For the sixth year in a row, the Michigan Wolverines are one of the last 16 teams remaining in the...oh. While the NIT is not quite the same as the NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines are here now and might as well make a run, and with No. 1 Clemson falling in the First Round, there is a reasonable path for Michigan to make it to the semifinals.
Up next are the No. 2 Vanderbilt Commodores and a road game on Saturday afternoon. The Commodores have won 11 of their past 13 games, including a victory over Yale on Tuesday. While metrics have this team outside the top 70, there is a reason why this team was seeded higher than Michigan; this will be no easy contest.
Toledo hung tight for 35 minutes in Ann Arbor, and the Wolverines will need to play much better on the road if they want to advance. Should they do so, they will come back home to host the winner of UAB-Morehead State (Sunday, 3 p.m.) next week in the quarterfinals with a trip to Vegas on the line.
No. 3 Michigan Wolverines at No. 2 Vanderbilt Commodores
Date & Time: Saturday, Mar. 18, Noon
Location: Memorial Gymnasium, Nashville, TN
Vanderbilt’s profile reads like a slightly less extreme version of Toledo, with a strong offense (22nd) and a questionable defense (161st). The game against the Rockets played out along these lines, with Michigan scoring 1.27 PPP on a 70 (!!) percent eFG rate but also allowing 1.13 PPP, the worst defensive performance since the Penn State disaster.
However, the underlying components of these two teams differ significantly. Vanderbilt finds success on offense by taking care of the ball, grabbing offensive rebounds, and getting up a decent number of threes. The Commodores are merely average at actually shooting the ball (though were better down the stretch), which is much different than Toledo, who is legitimately one of the best shooting teams in the entire nation.
Shots do not go down quite as easily on the other end of the floor either, with Vanderbilt posting decent numbers against opposing shooters, especially those behind the arc (which is obviously not the case for the Rockets). The tradeoff, though, is that the Commodores do not force turnovers or clean up the glass well, leading to an average defense.
This is a good, Power Six team, but not one that Michigan cannot beat. Hearing these numbers should sound an alarm for Hunter Dickinson, who could feast with center Liam Robbins out for the year. Dickinson’s gravity will create shots for his teammates, and as long as the Wolverine defense sticks to its fundamentals, this is unlikely to lead to another shootout. It will be tight, but Michigan has a real shot at returning to Crisler for one final game this season.