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NCAA Tournament Preview: #7 Michigan vs. #2 Louisville

The Wolverines and Cardinals clash in a 2013 Championship rematch.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Michigan vs Oklahoma State Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Wolverines vs. Louisville Cardinals

  • Time/TV: 12:10 P.M ET — CBS
  • KenPom spread: Louisville (-3)

If you’ve watched any college basketball in the last week, chances are you’ve heard the comments about Michigan’s horrific plane crash and subsequent five victories in a row. But if you’re like me, and you’ve watched Michigan all season, you know the Wolverines have been rolling for the past month. In their last 13 games, Michigan has lost twice: The Hail Mary that will forever go down in Northwestern folklore, and an overtime loss at Minnesota when they had Akeem Springs (and before they ran into NCAA Tournament legend Giddy Potts). Point is, Michigan has been playing out of their mind.

Yesterday was no exception. The Wolverines were sizzling in the second half, knocking down 10 of their 16 attempts en route to squeaking by Oklahoma State, 92-91. It was by far the best game of the tournament to this point, as Michigan couldn’t miss from deep and the Cowboys rebounded what seemed like nearly every one of their misses for a layup.

Regardless of how close the game actually was, Michigan advances. The Wolverines now face Louisville, a team absolutely deserving of a #2 seed having completed an outstanding regular season. Both teams will have mismatches on the floor, and like every other Michigan game this season, the team that capitalizes on these mismatches the most will win the game. Dylan Burkhardt over at UMHoops does an outstanding job covering Michigan basketball every year, and for his recaps he writes a small blurb about each player’s performance. Instead, I’ll be doing the same thing in preview form.

Derrick Walton Jr.- At a certain point, you expect Walton to regress to the mean. He hasn’t done that. He had another monster game yesterday against the Cowboys, and will have his hands full with Quentin Snyder. Walton will have to continue to control the tempo as he’s done all season, and his ability to get the other shooters involved could be the difference in Michigan finishing the upset.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman- The good news? Abdur-Rahkman seems to have found his offensive game again. He was outstanding in driving the gaps, hitting mid-range jumpers and being aggressive taking the ball to the basket. The bad news? He’ll have to guard Donovan Mitchell tomorrow. Mitchell, to put it nicely, was garbage shooting the ball on Friday, finishing 3-15 for 9 points. Chances are he won’t shoot that poorly tomorrow, so MAAR will be in for quite the challenge.

Zak Irvin- Tom Izzo might be the man of March in Michigan, but Zak Irvin is giving the legendary coach a run for his money. Irvin was unwatchable for stretches this season, but the senior is turning it around and had 16 points while playing all 40 minutes yesterday. His ability to knock down 3s will be crucial, but his defensive matchup against Deng Adel (6-7, 16 points vs. JSU) could be the difference maker.

D.J. Wilson- Amazing what a difference a year makes. Michigan fans were calling for Wilson to transfer at the end of last season. This year, Wilson will probably have a legit decision to make about the NBA. His length, shooting and defense were all on display yesterday, and I like his matchup offensively whether he is guarded by Mangok Mathiang, Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud or Jaylen Johnson. If he can stay out of foul trouble, his pick-and-roll play with Walton will be monumentally important.

Moritz Wagner- Mo only played 14 minutes against Oklahoma State, but it’s clear when he’s on the floor that Michigan becomes a more dangerous team with his length and shooting. He’ll have to guard/be guarded by one of the four aforementioned Louisville forwards, and his quickness on the perimeter should be an advantage. He picked up two early fouls on Friday, and his ability to stay locked in will be massive.

Duncan Robinson- If Wagner goes to the bench, Michigan has shifted to going with Robinson and Irvin interchangeably at the 3/4. He didn’t shoot outstandingly well, and his two missed front ends of one-and-ones could have been costly, but having Robinson on the floor allows Michigan to space much more. He’s always ready to shoot, and though he’ll have trouble guarding the Louisville forwards, they’ll have a major headache chasing him around too.

Xavier Simpson- In games where it’s first to 90 wins, Xavier Simpson just isn't ready to play major minutes. In games where it’s first to 70, which it likely will be tomorrow, Simpson becomes super valuable. He still isn’t a brilliant offensive player, but the defensive toughness and energy he brings for 10 or 15 minutes just allows Walton and Abdur-Rahkman a few minutes to catch their breath. He doesn’t have to make any flashy plays, but he can’t let Louisville make a run when he’s on the floor.

Mark Donnal- Short and sweet. Play solid defense, don’t allow Louisville to get the crowd going with huge dunks, and finish layups inside. Wilson has become the de facto backup at center with Donnal still a step too slow, but I expect one of Michigan’s bigs to probably be in foul trouble tomorrow. Donnal has hit the occasional outside shot down the stretch this season, but his rebounding and defense will be more critical in the minutes he plays tomorrow.


This is a game Michigan absolutely can win. They’re not going to need to make 16 3s like they did against Oklahoma State, but they’ll get run out of the gym if they give up 91 points again. The key, as it always is with Michigan, is tempo. Louisville is going to try to speed the game up a bit, and I’m sure Rick Pitino is going to try and get Donovan Mitchell going early after he struggled so badly last game.

If Michigan gets slaughtered on the boards again and can’t connect on their 3s, it’s Louisville’s game to lose. But if the Wolverines can hit enough shots and frustrate Louisville, they’ll win. If the sequel is close to as good as the original, it should be an awesome game of basketball.