Who will step up as a scorer for Michigan basketball in the Sweet 16?
Texas Tech has No. 1 defense in country
DETROIT – The Michigan basketball team has already accomplished a great deal this season, but it has its eyes set on another trip to the Final Four.
Michigan has won 30 games for the second year in a row and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row. If the Wolverines want to survive another weekend, somebody will have to step up as a scorer.
So far, much like in last year's NCAA Tournament, Michigan has gotten by on the strength of its defense. It had a few offensive lulls in a 74-55 win over Montana and ground out a 64-49 win over Florida in the second round.
Last year, Michigan only had one truly impressive offensive performance in the tournament: a 99-point dismantling of Texas A&M. It will be much tougher to score in this year's Sweet 16.
Meet Texas Tech
Texas Tech comes into the matchup with the No. 1 adjusted defensive efficiency in the country -- the only team playing better defense than Michigan.
The Red Raiders rode their defense to a Big 12 championship and held Northern Kentucky and Buffalo to 57 and 58 points, respectively, in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Texas Tech's offense is technically ranked lower than Michigan's offense, but it has one critical component that the Wolverines lack: a go-to scorer.
When Texas Tech is slumping offensively, Jarrett Culver is a guy who can go get a basket. He's a future top-10 NBA draft pick and averages 18.8 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting. In the NCAA Tournament, having that go-to player in a big moment can be the difference between moving on and getting eliminated.
Texas Tech also has a pair of sharp shooters in Davide Moretti and Matt Mooney. They both play more than 30 minutes per game, with Moretti shooting 45 percent and Mooney shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc.
Who steps up for Michigan?
In all three of its losses to Michigan State this season, Michigan was plagued by long offensive droughts, particularly in the second half. It feels like one of those extended cold stretches could be what ends Michigan's season over the next two weeks.
Michigan has a handful of good offensive players, but who will take the ball and get a basket when the team is struggling against the best defense in the country?
In the win over Florida, Jordan Poole was that guy, even though he didn't have a particularly efficient game. Poole led the team with 19 points on 5-15 shooting, but some of his shots came at big moments when Florida was closing the gap.
Poole is massively important to Michigan's offense because he's one of only three players who shoots better than 35 percent from 3-point range. Shot selection has been an issue at times for Poole, but the bigger issue has been his ability to consistently hit good shots when he gets them.
When Poole is on target from beyond the arc, Michigan's offense is dangerous. When he's missing on his open looks, scoring is an uphill battle.
Ignas Brazdeikis is Michigan's leading scorer and quietly shoots better than 40 percent from 3-point range. Foul trouble has thrown him out of rhythm at times this season, but when he's in the game, Michigan has another threat who can shoot or drive to the basket.
The only other player who can truly take over a game offensively for Michigan is Isaiah Livers, the best 3-point shooter on the team. Livers can create his own shot or get on a hot streak from the corners.
What to expect
Michigan is obviously a great team this season. It has 30 wins and is among the final 16 teams left in the NCAA Tournament. But anyone who still has a hard time trusting the Wolverines heading into the Sweet 16 would probably cite their lack of a go-to scorer.
On Thursday night, if Michigan and Texas Tech are in a close game down the stretch, Culver will be the focus for the Red Raiders. Will somebody step up and match him for Michigan? If so, the Wolverines are well-rounded enough to win the game. If not, the season might end a round sooner than expected.
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