After sitting through Michigan's gut-wrenching 69-64 victory Wednesday night against Tulsa, one thing remains clear: this is the most unpredictable Michigan team in recent memory. Against the Golden Hurricane, Michigan had spurts of horror and brilliance. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was able to single-handedly keep Michigan in the game for stretches on the offensive end, and Moritz Wagner was phenomenal on the defensive end down low.
Zak Irvin is the one who will receive the majority of the shine for his game winning shot with 52 seconds left, but MAAR and Wagner were my MVPs. As sloppy as Michigan was against Tulsa, they can't play nearly as poorly to leave Brooklyn with a victory against Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish, however, have their own set of strengths and weaknesses that could help them blow out Michigan or allow the Wolverines to stay even with them throughout the entire game. It starts with one frontcourt and one backcourt player for Notre Dame, Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste.
Jackson is the primary ball handler for the Irish, averaging 15 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds on the seasons. Jackson is 6'1", 200 pounds, so he's not the biggest player, but he's excellent at attacking the basket. Auguste provides a much tougher matchup at 6"10, 240, and is an absolute beast down low. His 15 points and 10 rebounds could be huge, especially if he can get Michigan's bigs in foul trouble.
On the outside, Notre Dame starts Steve Vasturia, a 3-point weapon who is a very solid jump shooter. Alongside Vasturia, the Irish go bigger up front, using V.J. Beachem and Bonzie Colson as bigger forwards. Both could cause Michigan problems with their size and strength, but Michigan's quicker players and three-point shooting ability could cause problems for the Irish.
The Irish don't dip into the bench too much. 6'8 freshman Matt Ryan has attempted 120 of 141 of his attempts from 3, and knocks them down at a 37% clip. Rex Pflueger averages 14 minutes per game, and only 2.5 points per game on the season. He'll likely come in to spell some of the forwards, but don't expect too much production.
For Michigan, the key is to try and establish some of their 3-point shooters early. Duncan Robinson didn't hit so many shots in the last game, but was excellent in other aspects of the game. If Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton can knock a few down and spread the floor, it will help open up driving lanes for MAAR and room for the pick-and-roll.
Defensively, I'm curious to see whether Beilein decides to stick to more man to man or uses zone defense more to confuse the Irish. They're a decent shooting team, but even switching to a 1-3-1 could help cause more confusion.
I also want to see how the big man rotation works out. Mark Donnal will be the starter, but will Beilein go to Moritz Wagner first off the bench or pick Ricky Doyle to spell Donnal first? Wagner was a menace against Tulsa, and I expect his toughness and energy to be a huge factor against Notre Dame.
While Notre Dame hasn't played in over a week, Michigan was able to get their legs under them on Wednesday night against Tulsa. The shooting wasn't great, but they were able to get just enough in other areas to pull out the victory. I think if they play their game, knock down shots and are able to get the Irish bigs into foul trouble they win this game. They're underdogs on paper, but anything can happen in March.