Notre Dame will get to play arch rival Michigan in their first round game after the 11th seeded Wolverines took down Tulsa 67-62 in Wednesday night’s play-in game. The Irish and Wolverines haven’t played each other in basketball since the 2006 NIT, when Dion Harris led Michigan to a 87-84 win. The Wolverines have won 3 of the last 4 in the series and hold the all-time series record at 15-7. This is a game we usually love to see on the gridiron, but we’ll have to “settle” for a NCAA Tournament game.
Even though the Irish are seeded higher than Michigan, this game should be a dogfight. The Wolverines might be the toughest 11 seed out there. Michigan is trending in the right direction as they’ve won 3 of 4, including a win over Big Ten champ Indiana.
The Irish on the other hand are not playing their best ball. Outside of the last 10 minutes against Duke in the ACC Tournament, Notre Dame has actually played pretty poorly. For most of the game against Duke and the whole game against North Carolina, the Irish played uncharacteristically. The Irish didn’t make shots, didn’t run good offense and turned the ball over at an exceptionally high rate. All three will need to change in order for the Irish to keep their March dreams alive.
While he hasn’t lived up to the hype, Zak Irvin is quite possibly the most talented player on the Michigan roster. With the absence of leading scorer Caris Lavert, Irvin has came up big late in the season when the Wolverines needed him the most. In his last six games Irvin is averaging 14.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and is shooting 45% from the field. He is a player that can easily hurt the Irish with a big game.
Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has stepped up his game over the last four games. Since the beginning of the Big Ten tournament the sophomore is averaging 15 points and is shooting 43% from the field. If the Irish decide to go man, look for Steve Vasturia to get the matchup.
Overall, Michigan is pretty similar to the Irish in that they run pretty good offense and don’t play the best defense in the world. The Wolverines are ranked 35th on KenPom in adjusted offensive efficiency and 108th in adjusted defensive efficiency.
I keep sounding like a broken record, but if the Irish want to find any kind of meaningful success in March star guard Demetrius Jackson absolutely needs to snap out of his offensive funk. Since ND’s February 13th win over Louisville where Jackson scored 27 points, the junior has averaged just 11.8 points and has shot 32% from the field and a dreadful 22% from three-point land. He really needs to pick it up. If Jackson comes out and makes his first couple shots, I think that confidence will carry over for the rest of the game. If he doesn’t snap out of his funk, then I don’t see the Irish getting past the Wolverines.
The Irish should have the advantage over the Wolverines on the glass, something that wasn’t true in Notre Dame’s previous matchup with North Carolina. Look for Zach Auguste to have a huge game against Michigan’s smaller frontline. The Wolverines only have one player over 6’9″ and thats freshman Moritz Wagner. Outside of the North Carolina game Auguste has been on a tear of late. He’s been averaging 15.4 points and 14.2 rebounds over his last five games. Don’t look for him to led up on Friday night.
As I keep thinking about this game, I keep flip-flopping on a prediction. I could easily either team coming away with a victory, but since the Irish have been trending down and the Wolverines have been trending up, it’s going to hurt my heart to say this but I think Michigan will win in a close one. That being said, don’t be surprised if Notre Dame wins either.