Michigan Basketball: Wolverines' Keys to Avoiding an Upset Against Texas

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Michigan Basketball: Wolverines' Keys to Avoiding an Upset Against Texas
Morry Gash/Associated Press
Caris LeVert should have an advantageous matchup against one of the smaller Texas guards.

It may not have been the most impressive win of the day, but the second-seeded Michigan basketball team is still alive in the NCAA tournament nevertheless. Seeing as three No. 2 seeds have been upset by No. 15 seeds in the past two seasons, though, winning and moving on to the next round is all that matters.

Upset-minded Texas awaits the Wolverines in the round of 32.

Michigan did not light it up at the offensive end of the floor, particularly in the second half when it shot just 33 percent from the field. It did, however, show some improvement on defense. 

As a whole, the Wolverines did a much better job of contesting shots and preventing dribble penetration than they have for much of the 2013-14 season. This led to Wofford shooting 34 percent overall and only converting one of 19 three-point attempts in the 57-40 victory.

Given the fact the Terriers rank No. 256 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency, it should not have been a surprise they managed just 40 points. Definitely credit Michigan's defense for slowing down dynamic scorer Karl Cochran, who finished 8-of-21 from the floor and 1-of-10 beyond the arc, but take it with a grain of salt.

A matchup with the seventh-seeded Longhorns will be a much better indicator of how far the Michigan defense has truly come. For now, head coach John Beilein is happy with the strides the Wolverines made on Thursday night, according to Chris Balas of TheWolverine (subscription required).

But we did a terrific job on guarding [Karl] Cochran, [Eric] Garcia, all their three-point weapons. Jordan Morgan did a great job in the post. We were able to get a win basically with our defense today. That's something that a lot of people wouldn't say as they watched us play this year, but these guys made a commitment to it today and it paid off.

Derrick Walton Jr. and Glenn Robinson III were also bright spots for Michigan.

Freshmen are always unpredictable when it comes to handling the bright lights of March. Walton did not look flustered or scared in a win-or-go-home game. The Detroit, Mich. product drained a pair of threes, handed out five assists, nabbed two steals and committed just two turnovers—a solid outing for a tournament newcomer. 

Meanwhile, Wofford's defenders were content to sag into the lane and give Robinson space to shoot. He made them pay more times than not. The sophomore small forward looked as confident as ever and sunk six of 14 attempts, at least half of which were pull-up jumpers. 

Again, it certainly was not pretty. All that matters in the NCAA tournament, though, is earning the right to play another game.

That next game is against a big-bodied Texas club that needed a buzzer-beating layup from Cameron Ridley to top 10th-seeded Arizona State. 

Texas blew a 14-point lead, but scored as time expired to stave off Arizona State.

There are three things Michigan must do in order to avoid being sent home earlier than expected come Saturday evening. Let's take a look at what those keys to victory are.

 

Limit Offensive Rebounds

The premise is a no-brainer, but when it comes to keeping Texas off the offensive glass, it is much easier in theory than reality.

Cooper Neill/Getty Images
Keeping Cameron Ridley off the offensive glass is Michigan's top priority.

The Longhorns sport a more traditional starting lineup—three guards, a power forward and center. The two bigs, Ridley and Jonathan Holmes, combine for 24.3 points and 15.3 rebounds per game. These guys are monsters in the post and will be relatively difficult for Michigan to deal with.

Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford will have their hands full with Ridley.

Robinson matching up with Holmes is also a bit of a concern. Remember what Perry Ellis did to him in last season's NCAA tournament? Ellis consistently took advantage of Robinson in the post and scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds in 15 minutes of action. Expect Holmes to find a way to score down low.

The more pressing issue is making sure Holmes and Ridley do not start piling up offensive boards.

In three of their last nine games, the Longhorns have grabbed 17 or more offensive rebounds. Nationally, Texas ranks fifth in offensive rebounding percentage

Seeing as Michigan just allowed the country's No. 187 team in the same category to grab eight of its misses, this is a bit of a concern. Some of those extra opportunities can be attributed to long rebounds off the 18 three-pointers Wofford missed, but the potential for danger is still there.

Arizona State did a great job of keeping the Longhorns off the offensive glass until the closing moments of regulation. 

Giving up too many second-chance points is the easiest way for Michigan to lose this one.

 

Keep the Longhorns Out of the Lane

Morry Gash/Associated Press
Keeping Isaiah Taylor out of the lane will be huge for Michigan.

Containing dribble-drive action has been difficult, to say the least, for the Wolverines this season. Texas' trio of guards may not be the quickest group Michigan has faced, but it will certainly be itching for a chance to expose the nation's No. 93 adjusted defense

Isaiah Taylor is a freshman point guard with a knack for driving and finding open shooters. With 175 three-point attempts on the season, Javan Felix is the one the Wolverines will have to find out on the perimeter. Demarcus Holland is the most efficient of the bunch, knocking down shots at a 41.8-percent clip and making an impact on the glass with 4.7 rebounds per game.

Off the bench, freshman guard Martez Walker is settling in and has reached double figures in three of the Longhorns' last four games. Fellow reserve Kendal Yancy is a threat along the baseline as well.

None of them will be short on confidence either. Texas had arguably its best offensive performance of the year in its win over the Sun Devils.

Six players, including all five starters, scored at least 11 points and, as a team, Texas shot 53.4 percent in the 87-85 victory.

Keep in mind, though, that the Longhorns rank No. 252 nationally in effective field goal percentage. This puts Thursday night's shooting barrage into perspective and makes it feel a bit like an anomaly rather than something to fret a whole lot about.

As long as the Wolverines can stay in front of their counterparts on defense and make Texas shoot jumpers most of the evening, they have a great chance of overcoming a troublesome matchup.

 

Take Advantage of the Mismatches

BRtv agrees, Nik Stauskas is the biggest key for Michigan in this one.

For Michigan to fend off the Longhorns in Milwaukee, it will need Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert to have monster games. This sounds obvious seeing as they are the team's two leading scorers, but everything is not always complex when it comes to certain matchups.

Felix stands 5'11", Taylor checks in at 6'1", Holland is just 6'2", Yancy is 6'3" and Walker is 6'4". 

Two of those five will have to guard Stauskas and LeVert, who are both listed at 6'6". Both are comfortable pulling up over shorter defenders, which they should be able to do with ease on Saturday.

See the problem for Texas now?

Now, this is still a very good defensive group. The Longhorns led the Big 12 Conference in opponent field goal percentage (40.1 percent) and posted a league-high 6.0 blocks per game. Scoring at the rim is going to be a tall order.

If Stauskas and LeVert can win their individual matchups and score at will against the smaller guards Texas has to put on them, the Wolverines will be in line for a trip to the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Michigan by four

 

Want to talk more Michigan basketball? Follow me on Twitter: @Zach_Dirlam

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