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Preview: #2 Villanova Wildcats vs. #11 Michigan Wolverines

The ‘Cats meet the Wolverines again in San Antonio

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the thrill of making it to the Sweet Sixteen has slowly worn off these past few days as we prepare for battle this Thursday. Your Villanova Wildcats will face the #11 Michigan Wolverines, fresh off an upset of the Tennessee Volunteers, this Thursday night in San Antonio for a trip to the Elite Eight. The match-up marks the first time the teams have faced each other in the NCAA Tournament since Villanova’s national championship win in 2018...also in San Antonio. REMEMBER THE DONTO.

As always, let’s start with some basic. The University of Michigan - enrolling nearly 50,000 students, is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Interestingly, the school was founded 20 years before Michigan even became a state.

Here are some fun facts about the University of Michigan:

  • In 1927 the school actually used 2 live wolverines as mascots instead of having someone dress up in a suit. The wolverines were named Biff and Bennie.
  • The Big House, Michigan’s football stadium, when filled to capacity, would be the seventh-most-populous city in the state.
  • The university claims the only alumni association with a chapter on the moon, established in 1971 when the crew of Apollo 15 placed a charter plaque for a new U-M Alumni Association on the lunar surface.

I have also selected three random alumni:

  • Darth Vader.
  • Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber
  • Ari Gold, from Entourage

In advance of Thursday night’s tilt, let’s take a look at the Wolverines.

The Michigan Wolverines, led by third year coach Juwan Howard, finished the season at 19-14 (11-9) with wins over San Diego State, Purdue, Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State. On Selection Sunday, the consensus appeared to be that the Wolverines were headed to Dayton for a First Four match-up. However, Michigan was slotted in as the #11 seed in the South and has since picked off #6 Colorado State and #3 Tennessee.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round Indianapolis- Michigan at Tennessee Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Like Ohio State, the Wolverines are led by their offense, which presently ranks 19th in AdjO. They do pretty much everything well on that end of the floor - especially inside - but are not a strong three-point shooting team. The Wolverines rank 166th in 3P% and treys make up just a quarter of their total points (312th in the nation). However, the Wolverines are efficient inside, do not turn the ball over, and grab their fair share of offensive rebounds. As for pace, Michigan plays slowly - 202nd in the country - something that will help Villanova.

Michigan is led by big man Hunter Dickinson, a 7’1 sophomore averaging 24 points a game thus far in the tournament. Dickinson is a load down low and is a skilled post scorer. He has the ability to back guys down and has a decent trigger on the catch-and-shoot. Dickinson has slowly developed an offensive game away from the basket (went 3-5 from deep against Tennessee) but, for the most part, does his damage in the paint.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

However, in perusing the box scores from Michigan’s more impressive wins this season, there is a clear correlation as to whether Dickinson was able to be a threat from deep. Dickinson went 4-6 from deep against Purdue, 3-4 against Indiana, and 3-3 against San Diego State. That being said, given Dickinson’s clear size advantage over Villanova - and the ‘Cats strong perimeter defense - I find it unlikely that Dickinson will look to establish his three-point game in this game.

Dickinson is prone to turnovers and, despite his size, is not an elite athlete. He struggles to guard in space, especially away from the basket, so look for Villanova to try and lure him into defending the pick and roll. Villanova’s athletic wings should look to challenge Dickinson early - at a minimum to see if they can get him into foul trouble. The ‘Cats should avoid being baited into taking some mid-range jumpers in lieu of testing the big man at the rim.

Villanova will also need to contain Eli Brooks -of “dream school” fame - and point guard Devante Jones, who is recovering from a concussion. Brooks, a 6’1 fifth year senior, is a talented combo guard who can score off the dribble. While he tends to develop a bit of tunnel vision on offense, he is active off the ball and Villanova’s defense will need to keep tabs on him. Brook is presently shooting 38% from deep. However, on the defensive end, he is relatively slow and undersized - something ‘Nova’s guards should be able to exploit.

Devante Jones, a 6’1 redshirt senior, is from somewhat of a similar mold. He has the ability to be a talented scorer but can be very inconsistent on that end of the floor. However, he is a strong facilitator - especially against talented teams. He tallied 10 assists against both Purdue and Illinois earlier this season. Jones suffered a concussion in practice the week of Michigan’s game against Colorado State and he did not play due to being placed in concussion protocol. Jones played just 12 minutes against Tennessee, finishing with 2 points. Early reports suggest that he will be back at full strength for Thursday’s game.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round Indianapolis- Michigan at Tennessee Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolverines’ defense ranks 78th in the country. Notably, Michigan ranks 115th in three-point defense. Even more notably, the Wolverines rank 211th in 2P% defense despite having a 7’1 center. While they unsurprisingly establish an advantage on the boards, they don’t block shots and they don’t cause turnovers. Simply put, Villanova should be able to generate good looks both inside and outside the arc. It will be very frustrating if Villanova is baited into bad shots as Michigan’s rebounding will likely render those possessions one and done.

Overall, this match-up - at least on paper - appears similar to Villanova’s game against Ohio State. Both teams play at a slow pace - typically the first thing we look at when evaluating an opponent. While both teams have a talented big man inside, neither squad boasts a strong perimeter defense - meaning Villanova should be able to kick it out if/when the inside looks aren’t there. While both teams have talented guard play, neither has the speedsters that have given Villanova fits in the past.

Villanova will have the ability to establish control of this one. Let’s see if they take it.

The game tips off tomorrow at 7:20pm on TBS.