After steamrolling their way to a Big Ten Championship by winning four games in four days, Michigan has to be considered one of the hottest teams in America right now. Derrick Walton is literally playing at levels he probably didn’t know existed, Zak Irvin is making shots again, and D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner are 7-footers grabbing rebounds and making 3s at a tantalizing clip. The Wolverines only have a #7 next to their name, but KenPom and other metrics have Michigan as a much better team playing their best basketball of the season.
Because the committee probably watched four Big Ten games combined and just relied on numbers and antiquated metrics (looking at you, RPI), Michigan finds themselves as the fourth highest Big Ten team. Michigan’s first opponent? An Oklahoma State team that boasts the best offense in the entire country.
Jawun Evans leads the Cowboys at 19 points and 6 assists per game. Like Walton, the sophomore is playing out of his mind down the stretch, scoring 29 twice and 22 once in losses to Iowa State twice and Kansas. Needless to say, this will be the best point guard matchup of any opening round game of the entire tournament, and both teams rely heavily on their lead guards to distribute the ball as well as get a ton of buckets.
The Cowboys also love to play an extremely up-tempo game, scoring nearly 86 points per contest while Michigan is 339th in tempo. Both teams are very efficient at scoring the ball, but it could come down to which team is able to play at their pace.
Michigan also has to take advantage of Wilson and Wagner being able to stretch the floor against whoever is being guarded by Mitchell Solomon. The sophomore from Bixby, Oklahoma is your classic strong, white-guy forward who likes to play in and around the paint, so Wagner could have a field day drawing him out to the 3-point line and maneuvering around him for easy baskets.
When the NCAA introduced the First Four, those four games technically took the title of first round. So whether you call it the second round, third round of Round of 32, Michigan is almost definitely going to be lined up against Louisville if they win. The Wolverines and Cardinals are no stranger to one another, as Michigan lost to Louisville in the 2013 NCAA Championship, 82-76. Spike Albrecht and Luke Hancock led their respective squads to heroics in that game, but neither player is on the active roster anymore.
This Louisville team is tough, has strong guards and loves to play inside the paint. Louisville has a bunch of grown men, including 6’10” Mangok Mathiang, 6’9” Jaylen Johnson, and 6’7” Deng Adel who are all going to try to overpower Michigan on the interior. 7-footer Anas Mahmoud provides a little international flair off the bench, and gave way for one of Rick Pitino’s greatest quotes ever.
Walton and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman are also going to have their hands full with Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Synder in the backcourt, but the guard play on both sides should be outstanding. If Michigan doesn’t allow Louisville to make big plays and go on runs, they could have enough shooting to outlast the Cardinals.
At this point, it’s impossible to predict how this Michigan team is going to play this upcoming weekend in Indianapolis. Is it possible the Wolverines just have nothing left in the tank after running through Washington, D.C. and playing four extremely emotionally charged games in four days? Or does Michigan have just enough to outgun a phenomenal offensive team in the first game and flat-out one of the best teams in the entire country in the second? Derrick Walton is going to have to be the catalyst, but with a large crowd support in Indy only a few hours drive away, Michigan should be ready for a massive weekend. You sure as hell don’t want to play these guys now.