Each opponent in the NCAA Tournament presents a unique challenge.
For Michigan, its first-round matchup with Texas Southern was against a team that had won 10 in a row. Plus, there was the whole element of avoiding the embarrassment of losing to a No. 16 seed. The Wolverines won, 82-66, and now will prepare for one of the most explosive offenses in the country when they face LSU.
Michigan is currently a -5 sports betting favorite for tonight’s 7:15 matchup, while the total is currently at 148.5.Residents in Michigan can wager on the game in-person at any of the retail sportsbooks inside any of the land-based casinos across the state, or online. Michigan launched its online sports betting and internet platforms on Jan. 22.
Here’s what to watch for as Michigan looks to earn its fourth-straight Sweet 16 berth.
The Tigers had the eighth-best scoring offense during the regular season, averaging 82.1 points per game. They feature three of the best shot creators in Cameron Thomas, Trendon Watford and Javonte Smart.
Thomas led the SEC in scoring at 22.6 points per game and was one of the top recruits in the country. He finished as the school’s leading scorer at Oak Hill Academy, which is one of the top prep basketball schools in the country. Thomas is a 32% 3-point shooter who is comfortable launching shots even beyond NBA 3-point range.
Trendon Watford is a 6-9 forward who handles the ball like a guard. He averaged 17.5 points a game and managed to put up 30 in the SEC title game loss to Alabama.
Smart rounds out the leading trio, averaging 15.6 points per game. Smart is the team’s best 3-point shooter at 42%.
“It’ll come down to guarding these guys one-on-one, and I think we have a good game plan,” Michigan forward Franz Wagner said during a video conference on Sunday. “With Smart and Thomas, they’ll take a lot of shots and are very aggressive. We can’t lose them on the perimeter and have to do our job in pick-and-rolls.
“We have to be connected with our coverages. We always say ‘guard your yard,’ which means you have to guard your guy in a one-on-one situation.”
LSU’s offense can be reminiscent of the isolation style in the NBA. It can look like a “your turn, my turn” style with any of the three players attempting to break down his defender and create a shot. This has resulted in LSU having one of the lowest assist rates in the country, with just 42% of made baskets coming off assists. By comparison, Michigan is at 56%.
LSU coach Will Wade has been concerned about Hunter Dickinson in the lead-up to the game.
The 7-1 freshman center weighs 255 pounds and is the interior presence LSU has not faced before.
“He’s massive,” Wade said. “There are just not players like him in the SEC. We haven’t played a post player like him all season long. Then you space him out with really good shooters, it makes it difficult to guard.”
Dickinson took advantage of a smaller Texas Southern frontcourt to score 16 points on 6 of 7 shooting.
Defending Dickinson and Michigan’s perimeter players like Mike Smith, who had 18 points in the win over Texas Southern, and NBA prospect Wagner sets up as one of the more difficult assignments for what has been an inconsistent LSU defense. Occasionally, the Tigers have been bad on that end of the floor. According to KenPom’s defensive metrics, LSU has the third-worst defense of teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Only Oral Roberts and Ohio were worse, but those two also advanced to the Round of 32.
But LSU’s commitment to defense has spurred its turnaround. The team has won five of its last six games, including a win at eighth-ranked Arkansas on March 13.