BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The Michigan Wolverines (23-12), who finished eighth in the Big Ten during the regular season and knocked off No. 1 seed Indiana in the Big Ten tournament before falling to Purdue, advanced as the No. 11 seed in the East region Wednesday night with a 67-62 victory over Tulsa in Dayton.
The Wolverines will take on No. 6 seed Notre Dame (21-11) Friday at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center at approximately 9:40 p.m. EDT. The winner plays for a berth in the Sweet 16 against the winner of No. 2 seed West Virginia vs. No. 15 seed Stephen F. Austin in the first game of the Friday night doubleheader at the home of the Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders.
John Beilein, who took West Virginia (2004-05) and Michigan (2013-14) to the Elite 8, and the 2012-13 Wolverines to the NCAA championship game with a 31-8 record, is a coaching lifer with 665 career victories to his name at seven stops during his 39-year head-coaching career.
Michigan is just 3-9 versus ranked opponents this year with notable wins against Indiana last week and then-No. 3 Maryland in mid-January.
Against common opponents, Notre Dame is 3-1 (wins over Iowa, Illinois, N.C. State; loss to Indiana) while Michigan is 3-3 (wins over N.C. State, Illinois, Indiana; losses to Iowa twice, Indiana).
The Wolverines, typical of John Beilein-coached teams, take a high percentage of their field-goal attempts from three-point range, averaging 25.7 shots from beyond the arc while making 9.7 (38.4 percent), which ranks 29th in the country.
Only eight teams have converted more than Michigan’s 326 three-pointers.
But the Wolverines converted just 6-of-25 three-point attempts in the victory over Tulsa, including 0-for-3 by giant killer Kameron Chatman, whose three-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining last week in the Big Ten tournament gave Michigan a 72-69 victory over No. 1 seed Indiana.
The bulk of Michigan’s offensive action occurs above the free-throw line where the Wolverines’ long-range offense curls off high-post screens to free up shooters from long distance. Talent in the paint is in short supply.
The bulk of the shooting/scoring is done by 6-foot-6 junior Zak Irvin, 6-foot-1 junior Derrick Walton Jr., and 6-foot-8 junior Duncan Robinson, who average between 11.2 (Robinson) and 11.9 (Irvin) points per game.
The statistics say that Irvin – a 30.9 percent shooter on 152 three-point attempts – should launch less frequently while Walton (38.9 percent on 157 shots) and Robinson (44.7 percent on 206 shots) are far and away the more adept three-point shooters.
Robinson has made at least three three-pointers in 16 of 34 games, but the bulk of his damage was done in non-conference action.
The hottest Wolverine right now is 6-foot-4 sophomore Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who averages 8.5 points per game for the season, but is scoring at a 14.0 clip the last five games.
In the victory over Tulsa, Abdur-Rahkman scored 16 points (5-of-16 shooting) after tossing in 30 points in two Big Ten tournament games against Indiana and Purdue when he converted 13-of-24 shots.
Abdur-Rahkman is an inside-outside presence who is effective when he’s penetrating and finishing, although he had nine assists in a four-point road loss to Maryland. Look for someone like Steve Vasturia and/or Rex Pflueger to draw the defensive assignment against the surging Abdur-Rahkman.
This is not an overly skilled-looking Michigan team on the offensive end, due in part to the loss of 6-foot-7 senior Caris LeVert to a leg injury, which limited him to 15 games this season, including just two Big Ten contests. He averaged 16.5 points per game while converting 44.6 percent of his three-point attempts.
The Wolverines like to run off misses on the defensive end. They’ll even try to fast break off made free throws. Based upon the Tulsa game, they can be a bit challenged finishing around the basket when they’re on the run.
Most analysts – including former Irish players LaPhonso Ellis and Jordan Cornette
-- believe Notre Dame has a distinct advantage in the paint with big men Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson, as well as the benefits the Irish derive from the penetration of Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem (in the ACC tournament).
Michigan’s roster is filled with nondescript big men. Mark Donnal, a 6-foot-9 junior, is the most productive of the group, averaging 7.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. But Donnal, 6-foot-6 sophomore Aubrey Dawkins, 6-foot-9 sophomore Ricky Doyle, and 6-foot-10 freshman Moe Wagner provide little individually. (Wagner had an outlier game against Tulsa. Averaging 8.6 minutes per game, he blocked four shots, giving him six for the season.)
None of the Wolverine bigs hit the offensive glass particularly well, and against Tulsa, the Golden Hurricanes carved up Michigan’s interior defense when it appeared that an upset might occur.
Beilein’s teams have been known through the years for their tricky 1-3-1 zone defense, but there was little evidence of it against Tulsa. If the Wolverines do employ the 1-3-1, watch for the high double teams from the outside wings, which creates turnovers via long, diagonal, cross-court passes. Michigan is excellent at boxing out weakside because of their 1-3-1 background.
If the Irish can limit Michigan to its normal three-point shooting percentages – nine or 10 makes per game at a 38 percent clip – they should have more than enough on the offensive end to gash the Wolverines, who look like the early Notre Dame teams under Mike Brey with their extreme reliance on long-range shooting and the inherent shortcomings that come with such an approach up front.