April 4, 1989. That was the day the Michigan Wolverines won their first and only national championship, beating Seton Hall in Seattle behind a legendary run by Glen Rice and the iconic introduction of Steve Fisher. The Wolverines won the rematch eight months later as well, but that would be the last time the schools met on the court until this Tuesday.
The faces have changed many times over since that overtime victory over 30 years ago, but this week’s matchup in Ann Arbor comes with plenty of intrigue. Both teams won their opening two games against mid-major opponents, so this will be the first significant test for each. Kenpom ranks the Pirates No. 35, while Bracket Matrix has them as an 11-seed early on.
This contest will be part of the sixth annual Gavitt Games between the Big Ten and the Big East. After falling to Xavier in 2015, Michigan has won its last two appearances, avenging the 2018 title game by absolutely crushing Villanova on the road, then defeating Creighton in Ann Arbor in 2019. Most recently on the other side, Seton Hall fell just short against Michigan State two years ago.
Seton Hall (2-0) vs. No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (2-0)
Early metrics love the Wolverines, with Kenpom placing both the offense and the defense in the top five. A 37.8 percent eFG rate allowed is 17th in the nation, and teams are finding baskets very difficult to come by. The additions of DeVante’ Jones and Moussa Diabate are clear gains on the defensive end of the floor despite some of the losses on the roster.
Meanwhile, Hunter Dickinson has been ready from the jump, averaging 19 points and eight rebounds to open up the year. While three-pointers are unlikely to be a big part of his game, he is already shooting 100 percentage points better from deep than last season! Even the threat of the big man being able to shoot from outside should open up some additional space for the rest of the offense.
The Pirates enter as the No. 20 defense per Kenpom and are just as tough to shoot against as the Wolverines, both inside and out. Seton Hall does not force a ton of turnovers but defends soundly, so keeping the ball moving and taking smart shots will be the key to putting points on the board. Of course, converting better than 56.5 percent at the line would help as well.
Caleb Houstan may be a young freshman, but he has not been afraid to take charge with the ball in his hands. His shooting from deep looks as good as advertised, and he has some nice chemistry with fellow five-star Diabate when the two share the floor. This team will need scoring outside of Dickinson, and the future lottery pick looks up for the challenge.
Seton Hall lost two of its biggest contributors from last season and it remains to be seen who might step up this year. There are a few returning starters who should play bigger roles, but perhaps the most interesting name to watch for Michigan fans is Harvard transfer Bryce Aiken, a throwback to message board transfer rumors. The guard has been red hot from deep, making 5-of-7 attempts from behind the arc already.