Rev back up the emotional rollercoaster... it's time for another elimination game.
After surviving their first round match up with Arizona State, to stay alive the Longhorns will have to find a way past the regular season Big Ten champion, No. 2 seed Michigan. After their opening round win over Wofford, the Wolverines are now 26-8 on the season and rate 16th in KenPom's rating system.
Vegas has Michigan as a 5-point favorite (over/under is 141.5), which closely mirrors the 73-69 Wolverines victory projected by KenPom's system.
Let's quickly touch on a couple keys to the game.
Keys to the Game
1. Make Nik Stauskas dribble, defend. There's no shutting down a player of the caliber of Michigan's star sophomore, but we can choose what we make him do to beat us. First and foremost, we need to play him aggressively beyond the three point line and make him drive to the rim. He's plenty capable in that regard, but (1) it's not as lethal as him bombing three pointers at a 50% clip and (2) it forces him towards the strength of our defense, which is in the paint. The second thing I'm hoping to see us do is make Stauskas defend. I'm wouldn't be surprised if Beilein took a shot at defending us in the halfcourt with some 2-3 zone (rather than 1-3-1), which limits your ability to attack any one individual, but what I really have in mind is forcing Stauskas to run the floor to play transition defense, which is... not his strong suit.
2. Get to the glass and to the line. I'll be delighted if Texas plays as crisply on offense today as they did on Thursday night, but our path to victory if we don't lies in offensive rebounding and free throws. Although one might assume that Michigan's lack of size would accentuate those strengths, the Wolverines were among the national leaders this year both in limiting offensive boards and defending without fouling.
3. Strong game from Holmes. We're such a more dynamic offense when Jonathan Holmes is grooving, both for what he can do himself and the impact of his game on teammates. Here's to hoping he brings his A-game today.
4. Value possessions. I'd guess eighty percent of games can be explained just by talking about turnovers. It's still worth stating the obvious: we aren't winning this game if we're sloppy with the ball. The Wolverines don't turn opponents over much, so it's going to be on us more than anything.
I'm not sure what to expect in this game, particularly given the first round performances of both teams. Michigan probably just coasted a little bit (or was just a little of) in their uneventful win over Wofford. Texas, meanwhile, showed a potent offense but couldn't stop ASU from scoring and got beat on the offensive glass. So who knows?
If the two teams hold to their season-long form, however, I'm not terribly confident in our capacity to win this one. I'm particularly terrified of getting three-point bombed to death, and will be interested to see how Barnes decides to defend the Wolverines. Lord help us if we try to play zone...
On the other hand, I've got a great feeling about Isaiah Taylor in this one, and if both he and Holmes bring their best stuff, this is absolutely a winnable match up. I'm not sure I believe it (hell, I picked Michigan to make the Final Four in my bracket) but I'm going to keep the optimism rolling: Holmes rebounds, Taylor excels getting us into transition, we finally execute good offense against a 2-3 zone, and Michigan stays cold shooting the ball: Texas heads to the Sweet 16, 70-67.