What They’re Saying: National writers weigh in on Michigan’s NCAA Tournament chances

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan is one of the hottest teams in the country and its run through the Big Ten Tournament brought the country up to speed. The Wolverines will face Oklahoma State on Friday afternoon in a game that has drawn considerable attention early on.

Here are some highlights from around the national media about Michigan’s NCAA Tournament draw and chances.

Michigan’s first round matchup with Oklahoma State has the highest thrill score of any NCAA Tournament game on KenPom, so it’s not surprising that CBS picked it as a must-see game of the opening round.

Sports Illustated’s Brian Hamilton tags Derrick Walton as the player to watch in the Midwest regional. That’s high praise considering that dominant guards like Kansas’ Frank Mason and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans and National Player of the Year candidate Caleb Swanigan are all in the same region.

Is the 6’1” senior guard on track to be one of the most impactful performers in March? Put it this way: Before Jan. 21, Walton, Jr. had scored 20 points in a game just four times. He had 20-plus in five straight games after that and then hit for 29 and 22 in the Big Ten tournament semifinals and final. He’s averaged 18.7 points over his last 15 games. He’s also played fewer than 36 minutes in a game only twice since late January. The Wolverines and their floor leader come into the field of 68 as sizzling as any squad. The question is how much they have left after winning four games in four days in Washington, D.C. If there is plenty remaining in the tank, then they have more than enough offensive firepower to keep pace with Oklahoma State and severely challenge Louisville’s defense.

ESPN’s Midwest preview notes Iowa State and Michigan as two of the hottest teams in the tournament after winning their conference tournaments — and who wouldn’t want to see Derrick Walton vs. Monte Morris in the Elite Eight? — and also pines for a Rick Pitino vs. John Beilein rematch.

Matchup we’d like to see: Michigan’s John Beilein and Louisville’s Rick Pitino faced off in an epic 2005 Elite Eight game when Beilein was at West Virginia. Both teams combined for 29 3-pointers, and the Cardinals eventually rallied from down 13 to win in overtime. Pitino also got the best of Beilein when the two battled in the 2013 national championship game. The matchup would come down to if Louisville’s vaunted defense could contain the Wolverines’ perimeter-oriented offense.

John Gasaway ranks Michigan as the 10th hottest team in the NCAA Tournament.

Who knew, when Northwestern completed “The Pass” and won in the final seconds against Michigan in Evanston, that the Wildcats’ heroics would be the only thing standing between the Wolverines and a perfect late-season 8-0 run? As it is, the Big Ten tournament champions enter the tournament having won 10 of their past 12, the only blemishes being the Taphorn Miracle and an overtime loss on the road at Minnesota.

He also notes Oklahoma State as one of the coldest.

On one hand, the Cowboys carry this list’s longest current losing streak. On the other, OSU has dropped a mere three in a row. Two of those losses were to Iowa State — one in Ames by just three points, the other in Kansas City in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals — and the third defeat came against Kansas in Stillwater. Those aren’t profile-killers by any means, and at the end of the day, Brad Underwood still might have the best offense in the nation. The last three final scores land Oklahoma State on this list, but can a team be cold and dangerous? If so, the ‘Pokes are that team.

Yahoo!’s Brad Evans likes Michigan as a cinderella in the Midwest.

The Wolverines are much like their Marvel namesake, a team with superior healing power and superhuman abilities. Thus far the story of March, Michigan, after a harrowing plane crash, improbably rolled through the Big Ten Tournament untouched, practice apparel and all. With its temperature soaring, to call it “dangerous” would be a terrible understatement. Derrick Walton Jr., who dropped 16 dimes in Michigan’s final regular season game at Nebraska, has rocketed his game to the stratosphere. His impeccable court vision, off-dribble abilities and scoring prowess both inside and out labels him a complete point guard. Match him with versatile weapons Mo Wagner, D.J. Wilson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and a suddenly scorching Zak Irvin and the Wolverines, who space the floor beautifully, present many matchup problems. If they continue to tickle the twine from outside (38.1 3PT%) and exhibit the same staunch defense it exuded in the Big Ten prelude (1.00 points per possession allowed), they will represent the Midwest in the Final Four. And, no, I don’t own any Chris Weber throwback jerseys.

Five Thirty Eight published an interactive bracket with their calculated odds by round, giving Michigan a 63% chance of reaching the second round and a 23% chance at the Sweet Sixteen.

Here’s a similar analysis from KenPom. Pomeroy’s model is high on Oklahoma State which seems to hurt the Wolverines a bit moving forward.

Michigan was ranked 27th on the official seed list and committee chair Mark Hollis said that the Wolverines and Badgers were swapped after the Big Ten Tournament championship.

I’m not quite sure how someone could seed the Big Team teams in the order that the committee settled on — Purdue (16), Minnesota (18), Maryland (23), Michigan (27), Wisconsin (29), Northwestern (32) and Michigan State (35) — but that’s water under the bridge because the bracket has been finalized.

Sports on Earth calls Oklahoma State over Michigan one of its most likely upsets.

Give all the credit in the world to Michigan, which rebounded from a runway plane crash that forced it to arrive on the morning of its first Big Ten tournament game and won the whole event, rattling off four wins in a row — including Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Wolverines have found a rhythm offensively and are dangerous. Of course, so is Oklahoma State. The Cowboys don’t defend well (Michigan isn’t elite defensively, either), but they rank No. 1 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. Get ready for a great point guard matchup between Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans and Michigan’s Derrick Walton. This looks like an even game that could be among the most entertaining in the first round.

Sports on Earth also notes Michigan’s airplane accident as one of the tournament’s top storylines.

