Everyone wants to play for a title, and luckily the Michigan Wolverines will get that chance this week. In the largest sporting event for the university in quite some time, the Wolverines face off against the Arizona Wildcats on Sunday in the finals of the Roman Main Event in Las Vegas...
Obviously everyone’s attention is squarely focused on the actual biggest game in a long time that kicks off noon on Saturday, but this basketball contest should not be overlooked. While the Wildcats needed overtime to get past Wichita State, this is a solid NCAA Tournament team who should provide a real test for the young Michigan squad.
Juwan Howard put the world on notice less than a month into his coaching career, taking down top-10 North Carolina and Gonzaga sides to earn the Battle 4 Atlantis title. While the Roman Main Event carries a lesser profile and lighter level of competition, snagging another early-season tournament crown would be another strong feather in his ever-growing cap.
No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (3-1) vs. Arizona Wildcats (4-0)
First, the negatives. It is clear that this team is going to have growing pains, both individually and cohesively. The defense is having trouble with rotating and switching, and there is no doubt this comes from lack of repetition, as well as a bit of a learning curve into the Michigan scheme. Too many times this has led to easy offensive rebounds or wide open threes by the other team.
Adjustment to Michigan basketball is not easy for even the best players, and DeVante Jones and Caleb Houstan are both feeling that right now. Both have the skill and experience to get better quickly, but currently there are nearly as many challenges as successes for the two starters. Howard would be wise to let both work out their issues, but one has to wonder if more rotation is coming.
Not all is bad for the maize and blue, however. Saturday morning’s (lol) victory over UNLV was the coming out party for Moussa Diabate, who looks like an instant difference-maker on both ends of the floor. The five star scored 14 points against the Rebels with seven rebounds, a couple huge blocks, and a monstrous slam. He is shooting at a high clip (64.7 percent) and has been very active on the offensive glass (11 rebounds) this season.
Arizona ranks 28th per Kenpom, with the No. 19 defense. The Wildcats have been among the best against two-pointers and held the Shockers to just 36.6 percent inside the arc on Friday. One area where Michigan needs to improve is avoiding shot blockers; both Seton Hall and UNLV had some good rim defenders that caused a few problems. Arizona is 10th in the country in block rate and recorded 10 swats against Wichita State — look out.
On the other end, the Wildcat offense sits at No. 44 and stands out in a couple tangible ways. Arizona is one of the quickest teams in the country, working even faster than Buffalo, and is quite efficient close to the basket. Additionally, the Wildcats are near the top in assist rate, with six different players averaging at least two dimes per game, including Azuolas Tubelis and Bennedict Mathurin who each average over 15 points as well.