#3 Oregon vs. #7 Michigan
Storyline: Is Michigan the team of destiny?
In college basketball, momentum is so important and sometimes vital to success. Michigan was boarded a plane on the way to the Big Ten Tournament when their plane slid off the runway. Those players then had to get back on a plane (I couldn’t fly the day after going through that) and play a noon game in their practice uniforms. No one would have blamed them for not having their best game and losing in that first game. Instead, the Wolverines went on a huge run to win the Big Ten Tournament and have used that momentum to get to the Sweet 16. They have knocked off high scoring Oklahoma State and pulled off a huge upset against the Louisville Cardinals. I do not want to jinx anything but Michigan is two wins away from having an ESPN 30 for 30 being made about them.
Oregon does not have the luxury of big momentum. They went to their conference tournament and lost their best shot blocker and deadly shooter Chris Boucher for the season. This was a crushing loss as the Ducks relied on Boucher for huge rim protection to anchor their defense. I was very high on Oregon before the PAC-12 tournament, but the Boucher injury really hurt them both in X’s and O’s as well as mentally to the team. Oregon recovered to knock off Iona before needing a late rally and stellar defense to beat a red hot Rhode Island team.
The interesting thing about these Sweet 16 matchups is that very few games have teams that are similar. This is yet another matchup where one team has skilled big men and the other relies and shooting guards and small forwards. Michigan has gone on this great run with the emergence Mo Wagner and DJ Wilson. Those players were known before the post season, but both of them have really stepped up and played exceptional basketball. Wagner and Wilson are special because their are versatile. They can drive to the rim, post up, and shoot it. Very tough to guard one of these guys but Michigan plays with both of them on the court as much as possible. Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell have been asked to step up in the wake of Boucher’s injury and they must continue to play great defense and try to slow the Michigan bigs down. Combine those bigs with Derrick Walton and that is a tough offense to stop. Walton has played extremely well in the past 6 games and has the experience to lead the Wolverines.
As much as Oregon has gone through, you cannot sleep on the Ducks. Dana Altman is a tremendous coach and Dillon Brooks is one of the best players in the Sweet 16. Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis have been red hot in the past few games. Payton Pritchard does all the little things and spreads the ball around to find open shooters. This will be a high scoring game as both teams can fill it up in their own style. Both teams have a go to guy that can get a clutch bucket in Dillon Brooks and Derrick Walton. This is the toughest game to predict but I am going with the team with the momentum in the Wolverines.
Prediction: Michigan 87, Oregon 83