Sporting News names Michigan as the biggest sleeper threat in the Midwest, but this note looking ahead to Louisville is also interesting:

No. 2 Louisville’s top three scorers, Donovan Mitchell, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel, are shockingly inefficient for a team this successful. They combine to shoot 40.7 percent from the field, with all three below 41.3 percent for the year. To get an idea of how unusually poor this is, Rick Pitino’s team is the only one in the Field of 68 with its top three scorers all shooting below 42 percent. For more context, the top three bucket-getters for the other three No. 2 seeds combine to shoot 48.7 percent, with none of the teams below 45.4.  The Cardinals’ 170th-ranked true shooting percentage (which takes into account threes and free throws) of 54.3 could ultimately be the thing that keeps them from a lengthy tourney run.

ESPN’s Jay Williams likes Michigan, but he’s not sure if he likes them more than his other favorite teams.

ESPN’s Giant Killers model isn’t too keen on the Big Ten, with three league teams as potential first round upsets.

Find more interesting material about Michigan in the NCAA Tournament? Share more links in the comments section below.

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  • jemblue

    Too bad our must-see game is airing at noon on a weekday…

    • Indiana_Matt

      You don’t save vacation days for the tournament? :)

      • Steve2081

        I’m off all week!

        • bobohle

          ME too. I’m Retired.

  • Steve2081

    Greenberg and Katz both picked against us on the ESPN College Basketball podcast.

  • gobluemd16

    Dylan, what do you think the Big Ten teams’ seeding should I have been? Minnesota gamed the RPI, but if you had to seed the others, where would you place them?

  • blucinic

    Teddy Greenstein from the Chicago Tribune has Michigan in his Final Four prediction (along with Duke, ND, and UCLA.) He has Kennard (at Duke, former Michigan recruit who we struck out on) as the top player.

  • H

    Anyone know if there’s going to be a Wisconsin game recap? I was really looking forward to seeing all the stats that are normally included in those articles and to getting Dylan’s take on our biggest win so far this year.

    Go Blue!

  • mikey_mac

    Dylan, awesome coverage all week. What an incredibly fun set of games as a UM fan.
    I know it’s not your style to lob criticisms, but just a passing mention at the way B1G seeding shook out? I think it’s well worth a closer look — especially the weight RPI seemed to continue to carry, against early indications. Might help set expectations and understand scheduling implications, which is always a hot-button issue.

    • The selection/seeding arguments are just so tiring to me… Basically you can’t predict what a bunch of school and conference administrators are going to do and they’ll justify it however they want. It’s not so much their fault as it is the system.

      They don’t have any inherent qualification to pick and seed teams and I’m sure they try to do the best with what they have, but they are just people in a room making human decisions. It’s a moving target and when you don’t even have full and accurate data as to why any decision was made, what’s the point in getting worked up over it?

      Minnesota’s RPI is 5 spots higher than Michigan’s, I’m not sure that gaming the RPI si why they are so far ahead. If anything the 5 road wins probably helps more than anything, I just don’t think if Michigan played Southern Illinois or Georgia Southern on a couple December afternoons that their seed would be dramatically better. The wins @MD, @ILL and @PUR I think are what really did it for them.

      • mikey_mac

        I get the desire to avoid trying to reseed the entire tournament to validate any disagreements, but even in just this response, you’re getting close to a couple interesting topics …
        – what would a qualified panel look like? what’s preventing that?
        – what would have been the criteria to get UM to its highest possible seed? i.e. reverse engineering a selection criteria based on UM’s results.
        Besides, the system won’t improve itself, so unless smart people point out flaws, come up with better ideas and share them, we’re stuck with unqualified people talking to themselves in a room. ;)

      • David DeMember

        See post above. Unless I misread the locations, 7 is the only slot that kept us off a plane until the final four. I bet that had something to do with it.

      • mistersuits

        Next year will be telling as the committee will have a new chair.

  • Amaizeman

    Based on Kenpom’s predictions of Michigan games so far this season, it should actually be encouraging to hear his relative favor for Oklahoma State.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    Toughest Region but Michigan playing @ such a high level – we can make it to the 2nd weekend/final four – thought we deserved a #6 seed…no problem – Oklahoma St, Louisville, Oregon, Kansas stand in the way if high seeds move on…no problem Beilein got this

    • Fab 5 Legends

      If we were in the West region – we would have an easier road, no offense to those schools…Oklahoma St will be a fierce test off the bat

  • Chace

    Hard to hear a lot of ESPN analysts say they have OKST over us. I think it will be a slugfest but team that’s able to get stops at the end of game will win. OKST’S defense is worse than ours so hopefully works in our favor.

  • David DeMember

    I think the big factor they considered in our seeding as a 7 (behind minnesota especially) is that we don’t have to fly… Move us to 6 and we’re in Sacramento.

    We wouldn’t have to fly until the final four. Let’s hope we’re making AZ travel plans in a couple weeks.

    I loved this year’s team ever since that preseason post where everyone saw us as a 7+ finish in the b1g this year. This might be the most “beilein team” since the pittsnoggle run… everyone can knock down the 3 and we’re deep enough with X playing well, not to mention what bringing in Donlon has done for the defense.

    A Kansas rematch would be epic. Some of the most famous matchups in Wolverine tournament lore would likely stand in our way of a cinderella run. And we can in theory get payback for almost every let down of the post 89 championship era…

    OK state (I just rewatched that fab five classic)
    Lousiville (it was a clean block)
    Kansas (the comeback)
    UNC (the timeout) / Kentucky (the harrison shot)
    Duke (“I hate Christian Laettner”)

  • Jay Rush

    Those tourney rankings mean nothing. Ok State beat Arkansas by 25 earlier this season. Michigan better come ready or OSU will win this by 15-20 points.