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NCAA Tournament: Previewing Michigan’s first-round opponent Texas Southern

Michigan’s opponent for Saturday’s game is official.

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Texas Southern at Mount St. Mary’s Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 1-seeded Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team has its first-round opponent.

No. 16 seed Texas Southern, which made it to the NCAA Tournament by winning the SWAC Tournament, beat Mount St. Mary’s 60-52 in Thursday’s play-in game, outscoring the Mountaineers 40-22 after halftime.

The Tigers, who are ranked just 229th in KenPom, probably aren’t equipped to truly scare the Wolverines, but they’re not just happy to be here. They’re the SWAC’s top program, having had a winning record in league play every year since 2009-2010, and have made it to four NCAA Tournaments since 2014. They boast an incredibly experienced roster with many players who have played high-major basketball. They also have a respected head coach in Johnny Jones, who coached 11 years at North Texas and more recently, five at LSU.

A few things that immediately jump out about Texas Southern: their top 10 players by minutes played are all either juniors or seniors. The Tigers are fifth in the entire country in experience, per KenPom. They’re a squad mostly made up of transfers: Ashton McClelland and Ja’Mare Redus are the only two players on the roster who began their college careers at Texas Southern.

Playing-style-wise, the Tigers are a team that knows their strengths. They play at a fast pace, as their 72 possessions per game rank 42nd in the nation. They have decent size, at least for low-major standards, and were the top offensive rebounding team in the SWAC. That helps make up for an abysmal 27.7 percent clip from three-point range, which ranks 342nd in the country. As does the fact that less than 30 percent of their shots come from there. That figure ranks 336th in the country. They’re a decent free-throw shooting team, though, and they get to the line often (their 38.9 free throw rate is 23rd nationally). They also assist on less than half of their buckets, a figure that ranks 322nd.

Texas Southern won’t beat Michigan by shooting, but it will look to generate extra scoring chances by playing fast, attacking the offensive glass and getting to the line. There are worse ways to go about potentially upsetting Michigan. The Wolverines are a defense that likes to take away the 3-point line and forces you to beat them one-on-one, and that’s the way the Tigers want to play.

Do they have the players to do that successfully? Probably not. But let’s take a look at some of them anyway.

The guy to watch is Michael Weathers, a 6-foot-3 junior guard in his first season with the program. He averaged 16.7 points at Miami (Ohio) his freshman season, transferred to Oklahoma State, and averaged 9.2 points per game with the Cowboys before transferring to Texas Southern. Weathers is averaging 16.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on 49 percent shooting from the floor. He won’t beat you from outside — he’s hit just 17 treys on the year, on 59 attempts.

Inside, the Tigers will rely on 6-foot-9 forwards Joirdon Karl Nicholas and John Walker. Nicholas, whose previous stops include Montana and Stephen F. Austin, averages 11.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He can certainly grab rebounds, but it’s fair to ask whether he’ll be able to do the same against the likes of Hunter Dickinson. Walker, who began his career at Texas A&M, averages 12.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

The Tigers have some talent, and it’s plausible that this game is within a couple of possessions going into halftime, especially as Michigan continues to adjust to life without Isaiah Livers. But the absence of one of their best players shouldn’t prevent the Wolverines from winning comfortably. They’re favored by 26 on KenPom. That seems more or less fair.

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