This may not be the prettiest matchup, but the winner could be crowned the best defense in the country. Before the Game, Texas Tech ranked first and Michigan second in terms of defensive efficiency and both have been near the top all season. With a slightly better offense, the Wolverines opened as -2 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
This Game will be ugly, or pretty, depending on how you view elite defense. These teams had similar matchups in their respective conferences so that’s a good barometer going into this Game. In terms of defensive efficiency, Wisconsin ranks Fourth and Michigan State eighth in the country, while Kansas State is fifth and Kansas 16th.
Michigan lost all three Games to MSU, though the Spartans also have one of the most efficient offenses in the country. The Wolverines split with Wisconsin in two ugly matchups in which both teams won at home, 64-54 for Wisconsin and then 61-52 for Michigan. It was similar for Texas Tech in that it split with KSU, winning 63-57 at home and then losing 58-45 on the road. The Red Raiders also split with Kansas, two blowouts going to each home team. The best comparisons are likely the Wisconsin and Kansas State results because those teams also like to play slow and struggle offensively. That ultimately means this Game will be low scoring and come down to the final minutes on a neutral cOurt.
Neither team has been troubled in the Tournament and it’s hard to say which has been more impressive. Texas Tech maybe had the best defensive showing, limiting a good Buffalo offense to just 58 points, while Michigan played two bad offenses in Montana and Florida and that showed in the final scores.
The Wolverines get the overall edge because their offense rates slightly better with more weapons, especially with Charles Matthews back to normal, scoring 31 points in the last two Games. But while Michigan’s offense is more efficient, that’s mostly because it doesn’t turn the ball over. Texas Tech forces a ton of turnovers, but it also has the second-best two-point defense in the country and seventh-best block rate, while Michigan doesn’t get offensive boards and gets blocked a surprising amount, second most in the Big Ten.
Jon Teske has had a size advantage the first two Games, but that won’t be the case in this one against Norense Odiase. For the Wolverines, this Game will be all about Zavier Simpson and Ignas Brazdeikis on the offensive end. Simpson will be marked by a variety of Matt Mooney and Davide Moretti, while Brazdeikis will probably see Tariq Owens. Brazdeikis usually has a quickness edge on defenders, but he’ll have the bulk edge in this matchup and will need to post up more than he usually does. As for Simpson, he just has to keep setting up teammates and not take too many threes even if they’re open. He has at least nine assists in the last five Games and Michigan is at its best when he’s creating.
The matchup to watch is Charles Matthews against Jarrett Culver, two NBA prospects going against each other. Culver is more important to his team and if Matthews can limit that from happening, the Wolverines will get a significant edge. Of course, easier said than done since Culver is the better all-around player that can shoot from deep and has scored at least 26 points in three of the last Four Games (to go with 32 rebounds and 19 assists). Matthews could have some trouble offensively and his inability to shoot threes is always a detriment since he doesn’t have to be guarded as tightly as Culver. The x-factor is Jordan Poole, who scored 19 points against Florida and is extremely hit-or-miss. He’ll take a lot of bad shots, but when he’s feeling it, some of those go in.
On the other end, everyone else will need to help Culver, which has been the case for the second half of the season. Owens can use his length against Brazdeikis, while it’s between Mooney and Moretti to do the rest. since both of those guys can Scoreand run the offense, it’s unknown how Michigan will defend them since they usually just put Simpson on the point guard.
This is a matchup between two elite defenses, but it’s the offenses that will win this Game. Culver may be the best player, but Michigan probably has the better overall team. Some will give John Beilein the edge after making last year’s final, but it can’t be forgotten that Chris Beard and Tech arguably gave Villanova its hardest Game in last year’s Tournament.
Our Pick – Michigan -2