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Michigan vs. Notre Dame: Fresh Wagner could be key

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The Detroit News’ Tony Paul breaks down Friday’s first-round game between No. 11 Michigan and No. 6 Notre Dame at Barclays Center (9:40, CBS/WWJ).

Players to watch

Moritz Wagner, Michigan, Fr., F: What a story he’s been the last couple weeks, going from afterthought to big-time contributor. He had some huge minutes against Tulsa in the First Four game and could be counted on again. After all, he’s got the fresh legs.

Zach Auguste, Notre Dame, Sr., F: Notre Dame may not have any 7-footers, but it has some serious bulk, starting with the 6-foot-10, 245-pounder. Auguste is a blocking, rebounding machine, who also averages 14.4 points.

Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan, Jr., G: He runs hot and cold, and he was scorching at the end of the first half against Tulsa, scoring Michigan’s last 10. But Walton had a few ugly turnovers. If he can take care of the ball, it might not matter if he scores a point.

V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame, Jr., F: The Irish take a lot of 3-pointers, but don’t make a ton. This is one guy who’s typically on the mark, making 76 of the team-high 176 he’s taken.

Top story lines

The crowd: Notre Dame and Michigan have huge alumni bases. The Wolverines enjoyed the home-crowd feel in Dayton despite John Beilein’s fears Ohioans would pack the place and make their feelings known. The Irish figure to have a slight edge here.

Michigan’s legs: The Wolverines have played three nail-biters in four games, and it has to have taken its toll, given the minutes the starters have racked up. It doesn’t help Michigan got into New York around 2:45 a.m. Thursday. Reserves could be huge.

How legit are the Irish? They were on the doorstep of the Final Four a year ago, but were eliminated by higher seeds five of their previous six appearances. And an absolute pasting at the hands of North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast tournament can’t leave a great taste in their mouths.

Who’ll step up? Zak Irvin. Kam Chatman. Duncan Robinson. Moritz Wagner. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Derrick Walton Jr. Pick your player. Who’s next? Who cares? John Beilein is just thrilled knowing one guy doesn’t have to carry the load.

Where’s the D? Michigan’s defense during the season was among the worst in the nation. In the postseason, it’s been some big defensive stretches that have lifted the Wolverines. Notre Dame’s offense can be explosive, but is manageable.

The coaches

Mike Brey, Notre Dame: He’s been on the job since 2000 and has guided Notre Dame to the postseason every year but one, including the NCAA Tournament 11 times. Yet, Notre Dame usually is an early out — he’s only been to the Elite Eight once and Sweet 16 twice.

John Beilein, Michigan: In his ninth year, he’s taken Michigan to the NCAA Tournament six times, and this might be his best job despite bumps along the road. He’s never coached against Notre Dame while at Michigan, but went 1-6 against it while he was at West Virginia.


Tony Paul: I don’t see Michigan getting out of Brooklyn alive, but it’s not out of the question against unranked Notre Dame. Michigan has lost to one non-Top 25 team (Ohio State). Fatigue, though, is the biggest concern with Michigan playing its fifth game in nine days in three cities. Notre Dame 67-65

John Niyo: While Notre Dame’s hardly upset-proof, the way Michigan has shot the last week — 18-for-71 on threes — doesn’t bode well for John Beilein’s team. Notre Dame 74-66

Matt Charboneau: Michigan might be dragging after playing Wednesday night, but coming off a victory, it likely is feeling pretty good going up against a Notre Dame team that has lost three of five. The formula remains the same for Michigan, which must shoot well and defend. Michigan 68-64

Bob Wojnowski: The Wolverines and Fighting Irish play similar styles, which should mean lots of 3-pointers. Now, actually making them will be the tricky part. Derrick Walton Jr. is playing like a driven guy, but he’ll have his hands full against Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson. Someone for Michigan has to get hot. Notre Dame 77-72