In Kansas City’s Midwest region, the very first Sweet 16 game will likely be one of the most entertaining. Especially if you are intrigued by gritty and grimy playing styles featuring players with big hearts who simply find a way to win. Eleven-loss Michigan’s magical run has been the darling story following the Wolverines’ airplane incident weeks ago entering conference tournament play.
Oregon is without one of the most impactful players in the game, Chris Boucher, but is determined to make a second consecutive regional final by proving doubters wrong where success is still achievable in what ultimately defines the word ‘team.’ Here is what to keep in mind when breaking down what should be the most physical game of regional play.
(7)Michigan Wolverines vs. (3)Oregon Ducks
Tate’s Take: Michigan is clearly playing with house money. In doing so, the Wolverines are arguably the most confident team entering regional play. Who can blame them? Talks of Michigan entering the tournament unfairly seeded after winning the Big Ten conference tournament were rampant, and as we see it now, clearly deserved (unlike Duke as a potential 1-seed).
Ranked in the top 50 nationally in scoring defense, Michigan is thinking ‘why not?’ in regard to returning to the sport’s biggest stage; the national championship game in which it surprised in 2013 before being ousted on a controversial block call that turned the momentum against them. Payback versus Louisville last week to advance brought back that memory with a sour taste. Ranked third among remaining teams in the tournament in 3-point field-goal percentage, Duncan Robinson has returned to the form he approached campus with.
While DJ Wilson is improving equally on both sides of the ball, Mo Wagner is as confident as he’s been all season. Derrick Walton Jr. is the known catalyst that stirs the drink for one of the biggest surprise teams in the bracket and perhaps most importantly, the X-factor in Zak Irvin has set aside his inconsistencies throughout his career, pushing for one last run in his final season in Ann Arbor.
However, standing in the Wolverines’ way is the toughest team on the west coast. No, not UCLA. Move over Arizona and it’s certainly not Gonzaga.
The Oregon Ducks, who if any one player can put their team on their shoulders and lead them to the promised land that is the Final Four… it’s Dillon Brooks! No Chris Boucher? No problem. Oregon entered the season as a top-5 preseason team that returned a large bulk of its talent from a team that won it’s regular season and conference tournament last season before defeating Duke and advancing to the Elite 8.
In order to get back, head coach Dana Altman must find a way to prepare for a hard-nosed, rebounding game with a thin front-court. Michigan isn’t the only one that ranks high in scoring defense. The Ducks rank in the top 50 nationally in two other statistical categories as well (scoring and assists). Could this be the year Oregon wins its first national championship since winning the very first national championship in college basketball history in 1939?