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Sweet Sixteen Preview: Aggies pose an intimidating obstacle for Michigan Wolverines

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Texas A&M will push the Wolverines in a way they haven’t really seen this year

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-North Carolina vs Texas A&M Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Raise your hand if you had the Wolverines as the highest remaining seed on the entire left side of the bracket entering the Sweet Sixteen.

I can’t see anyone. Put those hands up a little bit higher. Anyone? You in the back! What’s that? Oh, you were just stretching. Got it.

So no one called it, huh?

Well I can’t say I’m surprised. Sure, March is typically about as mad as a hatter and his hare, but Hurricane Chaos swept through the South and West regionals, leaving a trail of Cavaliers, Bearcats, and Tar Heels in tattered pieces along the way.

That carnage has led to John Beilein’s Wolverines being the odds on favorite to capture the whole shebang among teams left standing in the tournaments West regional.

Still, if last weekend taught us anything, it’s that playing the odds is a fools errand. And so too might be wagering against Michigan’s upcoming opponent, the Texas A&M Aggies.

-No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies vs No. 3 Michigan Wolverines

  • Time/TV: 7:37PM ET - TBS
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan (-3.5)

As noted above, being the favorites moving forward is all fine and dandy, but its funny how quickly we’ve all forgotten how the Wolverines were almost just another casualty of March’s madness.

Had Jordan Poole not thrown on his Superman cap and grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat, we’d be debating the pros and cons of Rob Gray’s man bun instead of the Wolverines Sweet Sixteen matchup.

And while I will forever lament the missed opportunity to bring you that hair-raising article, let’s begrudgingly breakdown what the Aggies will bring to the table Thursday evening.

For starters, anyone sleeping on or looking past Texas A&M is crazy.

It’s front court might be pound-for-pound the best in the country. And that’s not hyperbole. I had the chance to see this team live against Penn State back in November and thought Robert Williams had the potential to be a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

Having had a chance to see the Aggies again four months later, I’m blown away at how much the 6-foot-10 Williams has blossomed into a superb talent.

He’s still not a consistent scorer, averaging only 10.5 points in A&M’s two tournament victories, but more than makes up for it by rebounding and blocking shots at an incredibly high level.

For those who haven’t seen much basketball outside the Big Ten, he’s the hulk to Isaac Haas’ Bruce Banner.

And if that wasn’t frightening enough, the Aggies starting five also features 6-foot-10 center Tyler David and 6-foot-9 small forward DJ Hogg. Both players are threats at both ends of the court, and give A&M a length advantage very few in the NCAA can combat.

But wait, it gets worse. Freshmen guard TJ Starks had a solid regular season for the Aggies, averaging 10.1 points and 2.3 assists per game. However, during the postseason, he’s kicked his game into high gear averaging 19.6 points and 5.6 assists over a three game span.

What that means is head coach Billy Kennedy has a back court presence to balance out his dominating front court, and leaves me wondering how in the world this team only earned a 7 seed.

So that’s the bad news for Michigan. But don’t fret Ann Arbor, there’s still hope for the maize and blue.

In 6-foot-11 Moritz Wagner and 7-foot-1 Jon Teske, the Wolverines have, on paper, the size to match up with Davis and Williams. On top of that, Michigan rotates five players through its front court, giving coach Beilein plenty of opportunities to find a hot-hand to handle the ball.

On Saturday against Houston, that role was filled by Jordan Poole and his late game heroics. On Thursday against Montana, it was Charles Matthews and his 20 points and 11 rebounds that pushed Michigan forward. And in the Big Ten title game, it was senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkma who stepped up with 15 points and some big shots to earn Michigan the conference crown.

Even more, while the Aggies pride themselves on defense, being ranked 10th in KenPom defensive efficiency, the Wolverines scoff at that, pointing to its 3rd ranked defense, which, after Virginia and Cincinnati’s surprising exits, is the top ranked unit remaining in the NCAA Tournament.

And speaking of efficiency numbers, Michigan ranks almost 30 places higher than A&M on the offensive end of the court, which gives the Wolverines an edge with or without the basketball.

So will that be enough to push Mo Wagner and company to the Elite Eight?

I want to say yes. I want to believe in my Big Ten brethren. But my man crush on Robert Williams is boxing those feelings out.

The chaos continues. The Aggies win this one outright.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Texas A&M

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Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 27-19-1