to play slow, as the Wolverines average 75 points per game.
Michigan: While the Wolverines didn't close out the season the way they wanted to, they have to be incredibly proud of their accomplishments. They finished 17-4 in the Big Ten including the B1G tournament, and going back to the nonconference, have won 19 of their last 23 games. Even the most optimistic Wolverines' fans could not have expected that type of regular season after losing three starters from last season's National Runner-Up squad. While Michigan will be ecstatic to raise another Big Ten banner in Crisler next season, there is still huge potential for this team to make a run this year. For starters, this team is seeded two spots higher than last year's and has a substantially easier first round (and potentially second round matchup.) It is undeniably a tough region with three Final Four teams from last year and arguably the Freshman of the Year in Jabari Parker, but the Wolverines must take it one game at a time. Wofford is an upper echelon team in the Southern Conference, but this is absolutely a game the Wolverines should win. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert are bigger than the starting Wofford guards, and even 6'8 Jordan Morgan will be the tallest player on the floor when the ball tips in Milwaukee. Michigan must limit turnovers and try to speed Wofford up, using their superior athletes to push the ball in the open floor.
Prediction: Michigan has too many shooters and talented weapons for Wofford to stay close with the Wolverines. Nik Stauskas needs to rebound after a subpar game, and he should go for 20 points but will also look to dish the ball and give his teammates confidence for games further in the tournament. Prediction: Michigan 77, Wofford 60.