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Scouting the other side of Michigan’s remaining path in the East Region

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Alabama and UCLA are...different teams.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Maryland at Alabama Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

I will give myself half-credit on my Round of 32 analysis. While LSU turned out to be much scarier than I expected, the Tigers’ 43.5 percent eFG% was their lowest in 12 games. Meanwhile, I believed that the Michigan offense would be enough to outgun LSU, and at 1.19 PPG this was indeed the case. On to the second weekend!

The Wolverines face a tough FSU team that should not be overlooked. However, since we are just fans and not the team itself, there is no harm in peeking ahead into the Elite Eight. Should Michigan win on Sunday, the next opponent will be either No. 2 Alabama or No. 11 UCLA. Not only are these teams separated on Kenpom (8th vs. 24th), but their styles are very different as well. Here is a brief look at both potential matchups.

No. 2 Alabama: Three-and-D

The Crimson Tide beat LSU three times this season, but are just about the opposite on paper. With the third-ranked Kenpom AdjD and the No. 28 AdjO, this squad is built more like a traditional Big Ten team (except one that goes really fast). Michigan has not faced a defense this good yet this season, and scoring would not come easily in this matchup.

Alabama’s offense is best described by the shot chart below that went viral earlier this year. The Tide does not have the highest three-point rate, but the name of the game is efficiency. Nearly half of their shots come from behind the arc, which means over 40 percent of their points come from threes (the 15th-highest proportion in the nation).

Correspondingly, Alabama ranks in the top 10 in three-point defense. The strategy is simple: optimize shots on offense and do not allow opponents to do the same. Interestingly, this is not too dissimilar to Michigan, which also forces teams into a lot of tough jumpers. However, the Wolverines have succeeded this year by being shutdown against two-pointers, which is not where the Tide looks to attack.

Alabama should not be taken lightly, but there is one thing that needs to be called out. One reason the defense ranks so highly is three-point shooting (28.9 percent). This is also an area where LSU succeeded (30.0 percent), but it clearly did not affect Michigan, which went 10-for-25. Do not get me wrong: Alabama is miles ahead of the Tigers defensively. However, I do suspect that poor SEC shooting inflated this stat for both teams, and given that the Wolverines are near the top of the country at 38.5 percent, I am not convinced this will work out for the Crimson Tide as expected.

No. 11 UCLA: Happy to be here

Double-digit Power 6 teams are always dangerous, but there is no way to spin this other than a win if Michigan is fortunate enough to face UCLA instead of Alabama. The Bruins sputtered down the stretch, losing six of their last 11 games heading into the NCAA Tournament, but will have earned their place in the Elite Eight by taking down No. 2 Alabama and No. 6 BYU (also Michigan State in the warm-up game, but we are focused on the actual tournament here).

UCLA has a productive offense, but this is nothing new for the Wolverines; they have already faced four of Kenpom’s top-10 offensive units, and Florida State enters the weekend 14th, so the team should be ready to go. Unlike Alabama, the Bruins are very methodical and actually rank as one of the slowest teams in the country. They do not cough up many turnovers nor force steals themselves, so this one will come down to the halfcourt.

This seems like a game where UCLA might have a tough time scoring, despite their good numbers. This is not going to be like LSU’s attack, and the Michigan defense has been very stingy inside the arc. Though the Bruins are good from deep, they take very few threes (just 31.6 percent of their shots), and I expect they will have a tough time consistently scoring.

On the other side of the court, Michigan will just need to run its sets. There are going to be open looks from deep, and as long as the Wolverines hit their shots at a normal rate, they should be fine. With UCLA not turning the ball over a ton, running out on missed shots and attacking before the Bruins can get into their set defense will provide a great opportunity for some easier buckets.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best

In the Elite Eight, nothing is a given, but it goes without saying that UCLA is the preferable opponent. Alabama is also beatable, though, and while the Tide is absolutely a legit team, this looks like a tolerable matchup for Michigan, should the football blue bloods meet next Tuesday.

Either way, the Wolverines just need to beat the teams in front of them. Sometimes the path to the Final Four is 13-5-1-3 (2013), sometimes it is 14-6-7-9 (2018). This season is looking more like the former, but this Michigan squad is overall better and absolutely more balanced than both prior Final Four teams, so it should be capable of facing any type of opponent thrown its way.