Previously: Enter The Terrier (Wofford)
This is not a jinx, as KenPom predicts Michigan will make the round of 32, and the KenPom Curse defeats all other curses by analytical submission.
Despite their placement in a loaded Midwest region, Michigan actually lucked out with their early draw. Not only is Wofford considered the weakest 15-seed in the field, Texas/Arizona State is the 7/10 matchup least likely to produce an upset—Nate Silver gives U-M the best odds of any two-seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
Silver has Texas/ASU as a 50-50 tossup, while KenPom gives the Longhorns a 52% chance at victory. While the game is a coin-flip, the teams involved look remarkably different. Here's an overview of Michigan's potential round of 32 opponents.
TEXAS (23-10, 11-7 Big 12)
The Longhorns are an unpredictable squad, having gone up against several top opponents this season with very mixed results. The above dunk came in a 12-point home win over #8 Kansas; on the return trip, however, the Jayhawks won by 31. Texas upended #26 North Carolina by three points in Chapel Hill; three days later, #10 Michigan State pulled away for a 14-point victory in Austin.
The Longhorns swept the regular-season series against #31 Baylor, then lost to them by 17 in the conference tournament, their fifth loss in the last eight games. That final stretch included a six-point loss at #86 Texas Tech, the worst team they fell to all season.
The unpredictability can be chalked up to a very iffy offense. Texas ranks 79th in the country in efficiency despite boasting the sixth-best offensive rebound rate (39.4%) in the country. That's because they can't shoot a lick: they're ranked 244th in 2P%, 266th in 3P%, and 285th in FT%. Six Longhorns have attempted at least 45 three-pointers this year—none shoots better than 35.4%, and their highest-volume shooter—5'11" shooting guard Javan Felix—is at 33.3% on 171 attempts.
Texas isn't winning a game of HORSE against Michigan even if Nik Stauskas decides to shoot exclusively left-handed. The Longhorns have the #36 defense in the country and they're 15th in 2P% against. They give up a very high percentage of three-point looks, however, and they start three guards ranging in size from 5'11" to 6'2" — not ideal for contesting Michigan's shooters.
6'9", 285-pound center Cameron Ridley is 50th nationally in OR%, 195th in DR%, 48th in block rate, 97th in fouls drawn, and 22nd in FT rate, per KenPom. Despite his considerable girth, he manages to play 63% of the team's available minutes. Ridley will be difficult to keep off the boards, and if officials are calling things tight, a Max Bielfeldt first-half cameo isn't out of the question. That'd be a worst-case scenario, as the only way I see Texas winning this particular matchup is by overwhelming Michigan on the boards.
While the rebounding is a concern, Texas's inability to shoot, lack of size on the perimeter, and the coaching mismatch of John Beilein against Rick Barnes lend me to believe this would be a game that very much favors Michigan.
[Hit THE JUMP for the outlook on Arizona State]
ARIZONA STATE (21-11, 10-8 Pac 12)
Despite initial appearances, this is relevant.
Like Texas, ASU isn't heading into the tournament with much momentum — they're loses of three straight and five of their last seven, capped off by a 21-point blowout at the hands of #36 Stanford in the Pac 12 tourney.
The Sun Devils can boast about a double-overtime home win over #1 Arizona, though that came shortly after the Brandon Ashley injury. They've been handled easily by the other top teams they've faced—#9 Creighton, #18 UCLA, and Arizona (in the first game, with Ashley) won their matchups by an average of 22 points. ASU also has some bad losses on the resume: #99 Washington defeated them by 11 in Tempe, and they fell by two at #104 Oregon State in the regular-season finale.
Arizona State's offense (99th in efficiency) is marginally worse than Texas's, but their profile is the complete opposite. The Sun Devils are 30th in 3P%, right about average in the other shooting categories, and 339th(!) in offensive rebounding. Three of their starters shoot in the 40% range from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, their 7'2" center, Jordan Bachynski, isn't even ranked nationally with a pedestrian—for a giant center—8.1 OR%, the best mark among any Sun Devil playing at least 30% of the team's minutes. With a low turnover rate (16.3%, 52nd), they're a worse-shooting, worse-rebounding Michigan offense.
ASU has the 29th-ranked defense, and unlike Texas they're very good at preventing three-point attempts. Their overall defensive numbers are inflated a bit, however, by opponents shooting 64.4% from the free-throw line, giving the Sun Devils the fourth-best "free throw defense" in the country. Free throw defense is not a thing, and the rest of ASU's defensive numbers are solid but unspectacular.
A 7'2" center is always a bit worrisome, and Bachynski is 12th in the country in block rate, but his rebounding numbers aren't out of this world and he's not a dominant post player who draws a lot of fouls. The player who concerns me more is 6'4" Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall, who's had a breakout year shooting 51% from two and 40% from three. While he's primarily a spot-up shooter, he's got the athleticism and finishing ability to be a problem for Michigan's subpar perimeter defense.
Again, this looks like a good matchup for Michigan. The giant center isn't a destructive offensive force. The perimeter players are essentially shorter versions of Michigan's perimeter guys, and they aren't quite as good at shooting. I'm torn on which matchup works more in the Wolverines's favor, as both teams have one thing that could make them a tough out: for Texas, their offensive rebounding; for ASU, their three-point prevention. Of the two, the Sun Devils seem most likely to be overwhelmed based on sheer talent, so I lean towards wanting the lower seed to advance here.
For those wanting to get a look at these squads, this game tips off at around 9:40 on Thursday on CBS — that's immediately following Michigan-Wofford, so you should find yourself in the vicinity of a television at that time.