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NCAA Tournament: Michigan handles No. 16 seed Texas Southern in Round of 64

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The Wolverines hardly broke a sweat in its first game of March Madness.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Southern at Michigan Joshua Bickel-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 1 seeded Michigan Wolverines won their first game of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Saturday afternoon in an 82-66 win over 16-seed Texas Southern. They now advance to the Round of 32 on Monday and a showdown with eighth-seeded LSU, who beat No. 9 St. Bonaventure earlier Saturday.

Mike Smith led the Wolverines in scoring on Saturday with 18 points, five assists and four rebounds. Hunter Dickinson fouled out but had 16 points of his own. Brandon Johns Jr. and Eli Brooks had 11 points each, while Franz Wagner finished with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.

This was a contest that was never in question for Michigan, as it handled its business like a one-seed is supposed to in a game against a 16-seed for most of the day. Outside of the 2018 Virginia Cavaliers, these types of games have been tuneups for the college basketball elite over the years. It was encouraging to see the Wolverines play loose and free as they continue to adjust to life without Isaiah Livers.

There were points at times where it looked like Michigan was coasting, but they were the far better team and were not challenged much at all. Credit should be given to Johnny Jones and his team for continuing to fight in the second half, as the Tigers were able to get the deficit down to 12 with a few minutes left in the game. The officiating was suspect at times, but this is college basketball in 2021.

Perhaps the biggest positive of the day came in the form of Brandon Johns, who once again got the start at the four for the Wolverines. He finished the day with 11 points while hitting a shot from three-point range and going 6-for-8 from the free-throw line. Johns looking like he belongs in the starting five is high on the list of things most wanted to see in this glorified warm-up game.

Texas Southern did not have a player on its roster that measured in at taller than 6-foot-9, which opened things up for Dickinson to have one of his vintage dominant performances. The concern with him continues to be his late-season tendency to be foul-happy. Austin Davis had some foul issues himself, but still gave one of his patented strong efforts in the minutes he did play.

This game was also a good opportunity to get true freshmen like Zeb Jackson and Terrance Williams some playing time. Injuries and foul trouble could throw them into action at any given time in the next few weeks, so Juwan Howard used the early double-digit lead to throw them into the mix. Jackson’s performance was the most encouraging given his 3-for-20 shooting during the season. He hit a pair of triples in the first half to flash some of the ability the Wolverines have seen in practices.

Most of the time, there is not a ton to take out of these 1-vs-16 games. The Wolverines went into cruise control in the second half and it opened the door for Texas Southern to tighten the deficit, but at the end of the day it only really stressed out the bettors who had Michigan covering the big spread. The true test of where this group is at comes next.

The game time and location for Monday’s game has not been set as of this posting. The winner between the Wolverines and LSU will get either No. 4 Florida State or No. 5 Colorado in the Sweet Sixteen.