It will take a monumental effort for the Michigan basketball team to upset the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats on Saturday afternoon. Desperation and a burning desire to make amends for a sluggish start to the season could be exactly what the Wolverines need to bring out such a performance, though.
This matchup will be one of contrasting styles. The Maize and Blue will feature a smaller, quicker lineup. Conversely, Arizona has a massive frontcourt and the potential to batter the Wolverines on the interior.
There have been flashes of greatness from Michigan this season. However, its best players have not been consistent enough in marquee games. This is why the Wolverines are 6-3, no longer in the Associated Press Top 25 and are still searching for a signature victory.
A win over the Wildcats could serve as a turning point. A loss would send Michigan into the final two weeks of nonconference play still searching for an identity.
If head coach John Beilein's club can execute the following three keys, though, they can rejoin the national conversation and slay the country's top-ranked team.
Rebound, Rebound and Rebound
Arizona is one of the best teams in college basketball when it comes to rebounding. The Wildcats rank No. 23 nationally with an average of 41.5 boards per game. Forwards Brandon Ashley and Aaron Gordon, along with center Kaleb Tarczewski combine to haul in 21.6 rebounds on their own.
According to TeamRankings, Arizona has an offensive rebounding percentage of 41.5, which is eighth-best in the country. Defensively, the Wildcats are even better. They clean up 78.8 percent of their opponents misses.
(Rebounding) is really going to be important, John Beilein said during a press conference on Friday, per UMHoops. That is a huge part of this game. In their offense, they’re really taking good shots, as well. So they’re going to bleed you, take a really good shot and if they miss it they’re going to bleed you again until they get another really good shot. So it’s really important that you get their possessions one at a time and try to run when you can get a stop.
Unless Michigan's undersized front line manages to hold its own on the glass, it has no chance to come away with a win. Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Jordan Morgan all have to box out and keep their counterparts from winning the battle of the boards.
Guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert have to be active rebounders as well.
This is not an area where the Wolverines have struggled, but it is going to be a major factor in the outcome of this matchup.
Stars Need to Shine
Each of Michigan's three losses this year share a common shortcoming. Neither Robinson, nor McGary played like stars. This cannot happen again on Saturday.
In the losses, Robinson went just 8-for-26 from the field and scored a combined 16 points. McGary's production during garbage time inflated his final stat line from the Duke game, but against Charlotte and Iowa State, he went 6-for-12 and only tallied 15 points.
Getting Robinson some easy looks early in the contest would do wonders for his confidence. When his jump shot is falling, which has not been the case too often this season, he is extremely hard to stop.
For McGary, coming out with the right level of energy will be the key to his success. Against the Blue Devils, he was too excited early on and rushed some shots offensively. He has to be efficient and lethal near the blocks for Michigan to steal a victory this weekend.
Spread the Floor and Fire Away
Given the Wolverines' lack of size, they will be hard-pressed to drive the lane and rack up points in the paint. Instead, Michigan needs to space the floor, take advantage of its quicker personnel and open up space for cutters.
Who wins this matchup?
If Stauskas, LeVert and freshman Zak Irvin can knock down perimeter jumpers and Robinson can get his mid-range game going, the Wolverines can go toe-to-toe with Arizona.
Normally, being over-reliant on making three-pointers is a negative for Michigan. Against the Wildcats, however, it cannot be afraid to fire up plenty of bombs from beyond the arc.
Transition opportunities will be important as well. This will give the Wolverines a chance to wear down an Arizona group that has a short rotation and can create more open-floor scoring opportunities. Unclogging the paint by spreading the floor and forcing the Wildcats' bigs to move around for the majority of the game will give Michigan a fighting chance.
Want to talk more Michigan basketball? Follow me on Twitter @Zach_Dirlam.