When the bracket was released last Sunday, LSU fans hearts collectively sank when they saw the Tigers were placed on the dreaded eight seed.
While the 8/9 game has been a historical coin flip, the winner usually doesn’t make it past the second round. One seed’s are 120-19 in the second round, good for an 86 win percentage. But LSU is no ordinary No. 8 and Michigan came into the tournament as the weakest of the four No. 1 seeds.
Big 10 regular season champions, No. 4 in NET, No. 3 in KenPom
While Michigan may be the weakest of the four No. 1 seeds they are still a very good team. In fact they are a great team, climbing as high as No. 2 in the AP Poll and won the Big 10 conference’s regular season championship. Many thought that they, not Gonzaga, was the best team in the land before a late season skid shook that confidence.
Michigan lost three of five games heading into the NCAA Tournament, highlighted by a 23-point drubbing to Illinois in Champaign. But it wasn’t the lopsided loss to the Illini or coming up short in the Big 10 tournament that has people doubting the Wolverines, it was the injury to star senior forward Isaiah Livers.
Livers suffered a stress fracture in his foot against Maryland in the Big 10 Tournament quarterfinals and is out indefinitely. Livers is Michigan’s best three-point shooter (44.6 percent), second leading scorer (13.7 points per game) and third in rebounding (6.1 rebounds per game).
But while Livers, a second-team All-Big 10 selection, may be Michigan’s best player, the Wolverines aren’t suddenly devoid of talent. The Wolverines are led in scoring by likely lottery pick Hunter Dickinson, the Big 10’s freshman of the year. Dickinson, a 7’1” center, is a physical mismatch and a classic back to the basket type of big. Dickinson is shooting 60 percent on his twos and while he won’t draw a lot of fouls, he is a 75 percent free throw shooter.
Michigan also has sophomore Franz Wagner who, like Livers and Dickinson, was also recognized as on the Big 10’s second-team. Wagner, younger brother of former first round pick Mo Wagner, also projects as a lottery pick and averages 12 points and six rebounds. Standing at 6’9”, Wagner has more than enough size and lateral ability to effectively defend one of Darius Days or Trendon Watford.
Michigan is a team with a whole bunch of strengths and very few weaknesses. They’re top 10 in both KenPom’s adjusted offense and defense, and also have a roster full of sharpshooters. Michigan’s 11th in three-point shooting and have five guys shooting 37 percent or better from three and that’s excluding Livers. Fortunately for LSU is the Tigers are just as good defending the three as Michigan is at shooting it. LSU is 14th in opposing three point percentage, allowing teams to shoot 29 percent.
Michigan projects similarly to St. Bonaventure: efficient offense, great defense and won’t really push the tempo. Though unlike the Bonnies, the Wolverines go about nine-deep.
Can LSU find similar success they had Saturday against Michigan? Can they out-rebound Michigan or get the same kind of production out of Darius Days, Aundre Hyatt, and Trendon Watford? Can Cam Thomas have another efficient outing? What about the Tiger defense, can LSU chase Michigan shooters off the three-point line?
LSU has been playing its best ball since the calendar flipped to March. But for a shot rimming out in the SEC Championship, the Tigers would be riding a six-game winning streak. This 2021 NCAA Tournament has seen plenty of top seeds fall early, and a No. 8 has already knocked off a No. 1 seed with Loyola Chicago beating Illinois Sunday.
Here’s hoping LSU can pull off a similar feat.
TIME: 6:10 P.M., CDT
LOCATION: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana
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