Michigan head coach Juwan Howard gestures at a game official in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Seton Hall at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
The No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (2-1) will try to prove their last outing was a fluke in a late-night affair in Sin City against the undefeated UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (3-0). Tip time is 12:30 am ET, Saturday, at T-Mobile Arena and the game is on ESPN2.
O 135.5 (-110)
U 135.5 (-110)
Odds as of November 18th, 2021, at FanDuel.
The Maize and Blue failed to convert the front-end of a one-and-one free throw attempt with 0.8 seconds left against Seton Hall in Ann Arbor Tuesday and were defeated by Seton Hall by two., Meantime, the Rebs got a game-clinching block by Royce Hamm in the closing seconds of a 64-62 victory over North Dakota State Monday to open their season 3-0 for the first time since the 2017-18 campaign
Now, first-year head coach Kevin Kruger’s club enters this “neutral” site game (with a home-court advantage feel) as slight underdogs against a Juwan Howard-coached group looking to get Tuesday’s bad taste out of its mouth.
Hail to the … Hiccup?
After having a double-digit lead and appearing to pull away early in the second half, the Wolverines flat-out blew it against a dangerous Pirates squad in their last outing. How did it happen — with Hunter Dickinson putting up 18 points and grabbing nine boards and Eli Brooks adding 17 — while shooting a solid 42% from the field? Michigan was doomed by going 3-of-15 from beyond the arc, bad late possessions and, of course, Terrance Williams going opposite Rumeal Robinson.
SETON HALL JUST UPSET NO. 4 MICHIGAN 67-65 🚨
It’s their FIRST EVER non-conference road W over a Top 5 team 😱 (via @BIGEASTMBB)pic.twitter.com/zxU9CtklCl
— Overtime (@overtime) November 17, 2021
So, as it simply a hiccup for an Elite Eight team that has higher goals this season? One might suspect so. Even after the loss, KenPom still has Howard’s club rated as the third-best team in college basketball, with top-6 ratings in offensive (6th) and defensive (2nd) efficiency. Dickinson is still one of the great players at the college level, averaging 18.7 points, eight rebounds and 2.3 assists per game so far. Brooks (14.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 3.3 apg) has also been fantastic — as has senior DeVante Jones. The reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year from Coastal Carolina came to Michigan via the portal and has shown an ability early on to do a little bit of everything, averaging 9.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per outing.
Seton Hall has consistently been a well-coached team under Kevin Willard and the Bucs’ victory over the Wolves should not be diminished. But, clearly, this weekend’s late tip in Vegas is a chance for Michigan to bounce back.
2022 NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship Odds Tracker
Runnin’ Down a Dream
So far, so good in year one of the Kevin Kruger Era — who was a member of UNLV NCAA Tournament teams under his legendary coaching father Lon in the mid-2000s. The Rebels have won all three of their games in close fashion (by a combined 11 points) and now have their sights set on what would be the program’s biggest non-conference win since the Jerry Tarkanian glory years.
.@R0v_ce called game… again. 🖐🛑 #UNLVmbb pic.twitter.com/31a1L95Y9N
— UNLV Men’s Basketball (@TheRunninRebels) November 16, 2021
The program will have to play its best game of the young season in order to actually pull off an upset on Friday. So far Kruger’s squad has proven adept at defending the basket, holding opponents to 37.1% shooting. Alas, they’ve had serious issues putting the ball through the hoop themselves, making just 36.2% of their own attempts. That kind of offensive execution — or lack thereof — plays right into Michigan’s hands.
All three contests so far have boiled down to a simple formula: Get stops and get the ball to Bryce Hamilton in the final minutes. Hamilton (a team-leading 17.0 points per game) has delivered just enough in the clutch to push UNLV across the finish line.
UNLV leads North Dakota State 32-27 at the half.
Bryce Hamilton avoided picking up his 3rd foul and had this nice transition finish. pic.twitter.com/7P4kCiE7PP
— Tyler Bischoff (@Bischoff_Tyler) November 16, 2021
He’s had some help, too. Donovan Williams (11.0 ppg) and Jordan McCabe (10.0 ppg) are also averaging in double-figures. But will the suffocating defense stand up to a hungry team that features five former top-50 recruits?
More Fab Freshman
Barring injury or COVID issues, Howard won’t be following his former coach Steve Fischer’s footsteps and starting all of those fabulous freshman
But Michigan’s nation-best recruiting class features two 5-stars (Caleb Houston and Moussa Diabate), three 4-star guys (Kobe Bufkin, Frankie Collins and Isaiah Barnes) and one 3-star player (Will Tschetter).
Caleb Houston played with some bright stars 🌟 #GoBlue pic.twitter.com/VnnkuKMc20
— Woodward Sports Network (@woodwardsports) November 17, 2021
Houston, a skilled shooter, is at the top of the class. He should be an effective two-way player with his length and positional versatility. As for Diabate — who features a gargantuan 7-foot-3 wingspan — the excellent floor runner is as an active defender. Look for either or both to flourish Friday night out west.
While UNLV will certainly be excited for this one — and the energy inside the arena should help the hometown underdogs — I’m not sure if Kruger’s program is there yet. Michigan has too much talent and too much to prove to lose this one.
Pick: Michigan -13.5 (-118)