Michigan basketball hosted its “Selfie Night” open practice session Monday in Ann Arbor.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
Michigan basketball can earn a signature non-conference win and enact a measure of revenge on Wednesday night in Pennsylvania.
The Wolverines travel to play Villanova at 6:30 p.m. at Finneran Pavilion, just over seven months after a 79-62 loss to the Wildcats in last season’s national title game.
Here are three things to watch for in the game, and one prediction:
U-M defense vs. high-powered attack
Eighth-ranked Villanova will be the biggest test for No. 18 Michigan so far this season.
The Wildcats can spread the floor on offense with their shooting ability. Villanova coach Jay Wright has recruited very well in recent years, and on Tuesday afternoon Michigan coach John Beilein compared the Wildcats to the Golden State Warriors.
This is a battle of strengths. The Wolverines’ defense has imposed its will so far this season, much like it did against many opponents, save for Villanova, last season.
One position to pay attention to is center. Michigan can go big with Jon Teske, who is 7-foot-1 and averaging 4.5 blocks per game, or go small with the 6-7 Isaiah Livers, as it did in the first half Saturday against Holy Cross.
With its stable of talented shooters, Villanova is a threat to blow a game open at any moment. Given the struggles of Michigan’s offense, the defense may need to lead the way in this contest.
Blow for blow
Michigan kept it close for a portion of the first half in the national title game, and even held a 21-14 lead. With 3 minutes, 34 seconds left before halftime, Villanova led by just two. But Michigan couldn’t get any closer.
The Wildcats aren’t as good as they were last year. But they still have an offense that can score a quickly, especially with shooters like Phil Booth, Collin Gillespie and Joe Cremo.
The Wolverines don’t have that same luxury. They have shot poorly from 3-point range in both games this season, and while that could be abnormal, the makeup of the roster doesn’t suggest things will get markedly better.
It’ll be interesting to watch how Michigan’s offense responds when Villanova puts together quick scoring spurts. Can the Wolverines match the Wildcats? Or will they end up trading 2s for 3s?
Brazdeikis the X-factor
Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis leads Michigan in scoring with 15.5 points per game.
Brazdeikis sparked Michigan to victory against Holy Cross, pouring in a quick 15 points within the first 5 minutes of the second half after the Wolverines trailed 24-18 at halftime.
The 6-7, 215-pound forward is a confident player who can get to the rim in a hurry. And the Wolverines will need Brazdeikis to continue being aggressive in hunting for shots.
Wednesday’s game will be a test of just how ready Brazdeikis is for the national stage. Will he play under control and continue to be a positive on offense? Or will he try to do too much?
“This will be great for him,” Beilein said. “Typical freshmen in these ones, they get a little amped up. The first national TV game, the crowd, it’s a sellout, there’s been no tickets available for a while.
“We’ve got to make sure he focuses and plays the game the right way still even though I know he’s excited.”
This is a tough one for Michigan. Villanova isn’t as good as it was last year, but the Wolverines will be on the road, in a presumably rowdy environment, and haven’t yet played well on offense.
The defense should keep this from becoming a blowout, but it’s hard to see Michigan winning this one. Villanova 68, Michigan 60
Contact Orion Sang: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.