Before you start celebrating about Mercer blowing up the so-called "Bracket of Death," though, don’t forget the little matter of the Texas Longhorns.
Texas blew a big second-half lead late Thursday night, right around the time that the entire NCAA tournament went crazy, but still beat Arizona State 87-85 on Cameron Ridley’s lefty half-hook at the buzzer. That earned them a date with Michigan Saturday afternoon.
The Wolverines will be facing a completely different challenge against the Longhorns than they did in a comfortable win over Wofford. The Terriers were a small team that relied on aggressive defense, while Texas is built around size.
They are going to present a lot of challenges for us, especially with two guys that big
Ridley is 6’9" and Jonathan Holmes, who had several key baskets down the stretch is 6’8". That’s a tough matchup for 6’8" Jordan Morgan and 6’6" Glenn Robinson III — something more like they saw in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State.
"They are going to present a lot of challenges for us, especially with two guys that big," Morgan said at Friday’s press conference. "There’s size in the Big Ten, but most teams don’t go quite that big at power forward."
Texas is actually much smaller than Michigan in the backcourt, which should mean good scoring opportunties for Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. The problem is that the Wolverines are going to have trouble running, because Stauskas and LeVert will have to be helping out on the defensive glass. In their win over Arizona State, the Longhorns got their last three baskets off offensive rebounds, and both Ridley and Holmes have been hurting teams all season by creating two-shot possessions.
"It is going to really important for us to get rebounds," LeVert said. "Jordan, Jon (Horford) and Glenn are going to be tied up all night boxing out, so we’ve got to get in there and help out."
As long as the Wolverines can limit the damage that Texas does on the offensive glass, they should be OK. The Longhorns rely heavily on second-chance points because they aren’t a good shooting team — their last two offensive rebounds on Thursday both came off airballed 3-point attempts — and they don’t match up well with Michigan defensively.
After Ridley and Holmes, Texas doesn’t have a starter that is bigger than 6’2", so Stauskas and LeVert will be shooting over much smaller players for the second game in a row. The Longhorns also don’t force many turnovers, which was the one thing that Wofford was able to do that slowed Michigan down.
Not surprisingly, Texas does block a lot of shots, but that’s not usually effective against Michigan, which scores so many of its points from outside. It does mean Morgan and Horford will be less of an offensive threat than normal, but it isn’t like they are putting up big numbers anyway.
"Anyone we play, it is important that we be able to stretch teams out with our perimeter shooting," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "They are bigger inside, but they play small a lot of minutes at the 1, 2 and 3, so we’ve got to be able to have a mixture of outside shooting and penetration. We still have to be able to drive the ball against them."
Michigan’s only other problem will be that, like every team they play in this tournament with the possible exception of Louisville, the Longhorns will be especially fired up to face them.
"We’ve had a target on our backs since we made it to the championship game last year," Robinson said. "Teams are always giving us everything they’ve got, and even more so now that we’re a No. 2 seed."
Thanks to Mercer, there’s no longer a No. 3 seed on Michigan’s side of the Midwest bracket, but that won’t be important unless the Wolverines get past the big trees from Texas.