Michigan is back in the NCAA Tournament and their first game is on Thursday night. They were selected as a #4 seed and pitted against #13 seed South Dakota State. Michigan will certainly be favored to win the game, but the matchup offers striking similarities to last year's NCAA Tournament game with Ohio where Michigan was upset in the 1st round. The Wolverines will have to be fired up in front of a virtual home crowd in Auburn Hills in order to come away with the win.
The Jackrabbits: Most will likely be unfamiliar with South Dakota State coming into Thursday's game, but they have put together a good season and a good tournament resume. They're 25-9 overall and have already recorded wins against New Mexico on the road and Oakland at home. The New Mexico win is probably what got them into the tournament and has helped them move to #102 on KenPom, just above USC, Rutgers, and Oregon State.
The big name for the Jackrabbits is Nate Wolters. He is by far the biggest contributor to this team as he averages 38 minutes, 22.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. He is putting up Burke-like numbers and has even done it against good teams. In the game against New Mexico (#11 in KenPom defense) Wolters put up 28 points and 7 assists. This guy is the real deal and will surely remind Michigan fans of D.J. Cooper from Ohio last year. He's an aggressive point guard that can score on his own or get others involved. Stopping him on defense will be key.
Jordan Dykstra and Tony Fiegen also make solid contributions in the frontcourt. Dykstra averages 12.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game. Fiegen averages 10.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. The final players worth noting are Chad White and Brayden Carlson. White can hit some big shots and brings 10.0 points per game. Carlson gets 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. One final thing worth noting is that all of the top 5 players for South Dakota State average at least 30 minutes a game. This team plays a very short lineup.
Keys To The Game: The most important thing for Michigan to do on Thursday is keep Wolters under control. This is something easier said than done, but if the Wolverines can keep him out of the lane and keep him from getting open shots (39% from outside the arch), they should be able to slow down South Dakota State's offense. He is going to hit shots and is going to make some nice passes, but Michigan needs to stay focused and make things as difficult on him as possible. It's going to be tough to do against a player like Wolters, but if they let him go off, they could be in big trouble.
Michigan also needs to get things going inside. This has been a common theme this season, but South Dakota State has nobody to really matchup with Michigan inside. The tallest player on their roster is 6'9", but only averages 11.8 minutes per game. Dykstra is going to have the task of stopping Michigan's big men and they should be able to exploit this weakness. It will be important for Michigan's bigs not to turn over the ball and hit their open shots.
Players To Watch: The first player to watch is Mitch McGary. He is Michigan's best big man offensively and the Wolverines will need him to have a big game against the Jackrabbits. The second player to watch is Trey Burke. He will likely be tasked with guarding Wolters most of the night and will have to have a great all-around game. Finally, GR3 had a rough outing in the recent game against Wisconsin and Michigan needs him to come back and play well defensively.
Prediction: Michigan by 8
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