Biggest Challenges Michigan Faces in NCAA Tourney Matchup vs. Texas
Now it starts to get serious for the Michigan Wolverines.
Wofford is gone after being swept away rather easily. But Michigan has a real opponent in the round of 32. The Texas Longhorns may not be among the elite teams in the nation, but head coach Rick Barnes has a talented unit that will push the Wolverines hard.
Michigan should win this game and advance to the Sweet 16. There is a certain indomitable characteristic that the Wolverines showed in last year's NCAA tournament when they reached the Final Four and they displayed it again this year.
However, they are going to have to win the physical battle against a Texas team that is more than capable of coming up with the upset if John Beilein does not have Michigan in top form.
Take Advantage of the Backcourt
Texas has an athletic backcourt that includes freshman Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Holland and Javan Felix. All three have athleticism, quickness and are good ball-handlers. However, they don't have the talent to match up with Nik Stauskas or Caris LeVert.
Michigan is much better at the guard position than Texas, and Beilein has to emphasize this before the two sides start to battle.
Barnes would be more than thrilled if his guards can get a stalemate with Michigan's guards. The only way that will happen is if Stauskas, LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. don't have their best game. If the Wolverines are on the attack, they could have a big advantage over Texas.
If they don't, that could start to tilt the game in the Longhorns' favor.
Hold Cameron Ridley in Check
The Wolverines had a go-to weapon in the frontcourt at the start of the season in power forward Mitch McGary. They don't have him any longer.
McGary has been out since December with back problems that required surgery. Michigan has shown the tendency to fight through his absence and not use it as an excuse.
However, Beilein has known all along that McGary's absence could catch up with his team at one point or another. This could be the game, because the Longhorns have a big man in center Cameron Ridley who can dominate.
Ridley asserted himself in Texas's victory over Arizona State, and he should be in good form against Michigan.
Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford have plenty of want-to and toughness, but they will be challenged by Ridley and Jonathan Holmes throughout this game.
Zone Defense Required
Beilein is one of the game's best strategists and he knows the Longhorns' tendencies.
He understands that Texas is strong up front and it struggles when it is forced to shoot the ball from deep.
So, look for Beilein to employ a zone defense that makes it difficult for the Longhorns to get the ball in deep to Ridley and forces them to settle for three-point shots. Texas shot 30 percent from beyond the arc in Big 12 play, so that's going to be to the Wolverines' advantage.
If Michigan wants to win this game, they have to force Texas to settle for long jump shots.
The Wolverines are at their best when they are balanced.
Beilein does not want Stauskas to do all of the scoring. He knows his star guard can get his points under any circumstances, but if Robinson, LeVert and Walton Jr. are also getting their points early in the game, that will take a ton of pressure off of Stauskas.
That's when his star can become a killer—at least in the basketball sense. If Stauskas doesn't have to carry the load early, he can pick his spots and possibly get hot at the end and carry the team to victory. Stauskas is averaging 17.4 points per game and shooting 47.8 percent from the field.
Establish an Inside Presence
The Wolverines are a strong offensive team that depends on their outside shooting to succeed. They have connected on 39.4 percent of their shots from beyond the arc this season, a mark that ranks 15th in Division I basketball.
That's a big advantage, but the team that lives by the three-point shot can die by the three-point shot. The Wolverines are likely to have at least one game in the tournament where their outside shooting is not where Beilein wants it to be.
That means they need to have an alternative. They at least have to show a semblance of an inside offensive game if they want to give themselves a chance to be successful. That means Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford must take the ball to the hole and try to score.
Morgan and Horford are both tough, gutsy players who will not hesitate to take the ball inside when they are given the opportunity. They can't shy away just because Texas has strength in the middle with Ridley and Holmes.