Villanova vs. Michigan Sweet 16 Preview: Michigan Daily Q&A


Tess Crowley/The Michigan Daily

Hunter Dickinson (above, No. 1) is Michigan’s leading scorer at 18.7 points per game.

Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief

SAN ANTONIO — Before Villanova’s Sweet 16 matchup with Michigan, we interviewed two Michigan basketball beat writers from The Michigan Daily, Michigan’s student newspaper, about their team and their predictions for tonight’s game.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Q: Michigan’s had an up and down season, with high expectations at the very beginning, followed by limping into the postseason, and now Michigan’s hot again in March. How has Michigan gotten to this point? Do you think the team is better than its record suggests or is the record a true showing of the team?

Spencer Raines: I think they are probably a little bit better than their record suggests. They’re obviously really talented, they’ve got a few pros on the roster, which is a lot better than a lot of bubble teams could have said, but I think they’re still pretty deeply flawed. 

They can’t defend on the perimeter. They get just thrashed on ball screens. I think the fact that they’re here right now is more because of like individuals playing like stars, like Hunter Dickinson, Eli Brooks [against] Tennessee, Frankie Collins against Colorado State, DeVante’ Jones [in] the final game of the regular season put up like 25, when, if they lost that game at Ohio State, they wouldn’t have been in the tournament. They’ve had really good individual moments from their star players and that’s willed them into this spot. I’m not sure if that will continue, but I think that’s how they got here. 

Josh Taubman: Their roster had a lot of talent, at least on paper, coming into the year. There’s a reason they were ranked Top 10 going in. Relying on a lot of freshmen and young players to carry them through the season has obviously bared mixed results. In a tournament situation, like they’re in now, all the individual guys are coming through for them so far, but there’s been a lot of times where it’s looked like they figured it out and then they’ve been in for a let down again.

This is just another upward trajectory, but they’ve had those before.

Q: Were you guys expecting Michigan’s name to be called on Selection Sunday? Or were you prepared for the NIT?

SR: I expected Michigan to be in the tournament. Their metrics said that they probably should have been in, their NET and KenPom were both pretty high. I did think they were going to be in the First Four and I was honestly pretty shocked we didn’t have to go to Dayton and cover a game there. 

JT: Yeah, I agree. When you looked at the other bubble teams and the other teams that didn’t do enough to play themselves off the bubble, Michigan had a strong strength of schedule and I think had done just enough to be in the tournament, but yeah, I was also surprised they were not placed in Dayton.

Q: When you look at Michigan and Villanova, the two biggest differences between the teams are Michigan’s much bigger, but Villanova’s much older. What factor do you think will be the key in tonight’s matchup?

SR: I think it’s going to be experience. I think Villanova’s going to win, so I think Villanova’s experience is going to shine through. If DaVante’ Jones is healthy, I think he will also feed into that narrative. I mean, I think [this will] be his second tournament game, but he’s a fifth year, Eli Brooks too. I think the experience is going to matter more than the size.

JT: Each team has their roster mismatches, but I think ultimately, when the game gets difficult, when the pressure intensifies, Villanova has basically all guys that have been there before, and Michigan basically just has Brooks. Especially with a young team, that pressure could really cause them to crumble, whereas Villanova doesn’t have to worry about something like that.

Q: Who would you say is the X-Factor tonight?

JT: I think the X-Factor is probably Caleb Houstan. [He] came in, top-10 recruit, billed for his three-point shooting, but has just struggled to figure it out all year. He’s had a couple stretches throughout the season where it seems like he finally could shoot at a consistent clip from deep, but then, the last few games he’s fallen off again. Against Tennessee, where they have this big resounding win, he scored zero points. His shot has just looked off. He hasn’t looked very confident lately. He still has the potential to go off from deep and he’s easily their best three point shooter if he’s making shots. If he can go off, and then combined with the size advantage they have, that could really tip the scales in Michigan’s favor. But it’s a big if. 

SR: I won’t say Caleb, because Josh has said it, but I would agree Caleb is pretty important. I’m going to go with Moussa [Diabate], and that’s because, if Villanova decides to double Hunter, which is something a lot of teams did, Moussa is gonna have a lot of one-on-one post-ups. Sometimes he can score a lot out of those, and sometimes he doesn’t get anything. Take for example the game at Iowa. Iowa basically doubled Hunter all game and Moussa was working one-on-one in the post, and he scored a career-high 28 points and basically led them to that victory. I don’t know if that’s gonna happen, but I think Moussa’s gonna be put in spots where he can make plays by himself and it’ll just come down to whether or not he’s hitting those jump hooks and dunks.

Q: What are your predictions for tonight?

SR: I think it’ll probably be close. I think Michigan will be able to score just like I think Villanova will be able to score. I think it’s gonna come down to guys like Collin Gillespie, and I think Villanova will make more plays down the stretch than Michigan does. I think they’ll win by five. 

JT: I am going with Michigan tonight, perhaps against my better judgment. I look at the matchup and I think it’s kind of similar to Michigan’s first two rounds, where they faced Colorado State, who was an undersized team that could shoot, and Tennessee, who was an undersized team that could shoot. And both times, Dickinson was just the great equalizer. The points they can get, the production they can get from him, really couldn’t be matched by their opponents. 

I think Villanova, while they’re more disciplined, they’re more experienced, they obviously shoot free throws really well, I still think Villanova is going to struggle to guard Dickinson and Diabate. I think that somehow, someway, that’s going to be enough for Michigan to pull out the win.