Michigan vs. Tulsa: Watch out for Woodard

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Shaquille Harrison is adept at running the Tulsa offense, but is not an outside shooting threat.

The Detroit News' Tony Paul breaks down Wednesday’s play-in game between Michigan and Tulsa at Dayton Arena (9:10, truTV/WWJ)

Five players to watch

James Woodard, Tulsa, Sr. G: Tulsa won’t be the most intimidating opponent, but Woodward can make things happen, averaging 15.6 points. He’s a significant 3-point threat for Tulsa, and on defense averages 5.2 rebounds.

Duncan Robinson, Michigan, So., G: The 3-pointers haven’t been falling consistently for Michigan. Robinson, on target during the nonconference schedule, struggled to get open in Big Ten. Opponents shoot 20-plus 3-pointers against Tulsa, and make 36 percent.

Rasha Smith, Tulsa, Sr., F: Tulsa is not a big team, which will be a change of pace for Michigan, which couldn’t stop Purdue’s giants in the Big Ten semifinals. Smith, at 6-foot-7 and 205 pounds, doesn’t get a ton of touches, but converts more than 50 percent of his shots.

Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan, Jr., G: Guard play is pivotal in March, and Michigan has had its struggles with Walton and Zak Irvin having up-and-down performances. Walton missed his first 10 shots in the Big Ten tournament before scoring in Game 3.

Shaquille Harrison, Tulsa, Sr., G: He’s started all 132 games during his four years at Tulsa. He’s the floor general and makes good decisions. He’s averaged 14.8 points and shot 46.3 percent. He is no 3-point threat, however.

Five storylines

But not least: Tulsa was the last team that got into the NCAA Tournament, and some took exception to that, given that St. Bonaventure and Monmouth, with their better RPIs, were left out. Being last in has been a motivator, no more so than in 2011 when Virginia Commonwealth reached the Final Four.

Take it easy: At some point, fatigue could catch up to Michigan, which has no significant depth beyond Aubrey Dawkins and Ricky Doyle. That’s why coach John Beilein ordered up rest ahead of this game. This will be Michigan’s fourth game in seven days. Eventually, that’s gotta catch up with you.

Foul limits: Michigan is one of the best teams in the nation at not committing fouls, thus limiting opponents to as few free throws as possible. But Tulsa gets to the line more than 20 times a game, six or so free throws more than Michigan gives up.

Experience preferred: Seniors can be pivotal this time of year, and Tulsa is loaded — and several have NCAA Tournament experience after making the field two years ago. In 2014, Tulsa was no match for UCLA, but that was a Bruins team that advanced to the Sweet 16. Not sure Michigan has that in it, especially since its two seniors, Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht, are out.

Protect the ball: Michigan averages more than 74 points, and Tulsa gives up less than 70. One stat that stands out — Tulsa forces more than 14 turnovers, and that would be potentially devastating for Michigan, which likes to keep that stat below 10. Turnovers cost the Wolverines in several losses, especially late, and on inbounds plays.

Tulsa OK with critics who question NCAA credentials

The coaches

Frank Haith, Tulsa: He was the longtime coach at Miami before making a pit stop at Missouri. Both times, there were infractions found under Haith. He landed at Tulsa before last season, and has the Golden Hurricane back in the NCAA Tournament. It had 23 wins last season, compared to 20 this season.

John Beilein, Michigan: This is Beilein’s ninth season at Michigan, and the sixth time he’s made the NCAA Tournament with the Wolverines. They were in danger of missing out for a second consecutive season, but getting the nod has to ease fan angst. Good thing, too, since his extension takes him through 2020-21.

Predictions

Tony Paul: The Wolverines are feeling good about themselves, and this is a perfect first game. Michigan 84-62

Matt Charboneau: Plenty of folks were wondering if Michigan would make the Tournament while even fewer expected Tulsa to be in the field. Expect both teams to have plenty of energy, intent on proving they belong. The Wolverines will need to stay solid defensively and hit their 3-pointers. Tulsa’s lack of size will help. Michigan 70-60