Once again, Michigan finds itself in the West region of the NCAA Tournament, placed in the bottom left of the bracket as it was in 2018. The Wolverines won its first two games in Wichita, Kansas last season and will again head toward the plains for the first weekend, this time playing in Des Moines, Iowa.
The similarities between this year’s tournament and last year’s do not end there, however. No. 2 Michigan will face a very similar opponent in the First Round: the Montana Grizzlies, the same team the Wolverines beat in the opening round last season. Should history repeat itself, the Maize and Blue will face either Nevada or Florida on Saturday. Below is a quick overview of how each of these three teams have fared this year.
No. 15 Montana Grizzlies
Kenpom: 137 overall; 115 offense, 161 defense
Barttorvik: 137 overall; 116 offense, 167 defense
As a refresher, Michigan beat Montana 61-47 last season, holding the Grizzlies to 0.71 PPP and a 34.8 percent eFG. That team was ranked 72 by Kenpom and featured a comparable offense with a much better defense. Though the 2019 Grizzlies won both the Big Sky regular season and tournament championships as they did last year, they look less impressive than their previous iteration.
Opponent quality is obviously a big issue, but Montana does boast the sixth-best eFG rate in the country (56.7 percent). The Grizzlies only played one top-50 team all year, and they did score 1.08 PPP at Creighton, but they have not played a defense close to Michigan’s caliber. The scoring is balanced between three different players each averaging at least 13 points a game, not including their injured scoring leader.
Montana will score, but it will give up points as well, as opponents routinely put up 70-plus this season. The Grizzlies ended hot, winning 16 of their last 18 games, including the conference tournament, but the quality of competition was not there. The odds are stacked against them when playing Michigan, and a repeat of last season seems likely.
No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack
Kenpom: 25 overall; 26 offense, 33 defense
Barttorvik: 33 overall; 31 offense, 40 defense
Nevada is a solid team, and advanced metrics find the Mountain West regular season champions to be a balanced squad. The Wolf Pack won the conference for the third-straight season, but for the second year in a row, they were upset in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Last year’s team made it to the Sweet 16 (also as a 7 seed), losing to a Loyola-Chicago team that eventually fell to Michigan.
Like Montana, Nevada could also be without one of its top scorers. The offense has been solid for much of the season though, doing most of its damage inside the arc where the Wolf Pack rank 26th at 55.1 percent. Their shooting from deep is much less impressive, but they still fall in the top 50 in terms of three-point attempts.
On the other end of the floor, the Wolf Pack do not cede many points in the paint or offensive rebounds, and they do not foul a ton, all areas where Michigan tends to be below-average anyway. Though the defense does look good overall, there is not a large sample of games against tough competition. It is unlikely Nevada’s 47.6 percent allowed eFG would hold up against the Wolverines.
No. 10 Florida Gators
Kenpom: 38 overall; 60 offense, 14 defense
Barttorvik: 25 overall; 57 offense, 16 defense
The Gators have an interesting profile, earning a bid thanks to an upset of LSU in the SEC tournament. Defense has been the team’s calling card, but five of the last six Florida opponents have posted at least 1.00 PPP, with four of those teams earning wins. The defense still ranks in the top 20 nationally, but the underlying metrics are not that intimidating.
Florida is solid at defending threes, but allows 48.6 percent of twos and is one of the worst teams at preventing offensive rebounds. The Gators do force a ton of turnovers, but against a team like Michigan who can take care of the ball it becomes much less effective. On the whole, the defense is solid, but it might not be enough to overcome an average-at-best offense.
Indeed, the reason the Gators ended conference play at .500 was thanks to a struggling offense. A 48.6 percent eFG rate ranked 11th in the SEC, and the team ranked just ninth in twos and tenth in threes. Just one scorer averaged double-digit points on the year, and Florida had some turnover issues as well. A tournament berth was deserved, but the run may not last long.