The greatest weekend in all of sports is about to be upon us. Throw out the regular season records, throw out the past, throw it all away. It’s now about which team can get hot and win six games in a row and stand above the field of 68 after the dust settles in Atlanta on April 7th.
For the fourth-seeded Michigan Wolverines (26-7, 12-6 B1G), their first step on this journey comes against the thirteenth-seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits (25-9, 13-3 Summit) that in many ways parallels the way that John Beilein’s team likes to play.
SDSU loves to run and gun, much like the Wolverines. They are led by senior guard Nate Wolters, who is one of the best pure scorers in the country and might just be the best player that you haven’t heard of. Some of you may remember that earlier this year, he scored 53 points in a game against IPFW.
Their next game, they played a team from near Ann Arbor, Oakland University, and it just so happened to be televised here on local TV. I caught a good portion of that game, and while the Jackrabbits lost, Wolters was easily the best player on the floor, scoring another 36 in that game.
Make no mistake about it, Wolters IS the South Dakota State attack. Forward Jordan Dykstra is a nice player, too, but the senior guard from St. Clould, Minnesota is the heart and soul of that team.
Seems like an easy draw, right? Well on paper, sure, but this is March Madness we are talking here. A one man attack has lead a team to upsets through the tournament before (think Steph Curry at Davidson). While containing Wolters sounds like a good game plan, remember Michigan’s defense throughout the year. Their perimeter defense leaves a ton to be desired and their big men have shown a tendency in the past to make average post players look like All-Americans.
Luckily for the Wolverines, the Jackrabbits play poor defense as well. In that game I referenced earlier against Oakland, they scored 83, but gave up 88. They also played Minnesota this season, hardly an offensive juggernaut, and surrendered another 88 to them.
This should be one of the more fast paced, uptempo, and interesting match-ups in the first round of the tournament, and the Jackrabbits over the Wolverines have been a popular upset pick among many of the national pundits, but I don’t see it. I see Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, and the Michigan Wolverines winning this game in a shootout.
Prediction: Michigan 81, SDSU 73
The game tips at 7:15pm Thursday on CBS from Auburn Hills, Michigan. The winner will advance to play either (5) VCU or (12) Akron.