NCAA 2016: Michigan vs. Tulsa Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: No. 11 Michigan (22-12, 10-8 B1G) vs. No. 11 Tulsa (20-11, 12-6 AAC) TulsaGoldenHurricane
Where: UD Arena, Dayton, OH
When: 9:10 p.m., March 16th, 2016
TV: truTV | Streaming
Radio: 950 AM, 102.9 FM

Michigan is back in the NCAA Tournament, but it’ll need to win a play-in game to get to the real party. The Wolverines enter postseason play with their lowest seed in program history (11) and are facing a Tulsa team that no one expected to be in the field, but could still prove formidable.

The Golden Hurricane went 12-6 in the American Athletic Conference this season, a league that Michigan lost to twice in the non-conference season. Tulsa went out and beat those teams that Michigan lost to (SMU and UConn) once this season and also beat teams like Houston, Cincinnati and Temple on its home floor.

Other than a win at SMU, games away from home were more of a struggle for Frank Haith’s team, which was just 8-8 in road and neutral games and lost to Memphis twice in its last three games by a combined 32 points.

The Golden Hurricane

Tulsa’s statistical profile is remarkably similar on offense and defense. The Golden Hurricane grades out favorably in two-point shooting, turnovers and free throw rate and poorly in three-point shooting, rebounding and free throw shooting.

Tulsa scored 1.07 points per trip in AAC play, third best in the conference, and ranked in the top-three in eFG%, turnover rate and free throw rate. The Golden Hurricane was effective inside, making 50.5% of its twos (3rd), but shot just 32.3% (8th) from three-point range.

Much of the talk among Michigan players and coaches in preparation for this game has revolved around Tulsa’s tendency to switch defenses, sometimes in the middle of a possession.

The Golden Hurricane runs about a 60-40 split of man-to-zone defenses, with the man defenses grading out as more effective. Zone defense could be a welcome sight for Michigan, which has scored 1.2 points per possession against zone defense this season — good for one of the best marks in the country according to Synergy Sports. The Wolverines have only faced zone defenses for 201 possessions (11.3% of their halfcourt trips), but have managed a ridiculous 67.2 eFG% in those possessions.

Tulsa’s defense allowed 1.01 points per possession in league play, fifth best in the AAC, and was undone by a shoddy eFG% defense. AAC opponents shot 45.3% on twos (3rd) and 36.7% on threes (10th) while attempting 38% of their shots from three-point range for a 49 eFG% (9th).

While Tulsa struggled to defend the three in conference play, it had no problem forcing turnovers. AAC opponents gave the ball away more than once every five possessions, second-best in the conference.


Do-it-all guard Shaquille Harrison will be one of the first names on the scouting report. He’s averaging 14.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game and shooting 50% on twos while boasting a free throw rate of 55% and leading the AAC in assist rate.

He’s a guy that gets almost all of his offense at the rim. Almost two-thirds of his shot attempts are within 5 feet of the basket, where he shoots 57%, but he’s not a good shooter from outside the paint.

shaq harrison

Harrison’s backcourt mate, James Woodard, is the more dynamic offensive player with range to the perimeter. He leads the Hurricane in scoring at 15.6 points per game and is still effective getting to the line (41% FTA/FGA) and finishing inside (52%), but he’s also a 36% three-point shooter with over 200 attempts.


6-foot-5 guard Pat Birt is Tulsa’s primary perimeter shooting threat. He attempts almost twice as many threes as twos and shoots 37% from three-point range and just 40% inside the arc.


Marquel Curtis plays a fairly limited role as a starter. He’ll attempt the occasional three, but hits just 29% of his triples compared to 50% of his twos. His turnover rate tops his assist rate, but like Woodard and Harrison he’s great at slashing and getting to the line.

6-foot-7 forward Rashad Smith is a combo forward who gets after it on the offensive glass and makes 56% of his twos. He’s not a perimeter threat (4-of-16) and shoots just 56% at the free throw line.

Brandon Swannegan and D’Andre Wright play the majority of the minutes at the five. Swanngan is the better finisher and more efficient in the post, but as a team just 4.5% of Tulsa’s offensive possessions are post-ups. Wright, Smith and Swannegan all see about an equal share of pick-and-roll possessions as the screener, but Wright is the most efficient roll man of the pack.

Backup guards Rashad Ray and Sterling Taplin will see spot minutes in the backcourt. Ray is the second-best passer on the Tulsa roster while Taplin is the only underclassman in the rotation.


