The Pac-12 continues to thrive as UCLA defeated Alabama and advanced to the Elite Eight. Meanwhile, Michigan had an impressive 18 point in versus Florida State. Michigan and UCLA will square off in the Elite Eight Tuesday evening. UCLA has been gritty with a fluid offense in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan has been extremely impressive at nearly everything without one of their star Isaiah Livers. Keys to this Elite Eight game includes free throw attempts and turnovers.
Michigan has surprised most by playing without Livers who averages 13.1 points per game. The Wolverines were clicking against LSU and Florida State. Michigan’s ball movement has been fantastic the last several games. Through fluid ball movement, Michigan only had one bucket not scored in the paint in the second half against Florida State. Further, Michigan had 19 assists with only 9 turnovers. This is fantastic, any assist to turnover ratio over two is elite. With great ball movement, Michigan should be able to pick apart UCLA’s defense.
Additionally, UCLA might not have the size to guard Michigan. Hunter Dickinson is Michigan’s lead-scorer with 14.2 points per contest. UCLA’s center is Eric Riley standing at 6-foot-9. Dickinson stands at 7-foot-1, he could be a major problem for UCLA. Also, Franz Wagner is a Michigan guard averaging 12.8 points. Wagner is a big guard at 6-foot-9. Once again, this is another problem for UCLA. Michigan needs to deploy their size against UCLA. Further, Michigan could live in the paint due to UCLA’s lack of size.
Michigan has shot over 20 free throws in their last two games. Between Michigan’s recent ball movement and shooting, allowing plenty of free throws makes it impossible to stop Michigan. Therefore, UCLA must avoid fouling the Wolverines. If Michigan’s free throws are limited, UCLA could get Michigan’s offense in check.
In addition, UCLA has rarely turned the ball over in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA has been under 10 turnovers in all four of their March Madness games. Also, Michigan has rarely turned the ball over. Considering both teams take care of the ball, the winner of the turnover battle has a good chance of winning. UCLA needs to continue to avoid turnovers.
Lastly, due to Michigan’s size UCLA needs to shoot the three well. UCLA has plenty of shooters in Jaime Jaquez Jr., Jules Bernard and Johnny Juzang. Furthermore, these three shooters all shoot over 35% from three. If threes fall, UCLA can stretch Michigan’s defense. This will open up the paint and lead to more post touches and scoring in the paint. This will be UCLA’s most effective way to score on Michigan.
Players to Watch
For Michigan, players like Eli Brooks, Chaundee Brown, Mike Smith and Brandon Johns Jr. have all stepped up in Livers’ absence. Johns came up with 14 against Florida State. In addition, Brown and Brooks both had over 20 against LSU. Smith also contributed with 18 against Texas Southern. These players must continue their play without Livers.
Dickinson is the biggest piece to watch for Michigan. With UCLA’s small size, Dickinson could be a monster in the paint. Look for Michigan to feed the bruising center early and often. Dickinson is simply a matchup problem for UCLA and must be used.
For UCLA, Jaquez and Bernard will need to big knocking down threes to stretch Michigan’s defense. Jaquez and Bernard both stepped up when Juzang fouled out late for UCLA against Alabama. Both poured in 17 points in their Sweet Sixteen thriller.
Juzang is UCLA’s leading-scorer averaging 15.1 points. Juzang was averaging over 20 points per game in his first three games of the NCAA Tournament. The UCLA guard had his first rough night against Alabama shooting 5/18. On the other hand, this made UCLA’s win against Alabama even more impressive. In contrast, Michigan is an even better squad. Juzang must get back to efficient shooting scoring 15+ points.
Michigan’s size and recent ball movement looks to be the biggest factor in this Elite Eight clash. However, UCLA has fought and clawed in every single game. Coming out of the First Four, UCLA has won four impressive games in the NCAA Tournament. On paper, Michigan should be the favorite, but you cannot discount UCLA’s effort.
Michigan opened as a 7.5 point favorite against UCLA. In conclusion, Michigan’s size and recent play could be too much. This will be UCLA’s toughest test yet. Michigan looks like a national title contender right now. The Elite Eight showdown is Tuesday evening on TBS.
Prediction: 71-62 Michigan
All stats courtesy of ESPN and Team Rankings.