I really wasn’t expecting to write this. Well, hang on. I did think Michigan would beat Houston.
I guess I should say that I shouldn’t be writing this. Michigan was outplayed by Houston, nearly falling victim to another poor shooting performance.
It took a miraculous buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Jordan Poole to lift the No. 3 Wolverines over the No. 6 Cougars, 64-63. It truly encapsulated what surviving and advancing looks like in March.
The win pushed Michigan to its second consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance, as they’ll head to Los Angeles to play the No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies.
Looking to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since the spring of 2014, here’s how John Beilein’s Wolverines can do so.
About the Aggies
The NCAA March Madness Tournament is all about getting hot at the right time, in which A&M has done.
Billy Kennedy’s Aggies routed No. 2 North Carolina 85-65, setting up a date with Michigan to make their second Sweet Sixteen in three years.
That gives me a bit of an uneasy feeling, and even more so considering the fact that just four Aggies combined for 65 points.
Yes, you read that right. Four Texas A&M players scored as many points as last year’s tournament champion on Sunday. They shot nearly 52 percent from the field against Roy Williams’ Tar Heels.
What’s even crazier is the fact that the Aggies typically get that kind of performance from their starting unit. Tyler Davis, Admon Gilder, DJ Hogg and Robert Williams average double-digit figures every night. Davis leads the way with 14.6 PPG.
The Aggies are currently the second best scoring team from the SEC in the tournament, averaging 79.5 PPG.
A&M could present a lot of difficulties for a Michigan team that typically features a smaller lineup. Starters Hogg, Williams and Davis are all 6-foot-9 or taller. Guard TJ Starks was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team, and Davis made First Team All-SEC.
Coming off two stagnant offensive performances so far in the tournament, Michigan will have to rely on its potent defense to slow down A&M.
Heat up Wagner
A huge reason as to why the Wolverines have gotten off to a slow offensive start has been largely due to the absence of Moritz Wagner.
Wagner scored 12 points in the win against Houston, and just five in the first round versus Montana.
We’ve seen Wagner in foul trouble the last three games. Dating back to the Big Ten Championship against Purdue, he’s had four fouls in each contest.
Wagner tends to pick up a foul early in the first half, summoning Jon Teske from the bench to relieve him for a chunk of minutes.
His inability to get in a groove, largely in part to his foul trouble, has slowed Michigan’s offensive production to an average of just 62.5 points in the tourney.
Against a big, physical team like the Aggies, the Wolverines desperately need their leading scorer to play effectively for the 27.3 minutes per game he averages.
Also, can we set up a GoFundMe to fly out his mother for this game? Michigan doesn’t disappoint when Mrs. Wagner is in attendance.
Switch it up
It’s going to be a challenge to match up with Texas A&M. They’re big and dangerous in so many facets of the game.
Beilein will need to get creative and throw the Aggies a few curveballs. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Austin Davis make a cameo appearance if or when Wagner and Teske rest together. Beilein turned to Davis for a couple minutes against Purdue, which allowed his regular big men to catch their breath.
On the flip side, Michigan could counter A&M’s big approach with a bit of small ball featuring a trio of guards and shooters. It would be interesting to see some form of Zavier Simpson/Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman running the floor with Poole and Duncan Robinson. The three A&M starters above 6-foot-9 trying to keep up with pesky shooters could play in Michigan’s favor, possibly forcing Kennedy to adjust his lineup.
That’s an athletic, quick alternative to the Aggies’ approach if you’re trying to get them out of their comfort zone.
Ahh. This one worries me. The Wolverines are the highest remaining seed on the entire left side of the bracket. It’s been the Year of the Upset, and the Wolverines have a target on their backs.
The Aggies are extremely hot, too. They beat the Tar Heels, who beat the Wolverines in November. I know, that was a long time ago and Beilein’s bunch has improved immensely, but the fact that the Tar Heels were rolled by A&M really makes you wonder what the potential of this Aggies team is.
Regardless, Michigan is absolutely capable of playing to the level it did in the Big Ten Tourney, and it will need to if it wants to march to the Elite Eight. The Wolverines will need to shoot well and pull the Aggies out of their comfort zone, since their game is vastly different than Michigan’s. Another slow offensive start could really come back to nip them in the butt this time.
Just as the Aggies are hitting their stride, Poole’s buzzer-beater sparked some new life into this team.
This is one of the better Michigan squads in recent years, and I’m picking them to survive and advance on Thursday.
Teams: No. 3 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies
Date: March 22, 2018
Location: Staples Center in Los Angeles, California
Tipoff: 7:37 p.m. ET