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Battle 4 Atlantis: Michigan Basketball vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs Game Preview

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The championship game is here and with it comes another top ten foe for the Wolverines.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Michigan at North Carolina Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Your Michigan Wolverines are championship bound in Atlantis, a game not many thought they would get to, given the level of competition. But after impressive wins against a good Iowa State team and #6 North Carolina, led by not only one of the best freshman but one of the best players in the country, only Gonzaga is in the way of an early season championship. After a long battle, a game that couldn’t be decided in regulation, the Bulldogs were able to come out on top against a gritty Oregon Ducks squad that came from behind to beat Seton Hall on Wednesday. If you were wanting to play Oregon, you’re in luck because they come to Crisler in two weeks. Instead, the sizzling Wolverines gets a crack at beating another top ten team in consecutive days.

Michigan has had a great week in the Bahamas, exceeding all expectations so far. Coach Juwan Howard got his first signature win, one that came as soon as the opportunity presented itself, and we’ve already seen the growth of sophomores Colin Castleton and David DeJulius. Franz Wagner has arrived and as he continues to shake off some of the rust coming back from his wrist injury, has showed what he can bring to this team. If the Wolverines can keep the momentum going, they just might pull this thing off.

The Zags Input

“If you are a casual watcher of college basketball, there is a good chance you won’t recognize a single name on the Gonzaga Bulldogs this year outside of Killian Tillie. That is because the Zags lost approximately 85% of last year’s minutes to the NBA Draft and graduation. Head Coach Mark Few doesn’t pause for anything but fly-fishing, and he brought in one of the top recruiting classes in school history for 2019. In short, this year’s Gonzaga squad can be summed up quite simply: Super talented, super young.

You probably have heard of Killian Tillie, the three-point bombing senior Frenchman who often struggles with injuries. The other big names to watch are Filip Petrusev, the ruthlessly efficient Serbian center who is ranked No. 2 in the country in ORtg (according to KenPom) and Drew Timme, a highly-touted big-man from Texas whose old school style of play can surprise you. Gonzaga’s offense runs through the frontcourt this season--the Zags only have three true guards currently on the roster. Either way, this team is ranked top 10 early in part because of how good they are now, but also because of the perceived ranking when everything finally gels together. That hasn’t completely happened yet, especially on defense, and the Battle 4 Atlantis will provide the first real test for the Zags this season.”

- Peter Woodburn, The Slipper Still Fits

What to Watch:

Star Performance: Neither of these teams has one star that runs the show, much like a Cole Anthony for UNC or Myles Powell for Seton Hall. Instead, it’s a collaboration of several solid players that all contribute a fairly balanced amount. Big players make big plays in big games. For Michigan against UNC, that big player having a big game was Eli Brooks. The junior guard poured in 24 on an efficient 9-of-14 from the field, including four three-pointers. For Gonzaga, on the other hand, center Filip Petrusev double doubled with 22 points and 15 rebounds in their overtime victory against Oregon. He led all players in scoring and rebounding. While these two players could lead their teams in scoring once again, it’s very possible that they don’t. So the question becomes who is going to step up and have that type of game in order to make the difference in this game? Does it come down to experience and we see seniors Zavier Simpson and Killian Tillie battle it out or will it be forwards Isaiah Livers and Corey Kispert trading threes?

Bench Battle: Thus far in the season, it appears that Coach Juwan Howard is comfortable with nine guys, now counting Franz Wagner. Barring any extreme foul trouble or injuries, we can expect to see David DeJulius, Colin Castleton, Brandon Johns Jr., and possibly Adrien Nunez, all of whom are sophomores. Nunez is kind of a wild card; someone who started the year as a starter due to the Wagner injury but has had mild shooting and defensive issues, leading to him not making an appearance against North Carolina. Brooks and Dejulius’s high level of play have made it hard to keep them off the court. Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few opted to use a seven man rotation against Oregon, giving good minutes to his two bench players. Joel Ayayi and Drew Timme combined for 20 points as a result. It will be interesting to see which player can come off the bench and make the most impact for their team, whether it be scoring the rock or making the hustle plays in key moments.

Clean Play: If you told a Michigan fan before the North Carolina game that Zavier Simpson would play 17 minutes and foul out, I don’t think they would’ve envisioned a nine point win. However, that was the case. In the last two games, we’ve seen senior leaders Jon Teske and Zavier Simpson fall victim to foul trouble. Hopefully against the Bulldogs, the Wolverines can defend without fouling and allow Coach Howard to substitute and rotate players as he wants. In addition to limiting the fouls and free throw opportunities for the Bulldogs, minimizing turnovers will be crucial. The maize and blue committed 22 against the Cyclones on Wednesday and 16 more against UNC. Not turning the ball over was a staple of Michigan basketball for so long and it still can be, but to win this game, the Wolverines are going to have to force some of their own turnovers to have a shot.

Prediction:

This is a close competitive game for all 40 minutes. Some good shooting and fast-paced play tells the story early but this game comes down to who can get stops late in the second half. Ultimately, the Wolverines fall just short. Gonzaga 77-74.

Game Info:

Teams: Michigan Wolverines (6-0) vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs (8-0)

Date: Friday, November 29, 2019

Location: Imperial Arena at Atlantis Resort, Nassau, Bahamas

Time: 2:00 p.m. EST

Television/Streaming: ESPN/Watch ESPN