The Wolverines just completed their most impressive regular season since coach John Beilein arrived in Ann Arbor in 2007, a campaign that included 24 wins, 13 of those in conference, and their first Big Ten Championship since the 1985-1896 season–even if they only technically own 1/3 of that crown.
Those impressive numbers awarded the Wolverines a four-seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, which sets up a showdown with 13-seed Ohio. But let me clarify something, these are not the “Ohio” Buckeyes that Brady Hoke and Beilein are constantly referring to, the team that beat the Wolverines by 22 points in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal. No, this is Ohio University, a well-coached, athletic group that will give Michigan all it can handle.
The Maize and Blue haven’t been playing their best basketball of late, most recently falling, 77-55, in the semifinals of the conference tournament to the other “Ohio”, a game in which freshman point guard Trey Burke shot just 1-11 from the field.
That stat line will need to improve in their matchup with the Bobcats (27-7, 11-5 Mac), who are coming off an impressive one-point win over Akron in the conference tournament final.
The Bobcats are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. They grab 35.3 percent of their misses, and average 12.7 offensive boards per game. They also excel in forcing turnovers, ranking fifth nationally with 319 steals on the year. Most importantly, though—and most worrisome for the Wolverines—is the Bobcats’ superb perimeter defense. John Groce’s talented group has allowed opponents to shoot just 29.7 percent from beyond the arc this season.
In order for the Wolverines to avoid what is becoming one of this year’s trendy upset picks, they will need Burke and Hardaway Jr. to penetrate the Bobcats’ stingy perimeter D. They will also need to stay disciplined defensively, as the Bobcats average 13.3 turnovers per game.
While Michigan appears to have a significant advantage over this MAC foe, they cannot take this second-round game lightly. The Bobcats gave Louisville—a team that just won the Big East Tournament—all they could handle in a November matchup at the KFC Yum! Center. Michigan, like the Cardinals, is a team that likes to take three-point shots and gets little to no offensive production in the low block.
This Bobcats team will not be intimidated by the Wolverines. Remember, this is the same team that upset three-seeded Georgetown in the first round of the 2010 tournament. In that game, guard D.J. Cooper–just a freshman at the time–scored 23 points and had 8 assists in the Bobcats’ 14-point thrashing of the Hoyas. Cooper is back with two more years of experience under his belt.
The Wolverines were one of the best teams in arguably the nation’s best conferences. But how will their fast-paced, three point-reliant offensive attack fare against the Bobcats’ notoriously stout pressure defense? If Michigan isn’t hitting their three-point shots, the Bobcats could be well on their way to pulling off their second upset of a top-five seed in the last three years of the NCAA Tournament.
Chris Johnson is a sports writer for The Daily Northwestern. He is also the Michigan beat writer for bigtenorbust.com and a writer for WildcatReport.com (Northwestern Rivals). Follow him @chrisdjohnsonn. contact: firstname.lastname@example.org