The best time of the sports calendar is finally here, as the NCAA Tournament kicks off this week with the No. 11 Michigan Wolverines taking on the No. 6 Colorado State Rams.
Despite Colorado State being the higher seed, Michigan is actually favored by oddsmakers, opening as a 2.5-point favorite for Thursday’s game. Michigan is becoming a popular upset pick, but the Rams are no slouch and have the capability to blow out the Wolverines.
Let’s take a look at how Colorado State got here and break down Michigan’s two most important matchups in the game.
How Colorado State earned a 6 seed
The Rams started off the season as one of the hottest teams in the country, peaking as the 20th best team in the country according to the Associated Press in late December/early January, and ending the regular season at No. 23 in the poll.
Colorado State has plenty of quality wins on its resume, including victories over Saint Mary’s, Creighton, San Diego State, Wyoming, Mississippi State and two regular season wins over Boise State, the Mountain West conference champ.
The Rams earned those wins largely because of their offensive prowess. They rank in the top 25 in offensive efficiency and lead the Mountain West in scoring (74.3 PPG), field-goal percentage (48.5%), three-point percentage (35.8%) and free-throw percentage (77.4%).
The Rams are seeded this high because of the amount of quality wins they’ve racked up. They went 13-4 against Quad 1 and Quad 2 opponents and finished the season ranked 31st in KenPom.
One weakness Michigan could exploit is Colorado State’s lack of size. The Wolverines ended the season at 33rd in KenPom and with no one in Colorado State’s starting lineup above 6-foot-9, U-M is going to want to get the ball to Hunter Dickinson and Moussa Diabate in the post.
Key matchups for the Wolverines
David Roddy vs Moussa Diabate
Roddy is one of the most talented scorers in the nation, as the forward averaged 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 62.1% inside the arc and 45.4% from deep.
At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Roddy plays like a fullback by bulldozing into the paint while also making opponents pay from deep.
Michigan’s best chance of stopping Roddy is throwing Moussa Diabate on him. A member of the All-Big Ten freshman team, Diabate is U-M’s best interior defender and has the length and foot speed to keep up with him. If the freshman gets into foul trouble, expect Brandon Johns Jr. and Terrance Williams II to spend some time trying to slow him down too.
Isaiah Stevens vs DeVante’ Jones
As I covered last week, the key to Michigan’s postseason success is consistent guard play, and if Michigan wants to pull off this upset, Jones will need to out-perform Stevens.
Stevens has been a steady presence for the Rams at the point guard spot, averaging 14.9 points and 4.8 assists per game while knocking down 51.1% of his field goals and 37.3% of his threes.
Much like Jones, Stevens has a lightning-quick first step and can finish through traffic at the rim, providing CSU with consistent scoring.
Stevens also has a pretty mid-range jumper and is very patient with the ball, reading the floor and making the right decision quickly. If he gets the ball inside the arc, expect him to go to a fadeaway move that helped him create separation fairly easily.
Jones has the size advantage, but Stevens is probably a better scorer overall. In order for Michigan to win this game, Jones will need to stick to Stevens like glue, play some physical defense and make him a non-factor offensively.
Michigan and Colorado State open March Madness on Thursday at 12:15 p.m. in Indianapolis. That game will be broadcast on CBS.