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NCAA March Madness Round Two Preview: No. 3 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 6 Houston Cougars

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The Wolverines will look to make it back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Michigan vs Montana Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we knew this would be the case. A week-and-a-half break would drain the momentum out of the No. 3 seed Michigan Wolverines after they were the hottest team in the nation on March 4.

They started sluggish against the No. 14 seeded Montana Grizzlies, down 10-0 to start the game, but regained their groove a bit in a 61-47 win.

Michigan will now play the No. 6 Houston Cougars in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at 9:40 p.m. EST on Saturday in Wichita, Kansas.

Here’s what you need to know heading into tomorrow night’s matchup.

Who are they?

The Cougars enter the tournament, their first appearance since 2010, after a third-place finish in the American Athletic Conference with a 26-7 record. They lost in their conference championship to the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Houston’s 26 wins are the most it has had since the 1983-84 team won 32 contests, a year in which they would go on to lose the National Championship.

Head coach Kelvin Sampson has the best team’s he’s had in his four years with the Cougars. Point guard Rob Gray is coming off a 39-point effort against the No. 11 San Diego State Aztecs and is the obvious guy on the floor the Michigan defense will tend to the most.

Gray leads the conference this year with 21.3 points per game.

Corey Davis Jr. and Devin Davis round out as Houston’s top scorers, with 13.4 and 10.7 PPG, respectively.

Houston advanced to the second round courtesy of an acrobatic lay-in from Gray in the final seconds of Thursday’s 67-65 win against the Aztecs.

What does Michigan have to do?

Well, hopefully look better than they did against Montana.

The biggest thing is shutting down — or at least slowing down — Gray. He scored more than half his team’s points Thursday, and even a little bit of limitation would be huge for Michigan.

Davis Jr. and Davis combined for 6-for-24 shooting on 18 points against the Aztecs, and no other Cougar scored more than five points.

That tells you all you need to know about this squad. When their Big Three goes, they go. It’s going to be a challenge Saturday for Gray and company to replicate that success against one of the best defenses in the nation.

On the Michigan end of things, it goes to show what Moritz Wagner does to this team when he’s on. He finished with five points on 2-of-6 shooting, once again in foul trouble, in 32 minutes played. He looked out-of-sync all night, which may be a good thing if it’s out of his system. They’ll need him at his best Saturday.

It was a good sign seeing Charles Matthews take matters into his own hands against the Grizzlies. He had a double-double and led the Wolverines with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman were in foul trouble early, forcing John Beilein to shuffle his lineup a bit. Jaaron Simmons stepped up off the bench, as did freshman Eli Brooks.

It was a bit nerve-wracking to watch the Wolverines open with a 10-0 deficit against the Grizzlies, but encouraging to see a lot of different guys step up.

The Verdict

Thursday’s affair with Montana was eerily reminiscent of the Big Ten Tournament opener against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Michigan needed just one game in that tournament to get its feet wet before rolling through the rest of its opponent in the next three days.

I think that’ll be the case Saturday against Houston. The Wolverines survived and advanced and will dangerously find their groove soon.

Finding their groove and hushing Gray is a good recipe for making it a second consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance.