(4) Michigan vs. (13) South Dakota St.
(4) Michigan Wolverines
For the first time since 1994 the Wolverines (26-7, 12-6) enter the tournament with a team capable of advancing past the Round of 32. In fact, anything less than a trip to the Elite Eight would be underachieving for a group this talented. Led by the stellar backcourt of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., the Wolverines enter the tournament after playing the 35th toughest schedule in the country and an RPI in the top 12. Outside of a Feb. 27 loss to Penn State, all of the Wolverines’ losses have come at the hands of teams with an RPI in the top 50. They were an even 4-4 against teams in the RPI top 25. They’re an explosive team offensively, averaging 75 a night while only allowing 62. They turn it over less than any team in the country, but they only force 12 themselves. While the Wolverines’ guard play should carry them past the opening rounds, their ability to seriously contend for a title could come down to how freshmen Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary handle playing in their first NCAA Tournament. If they play beyond their years, the Wolverines will be an extremely difficult out. To beat the Wolverines you first have to be able to keep up offensively. Then you have to try to slow down both Burke and Hardaway Jr., which is much easier said than done.
(13) South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Senior guard Nate Wolters is one of the best players to ever play for their program. He’s taken the Jackrabbits (25-9, 13-3) to heights they’ve never seen before as they are making their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, which are their only trips in school history. Wolters produces like few others in the country. He’s putting up 22 points, nearly six rebounds and six assists on average. The Jackrabbits are a top 35 team offensively, scoring 74 a night with Jordan Dykstra, Tony Fiegen and Chad White also averaging double figures. The Jackrabbits’ biggest win of the season came back on Dec. 22 when they defeated New Mexico despite Wolters not being 100 percent. The big challenge for them in the tourney will be getting stops when they need them. They gave up 65 points on average, allowing teams to shoot 44 percent from the field and 35 percent from deep on the season. Wolters has proven that he can score against anybody and put this team on his back, but the more help he gets, the better their chances of pulling off an upset.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Michigan. Nate Wolters will prove that he belongs on the same court as Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., but it won’t be enough to keep the Jackrabbits alive.