Michigan vs. Texas Tech in the Sweet 16. First one to 50 wins?
The No. 2 seed Wolverines and No. 3 seed Red Raiders meet Thursday night in the West Region in Anaheim, Calif., in what should be a bare-knuckled brawl. By any metric, these teams have had two of the best shut-down units all season; in fact, Texas Tech is No. 1 and Michigan is No. 2 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
"I think that the pride part of it started last summer when guys were in here playing one-on-one from sunup to sundown," said Michigan senior guard Charles Matthews. "Nobody wanted to be the guy that was embarrassed and talked about the day after. That's what started us locking up."
Michigan (30-6) held Montana to 33.3 percent shooting in the first round, winning 74-55. The Wolverines locked down Florida 64-49 in the second round, giving up 34.5 percent shooting.
Wolverines coach John Beilein said the pride part of playing defense is a remnant of last season's team that reached the national title game before losing to Villanova.
"I think our 33 wins last year was the sales job," he said. "They saw it firsthand that a team could beat really good teams last year -- really good teams -- with defense."
Texas Tech (28-6) believes that, too. The Red Raiders held Northern Kentucky and Buffalo to a combined 36.9 percent shooting in the first two rounds.
"We're not supposed to be here," said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard. "They picked us bottom of the Big 12 and haven't gotten much respect this year, but these guys have continued to keep a chip on their shoulder and just realize that we can do a lot of things if we play as a team."
The key matchup could be how Michigan -- especially the 6-foot-6 Matthews -- is able to corral Texas Tech star Jarrett Culver.
Culver, a versatile 6-6 sophomore with NBA lottery projections, averaged 22.5 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. He averages 18.8 points for the season.
Davide Moretti contributes 11.5 points and shoots 45.4 percent from 3-point range. Matt Mooney is at 10.9 points per game, shooting 38.1 percent from deep.
Senior post player Norense Odiase had 14 points and a career-high 15 rebounds against Buffalo, helping the Red Raiders reach the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. They lost in this round to Villanova last season.
"Every day, the grind is thinking about that game, trying to get back to that level with a new team, a new team that nobody thought they could get to that level," Odiase said. "We're proving it so far."
For Michigan, Jon Teske (73 blocks) provides rim protection, and tough-as-nails point guard Zavier Simpson can prevent any offense from getting into rhythm with his on-ball defense. The 6-foot junior had this stat line against Florida: Nine points, nine rebounds, nine assists. He played all but the final 24 seconds.
"It's hard to appreciate how good Zavier Simpson is on film," Florida coach Mike White said. "Incredibly impressed with his toughness, accountability, leadership, the way he barks at his teammates, the way they respond to him. The guy just doesn't make any mistakes."
The Wolverines give up 58.2 points per game and 39.6 percent shooting, including 29.0 percent from beyond the arc.
The Red Raiders allow 59.2 points, 36.8 percent and 30.0 percent. Like Michigan, Texas Tech has an elite rim protector in Tariq Owens (83 blocks).
"It's just a mindset that every guy on the floor takes -- playing defense and locking in," Owens said. "It's something we really enjoy doing as a team."
--Field Level Media