After a small college basketball hiatus, we are treated to 4 great games tomorrow night. The first one features the team of destiny, Michigan, against the Ducks of Oregon, who are fighting to stay alive without their rim protector and floor spacer, Chris Boucher. This game is probably going to be right up there with UCLA-Kentucky as the best games in the Sweet 16. These are two teams that play with a lot of heart and have ballers that show up in crunch time (see: Derrick Walton Jr., D.J. Wilson, Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks, Trey Burke. Wait, maybe not that last one).
I’m going to be really honest, this will be biased. I wholeheartedly believe everything that I am going to say, but my mind has been infected with a love of quacking. I have hopped on the bandwagon and now I’m stuck driving it for the rest of my life. So please, take everything I say with a grain of salt.
Michigan has a little bit of everything. They have a heady point guard in Derrick Walton Jr. that can run an offense, but he’s also really special on defense. Walton is glued to opposing point guards and was an absolute problem against Louisville for Donovan Mitchell and Quinn Snider. They have Wagner and Wilson that can score inside, and also really stretch the floor. They have Zak Irvin who can provide reliable wing scoring and has been since roughly the Fab 5 era. Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman gives the Wolverines 30 quality minutes a game in the backcourt, and is an absolute mouthful of a name. Duncan Robinson is a sharpshooter off the bench who has worked his way from D3 star to major D1 sniper. This team is built perfectly to make a run. And that’s just what they’re doing.
My Ducks are an interesting team. Payton Pritchard and Casey Benson are two point guards that run the offense and do a good job of protecting the ball. Pritchard gives Oregon much more of a spark than Benson, but they both can handle the rock and orchestrate an offense. Dylan Ennis is a shooting guard that would be one of the oldest players on the Sixers at 25 years old. He can shoot, but for the most part he is just a mistake free placeholder that knocks down open treys from time to time mixing in an occasional reverse layup (look for it tomorrow night, it happens once a game). Kavell Bigby-Williams is only a factor because he is a behemoth of a man that needs to give Oregon about 7-10 minutes of reasonable play, due to the loss of Boucher. The key pieces for the Ducks are Tyler Dorsey, Jordan Bell, and Dillon Brooks. Brooks is a nightmare matchup as a small ball four. He has improved his shooting this season and is the go-to guy for the Ducks. Dorsey has really stepped up his game this season, challenging Brooks for that go-to role on offense. He is the reason they had a chance against Arizona in the Pac 12 championship game, and he is the reason they beat URI in the round of 32. Jordan Bell has to take his defense up to another level, again due to the injury to Boucher. He also needs to keep his scoring up because he is the only interior threat for this Ducks team.
For the Wolverines, the X-Factor is going to be D.J. Wilson. Wilson has played 76 minutes and scored 36 points through two games. He’s playing really well and it’s crucial that he keeps that up because the Oregon defense should have no answer for him. If they go man-to-man, then small ball 4, Dillon Brooks, will be supremely undersized and Wilson should be able to take advantage of that. Against the zone that Oregon usually runs, Wilson should be a nice fit to stretch that zone out and open up the middle for guard penetration. If Wilson shows out on the offensive end, then my Ducks could be in for a long night and I may be done quacking until next season.
For the Ducks, the X-Factor is Payton Pritchard. Honestly, it could be Pritchard, Benson, or Ennis, but I think Pritchard is most likely to give the Ducks what I think they need. The freshman point guard has played with poise all season, but Derrick Walton Jr. has a knack for making life on opposing point guards really tough. I know I’m asking a lot from the freshman, but he’s not only going to have to protect the ball and handle the pressure of Derrick Walton Jr., but also give Oregon the occasional bucket against Walton. We know that Dorsey and Brooks will give the Ducks perimeter scoring. We know Bell will bang around inside and get boards and some buckets, even with Michigan’s great size. He did it against Arizona against Ristic, Lauri, and all of the Wildcats’ bigs. But, what we don’t know is how the point guard matchup will go for the Ducks. Someone needs to step up. I’m thinking it’s going to be the kid that gave Oregon a shot against UCLA in Eugene by hitting a big three that paved the way for Dillon Brooks to drill a trey over Lonzo Ball for the win.
The Ducks are coming off of a huge gut check win against URI where they were battling from behind for the majority of the game. Michigan is coming off of a win against one of the best teams in the nation in Louisville. In that matchup, Michigan won the turnover battle 6 to 11. The Wolverines are going to cough it up a couple more times due to the matchup 2-3 zone of Oregon. Also, Louisville shot just 5-20 from downtown against Michigan. I think Oregon can shoot the deep ball much better which will be a problem for Michigan’s iffy defense. However, Wagner and Wilson will wreak havoc inside against the Ducks small lineup. Ultimately, the game is going to come down to shooting from beyond the arc and controlling the pace. The Ducks don’t push the pace too often. They need to avoid running with the high-powered offense of the Wolverines. I think the Ducks keep Michigan in a slower paced game and find themselves back in the Elite Eight. 72-68. Quack.