March Madness Free Pick - Michigan vs. Tulsa
The 22-12 Michigan Wolverines will take on the 20-11 Tulsa Golden Hurricanes on Wednesday in a play-in game with the winner advancing to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Michigan ended the regular season 1-4 but had an important victory over top seeded Indiana in the Big Ten tournament to get invited to the big dance. Michigan has been without senior guard Caris LeVert since late December when he suffered a leg injury which has him out for the rest of the year. LeVert's absence will be felt in the tournament as he was leading the team in point's rebounds and assists when he suffered the injury. The Wolverines are also without senior captain Spike Albrecht who is out for the year with a hip injury. Tulsa made the tournament despite a 12-6 record in the American Conference and suffered a first round loss in the conference tournament to a higher seeded team. They did however beat the 9th ranked Wichita State Shockers back in November by the score of 77-67.
Tulsa ranked 278th in the nation by allowing their opponents to shoot 36.3 percent from three point range which bodes well for a Michigan team who finished 9th in the country in made three pointers. Derrick Walton Jr. has been Michigan's most consistent player since LeVert's injury. He is averaging 12 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has done a solid job filling the void left by LeVert by scoring in double digits in 6 of his last 7 games including averaging 15 points per game in the Big Ten tournament. Michigan also had a terrible year rebounding the basketball as they were ranked 324th in the nation with only 32.4 rebounds per game.
The Golden Hurricanes are ranked # 1 in the nation in experience with 9 seniors on the roster. They are led offensively by guards James Woodard and Shaquille Harrison. Woodard averages 15.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while Harrison averaged 14.8 points and 5.5 rebounds. Harrison also leads the team in steals at 2 per game. As a team, Tulsa ranks 234th in the nation in offensive rebounding which could be a problem as the Wolverines are ranked in the top 50 in defensive rebounding. Overall, Tulsa averaged 74 points per game and shot 32% from the three point line.
Tulsa and Michigan have played two common opponents this year in Connecticut and SMU. Tulsa beat both of those schools while Michigan lost to both in decisive fashion. Michigan has gone 15-19 this year against the spread including 10-8 as the favorite. The Wolverines are also 1-4 in their last 5 games against a team with a winning record. Meanwhile, Tulsa is 18-13 against the spread including 4-5 as the underdog. However, the Golden Hurricanes are 4-1 against the spread in their last 5 NCAA Tournament games. Michigan is favored in this game by 4 points despite having multiple starters out with injuries.