Who: No. 5 Michigan Wolverines (9-0) vs. South Carolina (4-4)
Where: Crisler Center (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
When: Saturday, Dec. 8, noon ET
Point spread: Michigan -18
Listen: Detroit: WWJ-950 AM; Ann Arbor: WTKA-1050 AM; anywhere: MGoBlue.com
Tickets: $25 (MGoBlue.com)
Promotion: Toy drive (bring a new/unwrapped toy to donate to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital)
Follow: Andrew Kahn
South Carolina is finally in Ann Arbor for its return game of a home-and-home series with Michigan, a program that looks much different from the first meeting.
That came on Nov. 23, 2016 in Columbia, a 61-46 South Carolina win that was one of Michigan’s worst offensive performances of the John Beilein era.
South Carolina ended up going to the Final Four that season, but has been .500 since. Michigan, meanwhile, is now the program frustrating opponents with a stifling defense.
Michigan will begin a stretch of just four games over the next 26 days when it hosts the Gamecocks on Saturday.
It’s been win, lose, repeat for South Carolina this season en route to a 4-4 record, which includes losses to Stony Brook, Wofford, and Wyoming. Michigan is 9-0. Because both schools participated in the Hall of Fame Tip Off Tournament, they have three common opponents. Like Michigan, the Gamecocks easily handled Norfolk State. In Connecticut, they lost to Providence 76-67 and pummeled George Washington. Michigan had no trouble with either opponent.
Michigan’s assistant coaches sat courtside in Connecticut and scouted South Carolina. Beilein prefers watching film, but on Friday he recalled the 2016 game. “Seeing them firsthand two years ago gives me a whole idea of how hard they play, how athletic they are,” he said. “I can remember running some beautiful plays against them — we got them with a play but they blocked it right at the rim.”
The Gamecocks play fast. The average length of their offensive possessions is shorter than all but 18 teams in the country. Michigan withstood the fast-paced attack of North Carolina in an 84-67 win earlier this season.
Head coach Frank Martin, in his seventh season at South Carolina, is known for his defense.
Michigan junior Zavier Simpson is the only current Wolverine who got a taste of it in the previous meeting. “(They’re) going to get up in us, try to bully us, press us,” he said Friday. “We haven’t played a team that’s going to deny passes, get into you, play hard for the whole 40 minutes.”
Despite the Gamecocks’ uneven start to the season, they are fourth in the country in 2-point field goal defense. Senior Chris Silva is averaging 1.9 blocks per game. Offensively, freshman guard A.J Lawson, a top-150 recruit, leads the team at 14.9 points per game.
Silva (from Gabon), Lawson (Canada), and Maik Kotsar (Estonia) give South Carolina’s starting five an international flavor. Felipe Haas (Chile) comes off the bench. Lawson played prep ball in Mississauga, Ontario, the hometown of former Wolverine Nik Stauskas’. Lawson and Michigan’s leading scorer, freshman Ignas Brazdeikis, reportedly played against each other in AAU.
Lawson was one of three freshmen who started in South Carolina’s 73-64 loss at Wyoming on Wednesday. The Gamecocks did not return to South Carolina before flying to Ann Arbor.