Tulsa was probably the biggest surprise to be includedin the field of 68. The Golden Hurricane weren’t expected by anyone to make the Tournament, but now they’re in the First Four against a beatable Michigan team.
The Wolverines have had an up-and-down year and a couple wins in the Big Ten Tournament got them in this position. They were expected to be a good team this year, but Caris LeVert’s injury kind of derailed those hopes. Before the Conference Tournament, they had lost Four of five Games. After gaining some confidence in close wins over Northwestern and Indiana, they were blown out by a superior Purdue team.
Maybe the most relevant stat is that Michigan has already lost two Games to AAC teams this year, 74-60 to UConn on a neutral cOurt and 82-58 at SMU. Tulsa beat both of those teams throughout the year so that automatically should give them some confidence against the Wolverines. What won’t help their confidence is a bad 22-point loss in the AAC Tournament to a Memphis team that didn’t make the Tournament. The Golden Hurricane had a solid season and should be in this Game.
Both teams are led by stout guard play, but it could end up being the frontcOurts that win this matchup. Neither team has dominant big men, and that’s the reason it could decide this Game. Senior forward Brandon Swannegan has scored 35 points in the last two Games after averaging just over six per Game for the season. If Swannegan can ride that success, that’ll be huge for Tulsa.
Michigan got similar production from a couple of its bigs in the Big Ten Tourney. Mark Donnal has had his moments this year, but is still only averaging 7.9 points per Game. Moritz Wagner might be the bigger x-factor after scoring nine points in the win over Indiana. Wagner barely played in the regular season, but could end up being a guy that gains an edge off the bench.
As for the main players to watch out for, the Wolverines are led by Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr., both of whom can take over if need be. Duncan Robinson is a knockdown shooter, while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has really picked up his Game as of late hitting double digits in Four straight. If Abdur-Rahkman continues to attack on the offensive end, that’ll only open up the floor for the others.
Michigan’s defense will have the task of limiting Tulsa’s senior guards, James Woodard and Shaquille Harrison. Woodard is more of a shooter while Harrison often goes to the rim and draws fouls. The Wolverines defense hasn’t been as good this year — at least for their usual standards under John Beilein. Still, they’ll give the Tulsa guards all they can handle, whether it’s man-to-man or some type of zone like a 1-3-1.
OUtside of Harrison and Pat Birt, Tulsa doesn’t really have more shooters and that could end up being a problem against Michigan’s lengthy defense. Walton has taken up a role of defensive guru and assist man in the offense and he’ll probably get the task of stopping Harrison.
Michigan comes into this Game playing a little better and has the more balanced team, but the Wolverines aren’t the type of team to blow others out. They scraped past Northwestern and Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament and will probably have to do the same against Tulsa. Woodard and Harrison can carry the Golden Hurricane and they’ll definitely put up a fight. It’s a question of what x-factors step up to who will win this Game. It’s also worth mentioning that those Tulsa guards didn’t even expect to be in the Tournament. They’re just happy to be here without any pressure and that could be to either Tulsa’s advantage or disadvantage.