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NCAA Tournament Preview: No. 2 Michigan vs No. 3. Texas Tech

Michigan’s Sweet 16 matchup features a pair of teams that wrap you up like tortillas on the defensive end

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Texas Tech vs Buffalo Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan finds themselves in a familiar position now having reached the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year. They’ll take on the No. 3 seed, the Texas Tech Red Raiders for the right to play the winner of Gonzaga and Florida State.

In some ways, the Red Raiders will be like looking in a mirror for the Wolverines. Both squads play slow-tempo’d games that rely on great defense. Neither team shoots nor crashes the offensive boards particularly effectively. Where they differ is style and personnel. We’ll break down this game similar to the Florida game from last week. It’s all about matchups baby.

On Tuesday, I broke down some of the higher level numbers that make up Texas Tech (as well as the rest of the region). You can look at that here. For those short on time, these are the numbers you need to know:

  • 73.1 PPG vs 59.3 oPPG
  • 36th ranked adjusted offensive efficiency
  • 1st ranked adjusted defensive efficiency
  • 36.8% from three
  • 11th percentile in field goal attempts in transition

Summarized, the Red Raiders are good enough offensively, terrorize you defensively, and do everything in their power to slow the game down. Let’s jump into the actual matchups that will make this game go.

Charles Matthews vs Jarrett Culver - Now, last game John Beilein threw a bit of a curve ball having Charles Matthews stalk Kevaughn Allen all game rather than matchup with Jalen Hudson. Jordan Poole drew that assignment with Zavier Simpson sticking to Florida point guard Andrew Nembhard. Cullver is the Red Raiders leading scorer by more than seven full points per game. He also leads the team in rebounds per game and assists per game. His season averages read 18.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.7 APG.

He has been absolutely awesome in the NCAA tournament... to put things mildly. Through two games, the sophomore guard is averaging 22.5 points, 9 rebounds, and six assists per game. This may be the toughest opponent Matthews draws all year. Culver is big for a guard and very quick. He uses his size and athleticism to get to the rim where he opens things up for everyone around him. Matthews will have the length advantage and provide a unique set of challenges, but expecting him to hold the fort on his own is likely misguided. Jarrett is dynamic as hell, but he is prone to turnover bouts. During the season, he turned the ball over five or more times on seven different occasions with the most recent coming last weekend against the Buffalo Bulls. Michigan’s defense relies on steadiness rather than turnovers (ranking only 182nd), but Matthews averages 1.1 steals per game. If he’s able to stay in front of Culver, that should allow the rest of the defense to focus on their responsibilities.

On the other end of the Floor, it’s going to be about getting Matthews cutting to the rim. He was excellent in round one and did his job defensively against Allen in round two while struggling some on offense. Having a size advantage against all three of Texas Tech’s wings, look for the Wolverines to get him looks in both the high and low post in addition to running him through screens from Teske to wear down the Red Raiders backcourt.

Zavier Simpson vs Matt Mooney - Running a three guard lineup makes matchups somewhat hard to project, but I’m going to bet that Simpson sticks on Mooney because it’s a better height matchup between Tech’s two most-used facilitators. Mooney is a 6’3 senior who can straight up shoot the piss out of the ball... and was apparently fairly close to coming to Michigan. After spending the previous two seasons averaging almost 19 points per game, he’s transitioned into more of a secondary role on the Red Raiders. This season, he still managed to average double digits in points while racking up over three assists per game and shooting above 38% from three.

The tournament has not been particularly kind to him as he’s averaging less than a point per shot attempt through two games. After dishing out eight assists against Northern Kentucky, Mooney only got one against Buffalo. If Matthews rattles Culver, the Red Raiders are going to run their offense through Matt, though he’s turned it over five times in both tournament games so far.

I really like this matchup for the Wolverines. Mooney’s best defensive asset is his ability to force turnovers, something Zavier Simpson flat out does not do. In fact, Simpson is probably the biggest X-factor in the game. Tech plays a hyper-aggressive defensive style that makes teams uncomfortable, forces the ball to spots the offense doesn’t want, and eventually leads to plenty of turnovers.

The Red Raiders defense is hounding. They rank 11th in the country when it comes to forcing turnovers and above the 88th percentile when it comes to allowing shots at the rim as well as contesting the ones that do get there. Opponents only shoot 41.3% from inside the arc, the second best mark in the nation. Florida’s defense was good, Texas Tech’s is great. Remember when Trey Burke and company slowed down, dissected, and ripped apart VCU’s “havoc” in 2013? Well, we’ll need a similar effort in this one.

Jordan Poole vs Davide Moretti - Here we have the matchup of the popcorn scorers. Both guys are sophomores who saw significant production bumps in 2019 compared to 2018. Moretti, only 6’2, averages over 11 points per game on 50% from the field and 45% from three. He’s also third on the team in assists with a hair over two per game.

Statistically speaking, the term “due” isn’t something that exists. In the world of sports, however, Moretti is very overdue. After hitting multiple threes in every game since February 9th, Davide has yet to hit one in two NCAA tournaments games going 0-7 over that span. Now, that could partially be by design as Buffalo and Northern Kentucky for sure hounded him around the perimeter. This allowed him to get inside more, and he’s still averaging his season PPG total despite the lack of perimeter success.

In case I come off critical I need to emphasize this next point. There are no bad defenders on Texas Tech, but you have to think that Moretti’s lack of size makes for a difficult matchup for him against either Poole or Charles Matthews. Maybe he’s the one stuck to Simpson it’s hard to say. Wherever he’s placed, that’s going to likely be the Wolverines’ best matchup as he’s the least proficient turnover-forcer among the three starting guards. He hasn’t recorded a steal yet in the tournament and only has one multi-steal game since January 23rd. For comparison, Culver and Mooney both have seven a piece in that same timespan.

