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Play-in game thoughts ahead of Michigan’s first round matchup

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The Wolverines await the winner of Mount St. Mary’s-Texas Southern.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Southern at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The benefits of earning a No. 1 seed are obvious, but Michigan seemed to get about the best possible outcome with its first round draw. As the fourth-overall seed, it would be expected that the Wolverines would face the “best” No. 16 seed per the committee’s complete seed list. However, that is not what happened.

Instead, Michigan will face either Mount St. Mary’s, the 65th-overall seed, or Texas Southern, the 66th-overall seed, meaning the Wolverines got a slightly worse opponent than expected (with the No. 67 and No. 68 teams in the other play-in game). Furthermore, these teams are stuck in a play-in game, meaning its opponent is not coming in with fresh legs. I cannot pretend like I have watched a ton of film on either, but here are some high-level thoughts on both.

Earning a ticket

Both schools obviously won their conference tournaments to make it into the big dance. Mount St. Mary’s was just 10-10 heading into the Northeast Conference Tournament, but a couple of upsets earned the team’s third tournament bid in eight seasons. Meanwhile, Texas Southern entered the SWAC Tournament as the No. 3 seed, but took down No. 1 Prairie View A&M to advance to its first tournament in three years.

Unfavorable metrics

Given that neither team won its regular season title, it is not surprising that Kenpom does not think much of either. In fact, these are the two lowest ranked schools in the field of 68. Mount St. Mary’s sits 219th overall with the 287th-ranked AdjO and 136th-best AdjD. Texas Southern is even lower at 229th overall, and identical AdjO and AdjD rankings of 236th.

Relative strengths

The Mountaineers are supported by their defensive, holding opponents to a 45.5 percent effective field goal rate and playing a methodical offense, posting the second-lowest tempo in the entire country. They do not foul a ton and have one of the nation’s top offensive rebounders (15.7 percent) in Malik Jefferson.

For the Tigers, it starts with defense as well, with a 46.4 percent effective field goal rate to go with a good two-point defense and block rate. Offensive rebounds are a strength here too, in addition to the ability to draw free throws. Their tempo is on the opposite end of the spectrum, playing much faster than most other teams.

The biggest weaknesses

As No. 16 seeds, the task is going to be tough for either school. Nothing on paper suggests an upset is remotely likely, and the eye test validates that the difference in caliber of athletes between Michigan and these two schools is an enormous gap that would be challenging to overcome.

Mount St. Mary’s does not have a good offense, and though its defense ranks moderately well, it will not hold up against a real team. For reference, Maryland put up 1.32 PPG against the Mountaineers in November, and the Terrapins’ offense is...not quite that of Michigan’s.

Texas Southern is a little more balanced, but ranks as one of the country’s worst three-point shooting teams. Nearly every big upset features the underdog getting hot from behind the arc (UMBC went 12-for-24 against Virginia), but the Tigers have rarely looked threatening from deep this year.

The bottom line

As expected, Michigan does not have too much to worry about here. If the Wolverines just play smart and stick to their game, Saturday should be relatively painless. If I had to choose one team to face, it would probably be Texas Southern. From their statistical profile, it is really difficult to see how the Tigers would be able to do much against a team like Michigan.