Michigan kept their great postseason run alive with arguably the most entertaining game of the first round. The Wolverines held off Oklahoma State with a thrilling 92-91 win. Derrick Walton continued his stellar play with 26 points, 5 rebounds and 11 assists. DJ Wilson contributed 19 points, while Zak Irvin and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman each scored 16. The only way the Wolverines were able to hold off the top offense in college basketball was by shooting lights out from beyond the arc. Michigan made 16 three pointers, with 11 of those coming in the second half. Irvin had four and Walton made six from long range.
Despite a slow start to the game, Michigan was able to get their offense going, especially in the second half. One of the reasons the Wolverines may not have been clicking early was Moe Wagner picking up two quick fouls and sitting out for most of the first half. He did make a short appearance late in the first half that helped give a jolt to his teammates.
If Michigan is going to upset #2 seed Louisville, they will need Wagner out on the floor. Wagner and Wilson will need to combat Louisville’s big men: Deng Adel and Mangok Mathiang. In the Cardinal’s first round game against Jacksonville State, those two had 16 and 18 points respectively. Oklahoma State didn’t really have that kind of inside presence, so Wagner will need to stay out on the floor.
In the backcourt, Quentin Snider and Donovan Mitchell are both threats to put up big points. Mitchell averages 15.7 points, while Snider scores 12.7 per game. As has been usual under Coach Pitino, Louisville also presses teams to create turnovers. Fortunately, Michigan is the best team in the nation at taking care of the ball, with just nine a game. The Cardinals create a lot of their offense through turning the ball over, so Michigan can force Louisville to create more in the half court.
How to pull the upset
Louisville had a much more comfortable win to start the tournament, winning 78-63. That is to be expected though with a 2-15 matchup. However, Jacksonville State was able to hang around for quite a while before the Cardinals put them away for good. Michigan will be a much bigger threat to Louisville. The Wolverines probably won’t catch the Cardinals sleeping due to their stellar play over the last few weeks. However, as stated above, Michigan can force Louisville to create their own offense. Something the Cardinals have struggled with at times during the season. Louisville’s adjusted defense on KenPom is also ranked 7th, but they are susceptible to giving up points. They gave up 88 points to Wake Forest and 81 to Duke at the end of the season.
Jordan Eccleston: Michigan continues to put together great team efforts. Every single player is contributing meaningful minutes. Derrick Walton is playing the best basketball of his career and Irvin has really come on after struggling for a long stretch of the season. Michigan has been playing confident basketball and know they can compete with any team in the nation when shots are falling. With Louisville’s press negated by the Wolverine guards, Michigan pulls off the upset with a 76-70 win.
Rob White: Derrick Walton has been playing All-World caliber basketball. The senior point guard continues to hit big shot after big shot and to lift the team in the clutch. Louisville is always a tough matchup with their size and tempo, but Michigan is going to be a tough matchup as well. In fact, Rick Pitino was so impressed by what he saw from the Wolverines on Friday that he said, “we’re playing the Golden State Warriors”. He said, “I watched the second half. I’ve never seen shooting like that since I’ve been a coach. It’s incredible the way they shoot the basketball.” Michigan marches on to the Sweet 16 with a 78-70 victory.
Joe White: On Thursday, Michigan basketball answered my biggest question, which was “did they have anything left in the tank?” After coming out on top 92-91 during the opening round’s most thrilling game, Michigan gears back up for what promises to be another fast-paced contest against Rick Pitino’s Louisville squad. The trouble that Louisville’s system can create for opponents is directly countered by what Michigan does well – move the ball and hit open shots. Derrick Walton, Jr. is playing like a man possessed right now and sometimes that’s all it takes. Be a leader and others will follow. Michigan wins 79-72.
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