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Thanks, Chris for the question, which came from our Wednesday evening Facebook Live chat. Michigan has 30 wins to its credit and is the higher seed in the game at No. 3 in the West Regional. But seeding has meant little to nothing in this tournament. Texas A&M (22-12) is the No. 7 seed but is coming off a 21-point win against No. 2 North Carolina last Sunday. The Aggies were ranked as high as No. 5 in the AP poll in late December but injures and suspensions hit them hard and they lost their first five games in the SEC.
A Michigan victory is dependent upon three things: 1) create turnovers and convert them into points; 2) keep Texas A&M off the offensive boards; and 3) get more playing time and production from Moe Wagner.
Point 1: Michigan takes care of the ball as well as any team in the country, averaging 9.2 turnovers per game. The Wolverines don’t beat themselves with empty possessions in which they don’t get at least one shot off. They don’t always force a lot of turnovers, getting 12.8 per game from opponents, but when they do it usually translates into scores on the other end. Texas A&M’s 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Robert Williams is averaging 2.6 blocks per game and has won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award in each of his two seasons.
Texas A&M turns the ball over 13.6 times per game and has a minus-2.7 turnover margin. The Aggies have six different players who have committed at least 50 turnovers this season. Freshman guard TJ Starks is averaging 18 points and 6.5 assists in the NCAA Tournament but he also turned it over a combined 11 times in wins against Providence and North Carolina. If Michigan can get easy buckets off steals and turnovers, Williams becomes less effective on defense.
Point 2: Williams is averaging 9.3 rebounds per game, while 6-10 junior center Tyler Davis grabs 9 per game. Davis gets almost 40 percent of his rebounds on offense (119 of 305). Michigan’s defense has been allowing just 63.1 points per game this season. Part of the secret is limiting opponents to 8.2 offensive rebounds. The Wolverines don’t give up the extra opportunities often. That was a critical stat in both wins against Michigan State and the win against Purdue this season.
Point 3: Wagner was the team’s leading scorer in the regular season and won Most Outstanding Player honors at the Big Ten Tournament but in the first two games of this tournament he’s scored just 17 points total. He’s shooting fine (46.7 percent from the field, including making 3 of 5 3-point attempts) but he hasn’t been on the court enough because of foul troubles. It was an issue in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament against Iowa, as well. (So much so that coach John Beilein wanted to know the German word for “dumb” so he could put it in context of the fouls.)
Michigan needs its best players on the floor as much as possible in this game. Wagner is as good as it has.
Read more answers to questions about the Michigan Wolverines here.
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