Possible To Unlikely Tournament Match-ups
Today’s little conference tournament week discussion topic is possible match-ups for next week. Only some attention is given to the proclaimed bracketology gurus Joe and Jerry. Their prognostications could be way off and essentially derail any effort to accurately track match-ups before formal announcement.
Jerry has Michigan currently a four seed in the East Region matched up against Louisiana- Lafayette. This is the old SW Louisiana Ragin Cagun group. I watched them a few times this year and this is a group that gets out pretty well but against a really good defensive team, I see some struggle. But first this team, known to many as simply Louisiana, must win the Sun Belt.
UL-L plays in a league that is clearly a step up from MAC competition, maybe more. Sun Belt ball is more wide open than the West Coast Conference and may be comparable to most teams in the WCC or MWC; maybe not quite as good as the Missouri Valley level.
UL-L can score and has a very balanced offense; they are not one of the mid major teams that depend on one guy to carry the load. Three point shooting is solid and the free throw shooting statistically at least is far superior to Michigan. The Cajuns are not big by any means, but like most teams at this level, the thinking is to beat better talent with quicks and smart offense. The shooting percentage and overall efficiency is pretty good. UL-L has lost three games to power five teams, none really close, but certainly all on the road.
Then if Michigan would advance in Jerry’s theoretic, Michigan would have to face Kentucky to earn a trip to the sweet Sixteen. That would make me a little ill for many reasons. Kentucky still has top two or three national talent and the last couple of weeks has played much better. This is a huge team that could make UM look bad on the inside. Michigan was played big teams but probably not one with such length. Calipari can prepare as good as anyone for tournament play. This mantra of the ultra SEC leads Palm to giving Ky. a five seed.
Joe also has Michigan in the East, although using any geographic designation the last few years is worthless. His projections on the surface look better for UM.
Bucknell is Michigan’s projected opponent in Joe’s scheme. This is a team that plays smart, always has, and one that can hang close to really good Power Five teams.
Bucknell played North Carolina tougher than Michigan, but that was a long time ago. Bucknell has only lost two games since New Year’s Day. Brown and Thomas are two guys that can cause trouble and the center can score on a guy like MOE. This team averages over 80 points per game. Bucknell has decent size and is always bandied around as an upset alert special. To me there are other specials to take.
The second opponent, assuming a move forward, would be TCU, UCLA, or Alabama, all athletic. It would be no fun to play UCLA again; Alford was really honked after getting kicked around in UM’s comeback, an event that provided some good kickstart for the Wolverines. PAC 12 teams equal a box of chocolates lately, and few tournament entries and many early exits, sans recent Oregon. Alabama has athletes and can play with anyone; the Tide just may not be able to beat really good teams. But any team with athletes that finds a roll can win in this tournament, it is as wide open as I can remember, most agree.
The neat but probably imaginary match-ups would include Gonzaga. I watch Gonzaga a lot on streams, etc. and a month ago I sold this rebuilding team down the river as one or two and done. The Zags lost a lot from last year’s juggernaut, but the last three weeks this team has really improved and is as hot as Michigan. The Zags have a couple of players that can carry a game. For those who study the game technically, this match-up would be welcome and exciting.
Louisville would be sickening, so we move on to other possibilities.
For ugly ball, Michigan could play Cincinnati or West Virginia.
For nasty, tough teams that are physical but skilled, Michigan could play Virginia, Xavier, or Wichita State.
Science ball would pit UM against Villanova. Jay Wright is pure science and everything he does has a purpose to create efficiency and teamwork. This would be a battle of the good guys.
Kansas on the surface seems a difficult matchup. This Kansas team, like all other highly ranked teams this year, had a period of funk (caused by running into solid teams), but now the ship seems to have righted for the Jayhawks. The Michigan win against Kansas in the final two run to me was Beilein and Michigan’s best victory over the decade. Trey Burke earned player of the year in that game.
Duke to me is Michigan on steroids. The talent level is clearly different, the dependence on outside shooting can be similar, depending on how impatient both teams are. Duke has really good days and days when it is clear it is a good idea to get the bus ready. This may be the best talent Coach K has ever had, at least inside, probably not at the guard spots.
Things change, but the ACC kicked the Big Ten around pretty good in this year’s annual challenge. Still, somewhat amazingly, The Big Ten ended up with four teams with high seeds. But that is probably all the league has going forward. The ACC had favorable match-ups, due in part to a much deeper league in the middle and even at the bottom. the only top tier team to help out in the butt-whooping was Purdue.
Little can be inferred from comparison of the Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC. Playing out of league changes the matchup in that the comfortable knowledge base and familiarity with league opponents is gone. This is where a coach like John Beielin becomes even more valuable.
To beat any top team on a good day, UM must get a lead and execute the end game against a press and getting the ball to the right guy to make the foul shots.