  • Feed the roll man: Tulsa’s Synergy profile lacks many extremes, but its below-average defense against the roll man in the ball screen game stands out. Roll men are scoring 1.15 points per possessions in the ball screen game, good for just the 12th percentile nationally. Tulsa’s overall ball screen defense grades out a little better (57th percentile), but Michigan has been able to get the roll man involved in some of its best offensive performances and this could be a great chance.
  • Defending dribble penetration: While it’ll be a relief to not face a towering front line like Purdue, playing a four guard lineup means that the Wolverines will be tested on the perimeter. John Beilein compared Tulsa to Minnesota in their ability to attack off the bounce and while the Gophers struggled this season, they also gave Michigan fits at times.  Tulsa usually attacks off the bounce via the pick-and-roll (roughly 5x as many PNRs as ISOs) rather than in isolation, but they ball screen to attack the rim rather than shoot the jumper.
  • Perimeter shooting: Tulsa is a poor perimeter shooting team that does a poor job of defending the three-point shot. That should be great news for Michigan which generally lives and dies by the three. A hot shooting night from Duncan Robinson or another wing player could be just what Michigan needs to grab control of the game early.

Bottom Line

These two teams are just two teams apart in KenPom’s rankings and his metrics project a 73-72 Michigan win, giving the Wolverines a 51% chance of advancing to Brooklyn. Both teams have the warts you’d expect from a team in the First Four, but also have shown that they are more than capable of stringing together a couple of wins.

  • Mattski

    I’d like to see some early expressions of toughness on the interior, make clear that it won’t just be a cakewalk to easy layups game-long by Tulsa.

    • John

      Problem is, the very first expression of toughness that results in a foul will result in the fouler sitting for the next ten minutes.

      • Chezaroo

        Interested to see how quickly Donnal picks up 2 fouls with the hard hedge. Got to be judicious there, or accept auto bench. Looks like a lot of pick and roll rim attacking to me.

        • mikey_mac

          Agree. Our bigs have struggled with fouls attempting JB’s hard-hedge scheme, and that’s against teams that don’t run constant PNR sets. Considering the lack of real big finishers on Tulsa, sinking back toward the rim would seem like the preferable way to guard their PNR, not hard hedge, but that’s just not UM’s scheme.

  • Maizeman

    This is just going to come down to who plays with the most passion and energy. If UM plays like it did in some of the big wins, it will be fine.

    If UM looks disinterested or lazy, we will get beat. Unfortunately we’ve seen this happen too much this year. I hope we’ve turned that corner.

  • gobluemd16

    Their ability to drive the ball downhill, great experience, and toughness (they must have that to beat teams like SMU and UConn) worry me. It seems like the rest of this matchup is to our advantage. Hope we are hitting shots from 3 tonight. If so, it is hard to see us losing.

  • John

    Soooo, I guess we need to make sure we guard Woodard from the corners I guess.

  • UMHoopsFan

    (1) Few turnovers; (2) close out under control; and (3) guards and wings box out. Do those things and we will win as long as there isn’t wildly uncharacteristic 3 point shooting on both sides.

  • Chillax

    I think you hold off on the three point shooting for a bit and work the inside. Sounds like we are actually going to have a favorable matchup down low.

  • Champswest

    1. Win the game. 2. Get ahead early and by a comfortable margin so we can play a lot of guys and save our legs for ND and West Virginia.

    • tgio24

      One at a time..

  • Amaizeman

    Let’s win this game so we can take on Notre Dame!! I saw this morning, ESPN projects Michigan to beat ND! GO BLUE!

  • Stephen Chang

    Will be interesting to see how Michigan gameplans on offense and defense tonight. Obviously, make the outside shots because Tulsa does not guard the perimeter very well. Hopefully Michigan can drive inside because Tulsa does not have a lot of size inside so Michigan could try and get Donnal warm up inside the paint and exploit their inside game.

  • snowfordays

    I think that the B1G season has prepared these guys for teams like Tulsa. I’ll speculate that we win by 10-at least.
    Let the defense lead the way!

  • Nick

    I’m so confused by people predicting or requesting a comfortable victory. What team have you been watching this year? I believe Michigan can win but it will probably come down to the wire as all their other non-guarantee victories have.

  • mikey_mac

    When UM is on offense, I suspect Tulsa will not be able to hold up to UM’s array of sets, so as long as UM avoids live-ball turnovers, with patience there will be open shots for the taking.
    Defensively, we have to like how UM matches up with Tulsa’s lineup and style.