.@EliasSports Can you confirm Michigan is the first team to ever play two consecutive Star Wars promo games?— Ryan Clark (@LonghornRdTrip) December 9, 2017
It’s "Star Wars Night" this Tuesday for Texas basketball, which gives fans a rare opportunity to participate in marketing gimmickry and help the Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) promote its latest cinematic addition to western culture; oh what times we live in. You can probably even dress up as a damn Chewbacca and they still have to let you in.
I have reached the point of neutrality with Star Wars, which Disney seems hell-bent on shoving down our throats every December. Being born in 1976, I am not quite old enough to remember the impact of the original film, which combined visual effects that are perhaps even better than 2001: A Space Odyssey with the added benefit of not being as relentlessly boring as 2001. The first Star Wars movie I remember watching in the theater is Return of the Jedi. The original three movies had constant run on television throughout my adolescence, and I probably watched them about as often as anyone else. I guess I have decent memories of them, even if I am not sure how I would feel about them if I now approached them for the first time as an adult.
The second segment of the series spanned my grad school years, when I was more or less an adult, and were almost impossible to watch. You might get down differently than me, but in my view these movies are just bad films that are hardly preferable to some direct to video Ernest or Air Bud offering (although I am personally partial to Air Bud XI, the one where Air Bud has to win back a bunch of money he lost playing baccarat).
Which brings us to the latest round of Star Wars movies. These are at least somewhat better. Good enough to serve as an excuse to spend a couple hours away when visiting in-laws for Christmas. I will probably take in the latest one under similar circumstances. Were Disney to start releasing these films in the summer I would be far less likely to see them, but for now they serve as a nice break from discussions of local gas prices and the Kennedy assassination.
Which brings us to the point where I should now transition to basketball. The Texas Longhorns have shifted gears into a point in the non-conference schedule that should serve as a nice ramp up to conference play, with upcoming games against a couple major conference opponents as well as a pretty solid Louisiana Tech team. The first of these major conference opponents is the Michigan Wolverines.
If you are a Texas basketball fan, then you are probably at least somewhat wary of a match up with the Wolverines, who have in recent years seemed to own the Longhorns. In 2014, a talented Michigan team nailed 14 threes and shot the Longhorns out of the NCAA tournament. In 2016, the Wolverines again dropped 14 threes on Texas, although this time the setting was a hotel ballroom in The Bahamas. A season ago, Michigan did not shoot the ball quite as well, but managed to outlast Texas in a rock fight in Ann Arbor.
The current iteration of John Beilein's team comes to Austin with an 8-3 record, after beating UCLA at home on Saturday. This team has a little less offensive firepower than many recent Michigan squads, but after hitting 10 threes against the Bruins, should still be regarded as dangerous.
Like all of Beilein's teams before it, the Wolverines spread the floor, value the ball, move it around, and are careful to take mostly high quality shots. The floor is balanced and spaced around 6'11 junior Moritz Wagner, who will present an interesting challenge for Texas center Mohamed Bamba. Wagner plays the role of the evolutionary German Pittsnogle in Beilein's attack — let's get a photo of this guy in a white suit and hat immediately — functioning as a face-up perimeter shooter but also fully capable of putting the ball on the deck, scoring inside, or serving as the center spoke in the high post as the world turns around him. The Wolverines can be ruthless in identifying an offensive tactic that works in a particular game and then going to it over and over again. They will surely find out early on if Bamba wants to guard Wagner 20 feet from the basket in some sort of 5-out scenario.
Playing next to Wagner is Duncan Robinson, a 6'8 senior who shot Texas out of the building in The Bahamas two years ago. He is a career 42 percent three point shooter, but has started off this season slowly. I would not necessarily assume that slow start continues.
Four players mostly rotate through the three other spots on the floor for Michigan. Through the early part of the season 6'6 sophomore Charles Matthews has probably been the best, but the smartest move is to assume all of them — Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Eli Brooks, and Zavier Simpson — are potentially dangerous.
The Wolverines will spread the floor with five perimeter players and give the Texas offense many looks. They will also play slowly and methodically. This will present a different sort of challenge for the Longhorns, who will find that their rim protecting center will spend much of the game guarding a perimeter shooting threat.
Texas is the favorite, but don't take Michigan for granted. The game tips in Austin at 8 p.m. CT, and airs on ESPN2.