Conference: Big Ten (Auto-Bid)
Record: 24-11 (10-8)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 7 (Midwest)
How they got to the Big Dance
A late-season surge, highlighted by February victories over Purdue and Wisconsin, set the Wolverines up for a run in the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan ended the regular season winners of six of its last eight. Then, in the Big Ten tournament, the eighth-seeded Wolverines showed their full potential, defeating Illinois by 20, Purdue in overtime, Minnesota in the semifinals and Wisconsin in the championship.
Michigan has become comfortable with playing away from Ann Arbor, as it has played either on the road or at a neutral site in eight of its last nine games.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
One of the most important things for team’s looking toward a deep run in the NCAA Tournament is poise at the free throw line, and the Wolverines are excellent free throw shooters. They have shot 77.4 percent from the strike, the best mark in the Big Ten. In their three regular season games against ranked opponents (two against Purdue, one against Wisconsin), the Wolverines have made 30-of-35 free throws (85.7 percent)
Conversely, they are extraordinary at not fouling. As a team, Michigan is sixth in the country in fewest fouls per game. The Wolverines also lead the country in fewest turnovers per game, as they turn the ball over just 9.5 times per game.
Michigan is also one of the hottest teams in the country. After surviving a near-deadly plane mishap on their way to Washington, D.C., for the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines continued their momentum and won the entire tournament. Playing well at the right time is crucial in college basketball, and Michigan is doing just that.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
Throughout the season, Michigan has struggled on the glass and defending the perimeter. The Wolverines were ranked 13th in the Big Ten in defending the 3-point shot, as their opponents converted over 38 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. If the 3-point defense struggles, Michigan’s chances to win go down dramatically. The Wolverines are 15-2 when they shoot a higher percentage from downtown and just 8-9 when their opponent does.
Player to watch: G Derrick Walton Jr.
Walton Jr. has improved his scoring every season with Michigan and in his senior year has set a new career-high with 15 points per game, a number that leads the well-rounded Wolverines. While he is a great scorer who can put the ball in the net in multiple ways, he is also an outstanding all-around player. The All-Big Ten Second Team selection became the first Wolverine player and just the 13th in Big Ten history to record over 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists in his career.
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