Busting Brackets

Michigan Basketball: 3 keys to beat Villanova in Sweet 16 matchup

Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Michigan Basketball looks to keep their up and down season alive against 2-seed Villanova. Here’s what the Wolverines need to do to win.

Michigan Basketball has managed to both under and overachieve their ever-changing expectations this season, a season which has culminated with a spot in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Some had Michigan winning the whole thing before the season started but after a rocky noncon under second-year coach Juwan Howard, the Wolverines found themselves on the bubble and very much on the outside looking in.

Despite the ups and downs, Howard guided his squad to an 11-seed, getting hot at the right time and defeating 6-seed Colorado State and 3-seed Tennessee in the opening two rounds, setting up a huge matchup against Villanova in the Sweet 16.

Michigan has the talent to extend its run even further. This is a team not playing like an 11-seed. They have next-level talent in freshman forwards Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houstan complemented by an experienced backcourt with senior guards Eli Books and DeVante’ Jones.

The star of the show is sophomore Hunter Dickinson who returned to Ann Arbor after a strong freshman campaign. Dickinson averages 18.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game and is one of the most productive big men in the country. While Dickinson is a huge key, the Wolverines have to have a strong showing across the board in order to keep on dancing. Here are three keys for Michigan to continue their run against the 2-seeded Villanova Wildcats.

Keep Nova off the free throw line

A lot of the work Jay Wright has done in his time with Villanova has been remarkable and this season that remarkable work has shown at the free throw line. The Wildcats are shooting an NCAA best 82.6 percent from the line as a team, that’s nearly 5 percent better than the second-highest mark held by Missouri State. Nova does not miss free throws and in March when games get more gritty and every possession matters, Michigan will give away points every time they put the Wildcats on the line.

Among players who have appeared in over 30 games for the Wildcats this season only senior Justin Moore shoots under 75%. If the game is close, Villanova has the capability to ice it from the line and Michigan will have to make sure to play straight up and avoid early fouls or they risk falling into a big hole especially as Villanova’s offense gets going in the second half of this game.

Dominate the paint

When you have a player like Hunter Dickinson this point seems obvious. While Michigan cannot solely lean on its star big man and expect to win, they can use Dickinson to exploit Nova in the paint. While the Wildcats’ defense is not bad by any stretch, they have been exploited by bigs this season.

In the Big East championship game when Villanova took down Creighton, center Ryan Kalkbrenner ran the show down low for the Blue Jays scoring 19 points and adding eight rebounds and three blocks, keeping the game close. UConn’s Adama Sanogo, another talented forward dropped 20 points and led the Huskies to an upset victory over the Cats in a regular-season matchup earlier this season. Dickinson is just as talented if not more so than those bigs and will have to play like Howard’s former Michigan teammate and NBA great Chris Webber (minus the clock management) if Michigan are to continue their run.

Dickinson should have some help from former five-star recruit Moussa Diabate, who hasn’t had as stelar of a freshman season as many would have hoped but is still immensely talented and chipped in with 13 points and six rebounds in the Wolverines Round of 32 victory over Tennessee.

Limit turnovers

Michigan racked up 30 turnovers across its first two tournament matchups against Colorado State and Tennessee, and another 15+ turnover game will cost them big time against a well-disciplined Jay Wright squad. Villanova doesn’t necessarily have a stifling defense but if Michigan gives the ball away it won’t get it back easily.

Villanova averages just 10 turnovers per game themselves, a mark tied for 15th best in the country, while Michigan averages 11.5 turnovers per game. While that is a respectable metric for the Wolverines the uptick in turnovers in their last two postseason games is a troubling sign.

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The Wolverines have experienced ball handlers in senior guards Eli Brooks and DeVante’ Jones, and the pair will have to stay composed in the backcourt and take care of the ball particularly down the stretch. Villanova makes every possession count so losing the ball to silly turnovers will cost Michigan valuable possessions.