Jon Teske vs Norense Odiase - Odiase probably isn’t going to have a major impact on this game as he averages under 20 minutes per contest. However, he will start, and he does provide a big strong body to go up against Teske as well as to provide defensive support. He’s a 6’8, 250 pound senior in his fifth year. He’s big, strong, and loaded with experience. Think Jordan Morgan.

Now with all that said, Odiase is coming off probably the best game of his entire career. He really killed Buffalo scoring 14 points and nabbing 15 rebounds against an overmatched front line. A repeat performance is unlikely as this was the first time all season he reached double digits in the scorer’s sheet. Still, don’t sleep on him. Similar to Michigan, Texas Tech doesn’t have a ton of size off its bench. If Odiase gets in foul trouble early, there aren’t a lot of avenues for the Red Raiders to defend Teske inside.

Against Florida, Michigan went to Teske early, which seemed to cause an early adjustment from Mike White. After that, Michigan’s other guys were able to get involved more. Jon will have an advantage in size and skill once again and he could be the one piece that the nation’s defense doesn’t have a great answer to.

Supporting Casts - The Red Raiders will only deploy eight guys against Michigan. Brandone Francis and Kyler Edwards are a pair of guards, and Deshawn Corprew provides depth up front. While every starter for Texas Tech scored in double digits against the Bulls, their bench totaled only 10 points, five rebounds, and one assist. Returning to the mirror metaphor, Michigan’s recorded 14 points, six rebounds, and no assists against the Gators.

Francis, a senior, is a capable scorer. He’s reached double figures seven times on the season and shoots 34% from three. Holding tradition, he’s a more than solid defender. At 6’5, he also provides a lot of versatility, capable of matching up with almost any perimeter player in the country. Edwards, a 6’3 freshman, is a strong shooter though his offensive uses have mostly been limited to spacing. Shooting 42% from three and coming off a 2-2 performance against Buffalo, the Wolverines would be wise to keep eyes on him.

Finally, Corprew is a 6’5 sophomore who will platoon up front with the Red Raiders starting front court. My assumption is that he’ll be used a lot guarding Isaiah Livers and Ignas Brazdeikis as they roam the perimeter. At 210 pounds, he’s got a good frame to matchup well with Michigan’s stretch fours.

Ignas Brazdeikis vs Tariq Owens - Once again, we’re saving the matchup of the game for last. In my opinion, I think this is the one that could make or break the Wolverines’ season. Owens is a very long, very athletic 6’10 senior who’s averaged more than two blocks per game for three consecutive seasons. He’s an excellent finisher inside averaging more than eight points per game on 62% shooting from the field and is absolutely spectacular in the role he fills.

The tournament has been a mixed bag for Owens. While scoring in double digits in both games, he failed to block a shot (it didn’t matter) against Buffalo. This was on the heels of five blocks against Northern Kentucky in the first round. The game against the Bulls ended a five-game streak of three or more blocks.

I think this is the most important matchup because of Owens’ role as an anchor on both ends. He finishes around the rim on one and protects it on the other. If Brazdeikis is involved early in the offense or hits a few shots from deep, that should hopefully move Owens away from the rim, at least until Corprew comes in to spell Odiase.

Defensively, Iggy, or Livers or whoever needs to keep their body on him and keep him off the boards. He’s shown the ability to score a lot of points very quickly on limited opportunities, and Michigan has struggled against athletic power forwards as demonstrated by their games against Michigan State.

When Corprew comes in, Owens will slide over to the center spot. Him vs Teske will be an interesting contrast of styles. While Owens is the better player, I think Michigan enters with a slight edge based on how they handled Florida’s Kevarrius Hayes. In a slowed down game, give me the bigger body.

Looking at everything holistically, Michigan is in for a tough contest. I’ve been fairly optimistic in this preview, but the truth is that Texas Tech is a phenomenal team with an otherworldly defense despite the limitations they may have on paper. Their system is aggressive and it works. They will also play zone on approximately 1/5 of Michigan’s possessions to give another look. In some ways they’re representative of Michigan’s football team. They’re hyper aggressive defensively, just explosive enough offensively, and they lose a lot of big games.

The keys for the Wolverines will be:

  1. Don’t turn the ball over - This was a key against Florida too, and the Wolverines got a little sloppy. They turned it over 10 times in a relatively slow paced game, though half came from Poole and Simpson who played a combined 74 of 80 possible minutes. Texas Tech is the 11th best team at turning you over and the Wolverines are the third best team at protecting the ball. Unstoppable force and immovable object and all that jazz.
  2. Chase Tech off the line - The Gators went 9-26 from three in the round of 32, and John Beilein was less than thrilled with his team’s closeouts. I’ll be a bit more kind as Jalen Hudson and Noah Locke were hitting some difficult shots. Allen hit a pair of off-balanced jumpers in the second half as well. While Texas Tech may not have the athletes outside that the Gators did, they’re a better overall shooting team, and they get their guys plenty of open looks with good spacing and unselfish play.
  3. Bully and grind - I alluded to the 2013 VCU matchup early and want to circle back here. In that game, the Wolverines were able to stifle the Rams’ aggression by playing smart against the press and using their size advantages in the half court. Those will be keys again in this game as the Red Raiders lack depth when it comes to size.

Dan’s Pick: Over the first weekend, I went 1-1 with my over picks. This game, I LOVE the spread. Currently Michigan is favored by 1.5 (-1.5). Slam that line. I think this is a good matchup for the Wolverines. They’re not going to score a lot as is, and want to play slow. In a slowed down game coming down to execution, are you really going to bet against John Beilein?