Can the Jackrabbits actually pull off this upset? Sure, but they’ll have to play a lot better than they did last year in their first NCAA appearance against Baylor.
Though the Jacks got off to a hot start in that game and gave the Bears a brief scare at the end, they didn’t put together a particularly strong performance.
Nate Wolters seemed to have trouble with his grip on the ball at times, Jordan Dykstra backed down in some one-on-one battles and the defensive intensity wasn’t strong enough to pull off the upset.
The good news is that the Jacks played poorly and still lost just 68-60 to a No. 3 seed in the school’s first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament.
Coach Scott Nagy and his players freely admitted that they were a little starry-eyed during their Albuquerque experience, which shouldn’t be the case tonight at the Palace.
The good news against Michigan is that the Wolverines don’t have much of a post presence, so they won’t be able to hammer it inside against the Jacks.
The bad news is that Coach John Beilein’s squad is much more athletic than SDSU and will finish quickly in transition opportunities with players such as Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr.
That makes taking care of the basketball essential, not just for Wolters but everyone on the floor. Playing with confidence in tight spots comes down to mental and physical toughness, something this team hasn’t always thrived on in past years.
But the Jacks displayed a lot of both in the Summit League finals against North Dakota State, an encouraging sign that Nagy pointed to in the moments following that victory.
Dykstra in particular held his ground and played an aggressive style, and he’ll need to continue that trend tonight for the Jacks to have a chance. Chad White will also need to play one of the better games of his career, while Tony Fiegen must master his “sturdy as oak” role inside, especially when providing help on Wolverine drives.
As for Wolters vs. Burke, the SDSU senior needs to pick his spots and not turn it into a personal battle, because trying to do too much will benefit the Jacks very little in this one.
Wolters needs to trust his teammates and put them in positions to score while paying close attention to the defensive end, where stopping Burke’s penetration will be key.
Can the Jacks pull if off? It’s not impossible. I believe this game will be close well into the second half, but Michigan’s quickness will ultimately be too much for the underdogs to bear.
Prediction: Michigan 73, SDSU 63