Date: Saturday, March 22
Time: 5:15 ET
Place: BMO Harris Bradley Center--Milwaukee, Wis.
Rick Barnes's Texas squad knocked off Arizona State Thursday night in thrilling fashion, just one of a number of tremendous games unleashing unmitigated March Madness upon us. Cameron Ridley's buzzer-beater have the Longhorns the winning edge in what was a somewhat surprisingly high-scoring game.
Now, the eyes of Texas are upon the Wolverines.
Season So Far
Texas finished its pre-Madness season with a 23-10 (11-7) mark, good for fourth place in the stacked Big 12 conference.
The Longhorns scored six wins against RPI top 50 squads: at North Carolina, Baylor (x2), Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma State. They had eight losses against squads in that same category, including an 86-69 loss against Baylor in the conference tournament.
Texas also went 6-1 against RPI 50-100 teams, with their only "bad" loss coming at No. 117 Texas Tech on March 8.
All in all, Texas did okay against the 65th toughest schedule. They were just shy of .500 against top 50 foes, and suffered just one truly bad loss. In short, they are what they are: a 7-seed.
With that said, this is the Big Dance, so you might as well just forget all of the stuff you just read.
Big man Cameron Ridley led the way for UT against the Sun Devils, scoring 17 points while also tallying 12 rebounds and four blocks. And boy oh boy is he big. Listed at 6-foot-9, 285 pounds, Ridley is going to create some serious problems for Michigan on the interior.
Ridley doesn't shoot free throws well (63.3 percent) but he does get to the line frequently--he boasted the 2nd-best free throw rate in the Big 12 during conference play. Basically, think Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes only much, much bigger.
Guards Javan Felix, Demarcus Holland, Isaiah Taylor and Detroit native Martez Walker make up UT's relevant backcourters, with Walker coming off of the bench (from which he scored 16 points against ASU, mostly from the line).
Taylor and Felix average 12.4 and 11.8 ppg on the season, respectively. Taylor, however, is not a three-point threat--he has just 19 attempts to his name this season. Felix is by far the team's leader in three-point attempts with 175, but he has only connected on 33 percent of those. For what it's worth, he was 2-for-4 from downtown against ASU.
As you can imagine, the 5-foot-11 Felix is a prominent shot-taker. During conference play he boasted a shot percentage of 28.8 percent, good for fourth in the Big 12. All the headlines are about Ridley right now, but Felix is the guy using up significant chunks of the offense.
F Jonathon Holmes is actually UT's most productive player, statistically. The 6-foot-8 junior from San Antonio averages 12.9 ppg and 7.1 rpg and shoots the three at a solid 34 percent clip. He had a merely okay game against ASU, scoring 11 points on 4-for-10 shooting (0-for-3 from three) and three rebounds. However, a big that can shoot the jumper is always an issue.
- Keep them in front. As a team, Texas shot just 31.1 percent from beyond the arc, good for 9th in the conference and 295th nationally. In short, they don't shoot the three too well. Preventing penetration and the inevitable drive and dish to Ridley once Michigan rotates will go a long way toward keeping the Longhorns well away from another lofty point total. Derrick Walton will have a formidable test in from of him in fellow freshman Isaiah Taylor on the defensive end.
- Be smart early. This goes mostly for Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan re: fouls. If either pick up a quick two, Michigan will likely be battling for its life on the interior for the rest of the first half.
- Don't settle. The same thing applies here as it did for the Wofford game. Michigan fell in love with the three and when they didn't fall, the offense stumbled its way to a somewhat unsatisfying 57-40 "blowout" win. Texas does have some beef with Ridley and height with 6-foot-10 reserve F Connor Lammert--in fact, UT was second in the Big 12 (and 33rd nationally) in block percentage. Of course, I'm not saying LeVert et al should careen into the lane with reckless abandon, but if Michigan expects to rain threes from above like they're playing at Illinois, that's probably not going to happen. Texas has size on the interior, but their guards aren't necessarily the biggest. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert should be able to do some work off the dribble, whether to create their own rise-and-fire shots or to find the open man.
- Battle of the boards. Texas finished 4th in the Big 12 in defensive rebounding percentage and 2nd in offensive rebounding percentage. Put a body on somebody, snatch the ball and chin it. This is one of those "easier said than done" things; after all, I'm not the one trying to box out the mountain that is Cameron Ridley.
The Longhorns' size is a real issue for Michigan (Arizona State's 7-footer would have been an issue as well). Regardless, this is the tournament, and good teams make up for their inadequacies with their strengths, smarts and a little coaching.
The worst case scenario is Michigan gets beat on the boards and the triples don't fall, a scenario that spells potential double-digit loss.
With that said, you'd think that any tournament jitters are out of Michigan's system after the last game, and their three-point shots should fall more frequently this time around.
Michigan has the edge in three-point shooting, the turnover battle and at the 2 and 3 spots. As always, Glenn Robinson III is an X-factor; if he can outduel Holmes and Morgan/Horford don't allow Ridley to look like mini-Shaq, Michigan should come away with a hard-fought victory.
Will they, though? My gut says yes, although it will be far closer than anyone would like. But, as we all know, this grand spectacle is just an organized guessing game.