X-Factors to Watch in Michigan vs. Wofford NCAA Tournament Matchup
If Michigan could have defeated Michigan State when the two teams met in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Wolverines almost certainly would have had a No. 1 seed.
They didn't and were relegated to the second line and have drawn Wofford in the opening round. While the Wolverines have more than enough talent and athleticism to cruise by the Terriers, they are facing a team that has offensive discipline and hit 37.1 percent of its shots from beyond the arc in the regular season.
John Beilein will have his team prepared for Wofford and every other opponent it faces in the tournament, and he knows that it's not just the play of stars Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III that will determine Michigan's postseason fate.
The Wolverines and the Terriers have several X-factor players that will play a key role in the outcome of this game.
Forward Jordan Morgan, Michigan
When power forward Mitch McGary went down with a back injury early in the season, it meant the Wolverines needed strong bodies to step into the breech. That's where Jordan Morgan worked his way into the equation for the Wolverines.
Morgan played in all 33 games for Michigan, and he started 23 of them. He asserted himself with his big 6'8", 250-pound body, and he is averaging 5.6 PPG and 4.7 RPG. More than his numbers, he showed he could handle contact and make sure opponents did not get easy shots down low.
Morgan also had his moments on the offensive end, and he impressed Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo with his determination going to the basket.
“Morgan was really good at rolling to the basket and when he rolls hard—sometimes even harder than McGary—he’s a threat,” Izzo told Rod Beard of The Detroit News. “When he’s a threat, people sag in from the side.”
While the Wolverines are not going to expect a lot of scoring from Morgan against Wofford and during the rest of the tournament, they will need him to chip in and make key plays when the opportunity comes his way.
Guard Spencer Collins, Wofford
Wofford is not a fancy team by any stretch. If it is going to have any chance to beat Michigan, it is going to play a game that minimizes mistakes.
The Terriers are not going to push the ball upcourt. They do not have a plethora of athletes who want to run and gun. Instead, they want to work the ball around and find the best shot they can deep into their possession.
They need leading scorer Karl Cochran (15.7 PPG) to have an outstanding game, but that's not enough. If they are to have a legitimate chance to throw a scare into the Wolverines, they also need Spencer Collins to assert himself.
Collins is a smart player who will work hard to get open. He is averaging 12.8 PPG and is shooting 44.3 percent from the field. When he hits double figures, Wofford can be difficult to beat. Look for Collins to step up and shoot when the shot clock is winding down and the possession looks lost.
Guard Caris LeVert, Michigan
Stauskas and Robinson get most of the headlines for the Wolverines, but Caris LeVert may be the biggest X-factor in Beilein's starting lineup.
LeVert has plenty of speed and can do it on both ends of the floor with consistency. When the Wolverines need a big stop at a crucial point in the game, look for LeVert to make the key stop in the Wolverines' 1-3-1 defense. He has very long arms and quick feet, and that's a great combination when a player is hunting for the ball.
LeVert is also an excellent offensive player. He is averaging 13.3 PPG and is contributing 4.5 RPG. He is proficient at stepping into the void and finding the open spot when opponents are looking to shut down Stauskas and Robinson.
Guard Jaylen Allen, Wofford
The Terriers are going to need to have an outstanding day from the field when they tip off against Michigan, because they simply don't compare to their Big Ten opponents when it comes to athleticism and all-around performance.
Jaylen Allen is going to be one of the players that head coach Mike Young will look to throughout the game. Allen is not a big-time scorer as he is averaging 5.3 PPG this season. However, he is shooting 40.0 percent from beyond the arc, and Young is not going to be upset if Allen starts firing with a bit more frequency than usual.
It's going to take some hard-to-imagine circumstances to keep Wofford in this game, and Allen stepping up and hitting big shots is one of them.
Forward Jon Horford, Michigan
It looked like the Wolverines were going to face a lot of adversity this year when McGary went down in December with a back injury. Michigan expected McGary to provide inside scoring and rebounding, and his departure caused problems because the Wolverines did not have a lot of big, strong players to take over for him.
However, Jon Horford was one of those players who stepped up. Horford gives the Wolverines some scoring, rebounding and defense off the bench. He is averaging 3.9 PPG and 4.4 RPG. More than the numbers, Horford competes hard and makes opponents work hard to gain position in the offensive zone, and he gives up nothing easily.
Beilein says that Horford is one of the role players on the team who works hard at the basics of the game and that it has made a difference for the Wolverines as the season has progressed, as per Beard's report.
He has a chance to make a difference for Michigan when Beilein calls his number for crucial minutes in the tournament.