Biggest Challenges Michigan Faces in NCAA Tourney Matchup vs. Wofford
Michigan was the best team in the Big Ten throughout the regular season. While they got derailed in the Big Ten tournament by Michigan State, head coach John Beilein knows he has a tough, athletic and resilient team capable of going on a long run in the NCAA tournament.
The Wolverines earned a No. 2 seed in the tournament, and they almost certainly would have been on the top line if they had come away with the conference tournament victory.
The Wolverines appeared to have a big problem when power forward Mitch McGary went down with a back injury in December, but they responded quite well. However, they could feel his absence as the tournament progresses.
Michigan should be able to handle 15th-seeded Wofford, but the Terriers are smart and disciplined. Here is a game plan to attack the Wolverines.
The Wolverines are one of the best shooting teams in the nation. Beilein has long used the three-point shot as one of his top weapons—going back to his days at West Virginia—and this year's Michigan team is no different.
The Wolverines rank 16th in Division I in shooting from beyond the arc, connecting on 39.4 percent of their shots. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert are their most frequent long-range bombers, and Beilein will look for them to lead the way against Wofford.
However, even the best shooting teams can go into a lull at the wrong time. If the Wolverines get off to a slow start from beyond the arc, it could allow the Terriers to stay in this game for a lot longer than most experts predict.
Establishing the Inside Game
The Wolverines are going to need balance in the tournament. They seem to be a much stronger team when it comes to creating shots on the outside and using their athleticism to take advantage of their opponents than they are at dominating down low.
However, if the Wolverines are going to advance to the late stages of this tournament, they are going to need to play competitively on the inside. At some point in each game, they will need Glenn Robinson III to show what he can do to punish opponents on the inside.
This was the province of McGary, and he was superb at wearing down opponents. He could also draw fouls and score from the free-throw line. Robinson is good in both of those areas—he is shooting .489 from the field and .752 from the free-throw line—but he will have to be even better in the tournament.
Look for Robinson to be a big factor against Wofford. If he struggles to establish his game, it could be problematic further down the line.
Wofford is not an athletic team that will try to run Michigan off the court.
On the contrary, it is a thoughtful offensive team that will try to take the air out of the ball. The Terriers will work deep into each possession and look for the best shot possible.
Look for Wofford guards Karl Cochran and Spencer Collins to direct the attack much of the time, according to ESPN (subscription required). They will try to wear Michigan down mentally and hope the Wolverines defense lets up as the possessions mount.
If Michigan figures this second-round matchup will be easy and they don't get the steals or contest shots diligently, Wofford could find a way to stay in this game.
At some point in the game, Wofford is likely to start depending on its three-point shooting.
That has been an advantage for the Terriers this season. Cochran and Jaylen Allen are both shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc, and if they have problems connecting on their three-pointers early, they are going to keep firing.
That means Michigan is going to have to extend its defense. That could leave some holes for Wofford to advance the ball and find open shots, but the Wolverines have more than enough athleticism to keep that from being a problem.
Michigan has to contest Wofford's three-point shooting and must also get in the passing lanes and get their share of steals.
The Wolverines wouldn't be human if they weren't looking past their second-round matchup with Wofford. There's little doubt that Michigan has the ability to secure a relatively easy double-digit win if they play reasonably good basketball against Wofford.
If they do just that, they have a meeting with either Texas or Arizona State over the weekend and perhaps Duke in the Sweet 16.
Part of Beilein's job is to keep his players focused on the job at hand. That means beating Wofford in the second round and preventing his players from looking ahead to future opponents.
If he is not successful at that aspect of his job, the Wolverines could be in for a fight in their second-round game.
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