The Michigan men’s basketball team acted fast. After its ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup against North Carolina State, scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns within the Wolfpack program, the Wolverines needed just hours to start finalizing a replacement game.
Tuesday, it became official. Michigan will play Toledo on Wednesday evening — same night, same place, just a different team.
Those hoping to see the Wolverines in action against a big-name program before Big Ten play began will be disappointed. Those wanting to see them pushed by a legitimate opponent won’t be. The Rockets (3-2), led by preseason All-MAC First Team guard Marreon Jackson, are one of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference. They lost to Xavier (6-0) by just three points. They won’t be intimidated walking into Crisler Center.
Eleventh-year head coach Tod Kowalczyk has built a consistent program in Toledo, one with an identity predicated around ball movement and 3-point shooting. The Rockets have ranked among country’s top 40 teams in 3-point shooting for three years in a row, and this season they’re 27th, having hit 41 percent of their shots from deep. Nearly half their shots come from there, and they get good looks, too — they’ve assisted on 66 percent of their buckets this season.
Jackson, their point guard, runs the show and runs it well. While he hasn’t shot the ball efficiently through five games — he’s shooting just 32 percent — he leads the team in scoring (16.0 ppg), assisting (5.6) and steals (1.8), pitching an assist-turnover ratio of over 3 to 1. As a junior last year, the 6-foot-1 Jackson averaged 19.8 points, 5.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds, hitting 37 percent from deep on over eight attempts per game.
Mike Smith and Eli Brooks will have their hands full with Jackson, but the Rockets’ supporting cast has game of its own. Setric Milner, their second option, is a 6-foot-6 forward who averages 15.8 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds. Ryan Rollins, a freshman guard from Macomb, MI, is averaging 15 points and shooting nearly 40 percent from deep. Senior Spencer Littleson, from Rochester Hills, is a capital-S Shooter: 84 percent of his shots have come from beyond the arc, and he knocks them down at a 49 percent clip.
The 6-foot-10 AJ Edu was Toledo’s main post presence, but he’s missed the last three games with an injury. That’s meant Jonathan Komagum has had to step into the starting lineup. Similarly to Edu, the 6-foot-9 junior isn’t much of a scorer, but he does average 7.4 rebounds per game.
The Rockets aren’t the deepest team, but when they do go beyond their starting five, they can count on more efficient shooting. Sophomore guard Keshaun Sanders has hit seven of his 16 triples, while freshman Mattia Acunzo (3.6 ppg) adds a little bit of inside-outside game. Sophomore big Luke Maranka and freshman guard Jamere Hill haven’t done much this year, but one or both of them might get a bit of run.
As far as common opponents go, there’s one to speak of. While the Wolverines struggled to put away Oakland in overtime, Toledo beat the Grizzlies 80-53 on Nov. 26 in Cincinnati.
As in every game Michigan’s played this season, it will once again have the height (and skill) advantage down low. The 3-pointer is basketball’s great equalizer, though, and Toledo has a squad that can take advantage. The Wolverines have defended the three decently well so far, but on Wednesday night, it will be placed under the microscope.
After beating Central Florida 80-58 on Sunday, Michigan looks like a team that’s really finding its stride on both ends of the floor. But if the Wolverines fall asleep for too long and Toledo bombs away like it wants to, things could get pretty interesting.