Fresh-off a wild run to the Big 10 tournament championship in the nation’s capital, the No. 7 seeded Michigan Wolverines have now won 10 out of their last 12 games and enter the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the county. OSU had also been one of the hottest teams before their current three-game losing streak to finish the season. The Pokes had won 10 out of 11 and stormed back into the NCAA tournament picture after starting 0-6 in conference play. Friday’s matchup will feature two of the top-five most efficient offenses in the country and is being pegged as one of the best games in the first round.
Let’s look at the quick hits for today’s matchup against the Maize n Brew
#10 Cowboys (20-12, 9-9 Big 12) vs. #7 Wolverines (24-11, 10-8 Big 10)
Time: 11:15 a.m. CST
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse - Indianapolis, Indiana
Live Stats: okstate.statbroadcast.com
The Michigan Wolverines, at 24-11 overall and 10-8 in Big 10 play, were 14-9 at one point in the season. Since then, they have won 10 of their last 12 games, including the Big 10 Tournament, where they defeated Wisconsin 71-56 in the championship game just five days ago to put a perfect ending on a hellacious week for the Wolverines. This Michigan team has had no shortage of adversity on the season, but they are peaking at the perfect time and playing their best basketball of the season.
Michigan is led by senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. who averaged 20.5 points and 6.3 assists per game during the Big 10 tournament and was named most outstanding player of the tournament. Walton was accompanied by teammate Zak Irvin on the all tournament team, who chipped in 14.8 points and grabbed 6.5 boards per game during the four-game stretch. The Wolverines have a balanced offensive attack where almost everyone in the rotation is threat from behind the arc. Four of the five players in Michigan’s starting lineup average more than 10 points per game and all five shoot over 43 percent from the field. Michigan led the Big 10 in field goal percentage at 48.3 percent and make just over nine 3-pointers a game, also atop the conference. In addition to great shooting, Michigan takes care of the ball better than any team in the country, averaging just 9.4 turnovers per game. This combination gives Michigan the fifth most efficient offense in college basketball, according to KenPom rankings. However, on the other side of the ball, Michigan finished last in the Big 10 in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot 46.2 percent from the field. The Wolverines also struggle on the glass and finished second to last in the Big 10 with -1.9 rebounding margin. “Struggle” is actually being too nice, Michigan is 346th (!) out of 351 Division 1 teams in rebounding, only pulling down only 29.5 boards a game. DJ Wilson is the only player to average more than five rebounds a game.
Even with the rebounding and defensive issues, Michigan wins games by taking care of the ball and getting great looks on every possession. The Wolverines really make their opponents grind it out on the defensive end and like to slow down the tempo to a snail’s pace.
This is Michigan’s 27th NCAA tournament and Head Coach John Beilein’s 12th trip to the big dance.
In his first season as head coach, Brad Underwood has the Pokes back dancing in the NCAA tournament after a disappointing 12-20 finish last season. This year, OSU finished the Season 20-12 overall and 9-9 in the Big 12. Similar to Michigan, OSU found itself on the outside of the NCAA tournament picture after an 0-6 start to conference play through mid January. Sparked by a defensive adjustment and fabulous play from Jawun Evans, the Cowboys ripped off 10 wins over their next 11 games to secure themselves an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. However, after that hot streak, OSU dropped its final three games, twice to Iowa State and once to Kansas.
Entering today’s matchup against Michigan, OSU ranks eighth in the country in scoring offense, pouring in 85.5 points per game. Led by First-Team All-Big 12 guard Jawun Evans, OSU touts the most efficient offense in the entire country, per KenPom. Evans is averaging 19 points per game and is also dishing out more than six assists. Evans led the Big 12 in assists, finished second in scoring, and was third in steals. A stellar season for the sophomore from Dallas. This might sounds like a one-man show, but make no mistake, Evans has plenty of production around him. The majority of that is supplied by junior forward Jeffrey Carroll and senior guard Phil Forte III. Carroll is averaging 17.4 points (third in the Big 12) and 6.6 rebounds a game, all while shooting over 43% from behind the arc. Forte is OSU’s all-time leader in three-point field goals made and is averaging 13.3 points per game this season. The trio of Evans, Forte, and Carroll is responsible for just under 50 points each night for the Pokes.
On the defensive side of the ball, OSU has struggled to defend consistently throughout the year. The cowboys are last in the Big 12 in scoring defense, allowing opponents to score around 78 points per game. The defense has definitely improved after a philosophy tweak mid-way through the season, but getting stops continues to be OSU’s most glaring weakness.
After an up and down season, Underwood has OSU in the tournament and looking for their first win in the Round of 64 since 2009, where they defeated Tennessee 77-75. This is OSU’s 28th appearance in the NCAA tournament and Brad Underwood’s fourth consecutive trip. Last season, at Stephen F. Austin, Underwood knocked off West Virginia 70-56 in the first round.
Keys to the game:
- Push the Tempo - While both OSU and Michigan are top-five in offensive efficiency, they go about it in completely different ways. Michigan is 339th in the country in tempo and use almost 20 seconds off the shot clock each trip down the floor. The Pokes love to push the ball and turn the game into a track meet, using guard play to its advantage. Speeding up Michigan and picking up the tempo plays into OSU’s game plan. Fall into a half-court slugfest and OSU will likely be headed home.
- Crash the boards - OSU is ninth in the country with over 13 offensive rebounds per game and rebounds 38 percent of its misses. As I noted earlier, Michigan does not rebound well at all (part of that is pace of play) OSU really needs to capitalize on one its biggest advantages. The closer the rebounding margin is today, the more it favors the Wolverines. The pokes HAVE to come up big on the glass.
- Jawun Evans vs. Derrick Walton Jr. - The point guard matchup in today’s game could be a huge factor. I think Evans is the better player but Walton has been playing awesome lately (See Big 10 tourney numbers). Both teams rely heavily on the production from their star players, whoever gets the better of this individual matchup could likely determine the outcome.