Despite a tough loss to Michigan State on Sunday in the Big Ten Tournament, the Michigan Wolverines enter the NCAA Tournament hoping to make another magical run through March Madness.
So, can Michigan make another Final Four run? Let’s take a look.
As a two seed in the West Region, Michigan has a pretty manageable opening round matchup. The Wolverines will face off against Montana on Thursday night at 9:20 p.m. in a rematch of the opening round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. In that game, Michigan grabbed a 61-47 win over Montana to advance to the Round of 32.
This year, Montana is a much weaker team on paper. The Grizzlies are 137th nationally on KenPom and 26-8 overall. That’s about 60 spots lower on KenPom, despite the fact that the team has an identical overall record. During the regular season, Montana went 1-3 against top 100 teams on KenPom. The Grizzlies never played a team above 51st nationally.
For Montana to pull off the upset, it’s going to need a big game from Sayeed Pridgett. He’s scored double-digits in 13 straight games for the Grizzlies. Montana is also a really efficient shooting team, so it will need to convert against a tough Michigan defense.
If They Advance
Should Michigan take care of business on Thursday evening against Montana, it will face off against either Florida or Nevada on Saturday. Considering that both teams are ranked among the top 30 nationally, they should be pretty tough opponents for the Wolverines if the team advances to the Round of 32.
On paper, Nevada is certainly the more balanced team of the two, but neither really stands out from the other in the advanced stats. In a lot of ways, Florida is actually pretty similar to Michigan. The Gators are 12th nationally in defensive efficiency, but have underwhelming offensive numbers. Meanwhile, Nevada has a good offense and a good defense.
Regardless of what opponent Michigan potentially faces of these two, it’s going to be a tough matchup. Nevada is an extremely experienced team (second nationally) and Florida is a really good defensive squad. Both are top 30 nationally on KenPom and will pose some major challenges for the Wolverines.
After that, Michigan projects to play Texas Tech, Buffalo, or the winner of the First Four game between Arizona State and St. John’s in the Sweet 16. There’s little debating that the Red Raiders look like the most dangerous team on paper. Texas Tech is ninth nationally on KenPom and has the nation’s best defense on paper.
The key to beating Texas Tech will be slowing down Jarrett Culver. He’s a monster on the boards and really does a lot to facilitate the offense as well. However, Charles Matthews would be a pretty tough defensive matchup for Culver. Michigan would also have to figure out some ways to get its offense going. All things told, it would probably be a pretty ugly matchup between the two teams.
Should Michigan advance to the Elite Eight, it would likely be playing Gonzaga, Florida State, or Marquette. The Bulldogs are clearly the best team of the group and have a fantastic squad. Gonzaga is tremendous on both sides of the court and has plenty of experience. Florida State would also be a pretty tough matchup for Michigan’s offense.
If the Wolverines manage to make the Final Four, it’s anyone’s guess who would serve as potential opponents. Michigan is on the same side as the East Region, so Duke or Michigan State project as the most likely Final Four opponent. Potential national championship opponents are Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Despite what some in the media have claimed, Michigan projects to have a pretty difficult path toward the Final Four. Montana is a relatively tricky 15 seed, Nevada or Florida would be really tough in the Round of 32, and Texas Tech is a fantastic team. And that doesn’t even include a potential matchup with Gonzaga.
However, Michigan is a pretty good team itself. Moreover, it’s March, so who knows what could happen in the weeks to come. One or two upsets and the path could open wide. So, get ready for some thrilling matchups ahead.