NCAA Tournament Preview: Michigan Wolverines vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Two down, two to go. Florida Gulf Coast and Wichita State punched their tickets into the round of 64 on Tuesday night. Both of those games were decided by 20+ points, so hopefully Wednesday night’s contests provide a little more drama. Tulsa was certainly the most controversial selection into the tournament. Can the Golden Hurricane hush the nay-sayers by knocking off Michigan in the opening round?

Date and Time: Wednesday, March 16th 2016 at 9:00pm ET
Location: University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio
Watch: TruTV
Spread: Michigan -4; O/U 143 (Follow up-to-the-minute line moves as they happen here)

They don’t mean much, but a few fun trends heading into the game courtesy of OddsShark

  • Both Tulsa and Michigan are 1-4 ATS in their last five games.
  • Seven of Tulsa’s last eight games have gone over the total.
  • Tulsa is 4-3 ATS as an underdog this season, with three of those four covers coming as an outright win.
  • Michigan is 2-6 ATS in its last eight games as a favorite.

Who to Watch: Tulsa has a dynamic guard combination of seniors James Woodard and Shaquille Harrison. Both saw significant playing time during their freshman seasons and have led the Golden Hurricane ever since. Woodard leads the team in minutes and points while Harrison is on top in assists, steals and rebounds. If this gets into a tight game late, Tulsa needs to make sure it gets the ball into Woodard’s hands as much as possible. He is shooting 78.3-percent from the free throw line this season, compared to Harrison’s 63.8-percent mark. Michigan loves to shoot the three, but Tulsa can’t get caught up in a shootout with them. Harrison hasn’t made a three-pointer in 12 games (0-for-10) and Woodard is shooting just 32-percent in his last seven games (16-for-50). Tulsa isn’t equipped to go shot-for-shot with the Wolverines from behind-the-arc.

What’s the Key: Will experience matter? Michigan missed the tournament last season and only has two players remaining from their run in 2014: Derrick Walton, Jr. and Zak Irvin. The Wolverines don’t have any seniors and start three juniors and two sophomores, compared to Tulsa’s starting lineup of four seniors and a junior. Sophomore Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is averaging 13 points per game over Michigan’s last seven, but his production through out the season has been largely inconsistent. He’s been held to five points or fewer 13 times this season without making a splash elsewhere on the stat sheet (i.e. 2 points, 2 assists and 4 rebounds in 39 minutes against Wisconsin recently). Same applies for sophomore Duncan Robinson, who followed up his 21-point performance against Northwestern to end the regular season with a three-point night against Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan needs consistent contributions from its younger players if it wants to get past Tulsa and play Notre Dame.

Where We’re Leaning: “How did they get in the tournament?” “They don’t belong here, this should have been Monmouth.” “They lost to Memphis twice, they stink.” Every time a college basketball writer or analyst opened their mouth on Sunday night, Michigan Coach John Beilein probably cringed. Should Tulsa be in the field of 68? No, probably not. But they’re here, and they’ve had three days to listen to a barrage of complaints, put-downs, and insults from every “expert” across the country. On the Beat Vegas Podcast, all of the guests were in unanimous agreement that the true line on this game is closer to a pick’em, but the public perception of Tulsa is so bad right now that the line just keeps climbing (-5 with a -105 juice at Bovada, as I’m typing this). Michigan is 1-4 ATS in its last five games and 3-5 straight-up in its last eight. The Wolverines certainly aren’t arriving in Dayton on some kind of magical run, and two of those three recent wins came against Northwestern. Tulsa has five wins over tournament qualifiers (should be six, but SMU is disqualified from the tournament). Michigan has four. The Wolverines attempt 25.2 three-pointers a game, second-most out of remaining tournament teams behind Iona. Historically, that’s a recipe for disaster when the cameras are on and you’re shooting in a gym you’ve never seen before. Tulsa will have the best player on the court in Woodard, and a good motivator on the bench in Frank Haith. Getting four points in a game that should be a pick’em is too much value to pass up. We’ll be looking to back Tulsa plus the points in Wednesday night’s NCAA Opening Round.

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