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The Detroit Free Press

Michigan basketball better be ready for prolific Toledo in NIT 1st round: Game prediction

By Tony Garcia, Detroit Free Press,

2023-03-14
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The National Invitational Tournament is not where Michigan basketball originally wanted to be, but that doesn't mean U-M is taking its postseason opportunity lightly.

The Wolverines (17-15), a No. 3 seed in the NIT, went back to work Monday, preparing for their matchup with Mid-American Conference regular season champion Toledo (27-7), who they will host in the opening round Tuesday at Crisler Center (7 p.m, ESPN2).

When Michigan last took the court, it started the second half of its Big Ten tournament opener 1-for-17 from the floor in a bubble-bursting 62-50 loss to Rutgers.

After the game, U-M players initially said they needed to talk about potential postseason plans as a team. But despite missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015, coach Juwan Howard's team has embraced its situation.

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"We get a chance to play for a championship," Howard said in a statement. "That means something. These guys have put their hearts and souls into this year despite all the adversity. This team has grown throughout the year, and we are looking forward to the opportunity to suit up and compete again."

Tuesday will mark 16 years and one day since the last time U-M played at home in a postseason game; an NIT opener and 68-58 win over Utah State, behind 15 points from Jerret Smith.

The Wolverines had senior day Feb. 26 this season and the expectation was Michigan's thrilling 87-79 OT win over Wisconsin would be the team's last game at Crisler Center this season.

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Joey Baker was the lone player to go through the ceremony, and while he'd hoped the postseason would look different, he's optimistic about Michigan's chances.

"Any time you have a chance to keep playing, it is something you want to embrace and be thankful for," Baker said. "We feel we are not done yet."

Here's how Michigan and Toledo match up.

Projected starters

Michigan: G Dug McDaniel (5 feet 11, freshman, 8.1 points per game), G Kobe Bufkin (6-4, sophomore, 13.7), G Jett Howard (6-7, freshman, 14.4), F Will Tschetter (6-8, freshman, 2.3), C Hunter Dickinson (7-1, junior, 18.3).

Toledo: G RayJ Dennis (6-2, junior, 19.7), G Dante Maddox Jr. (6-2, sophomore, 11.5), G Ra'Heim Moss (6-4, sophomore, 8.3), F Setric Milliner (6-7, senior, 16), F JT Shumate (6-7, senior, 16),

Meet the Rockets

Prior to its 93-78 loss to Kent State in the MAC championship game, Toledo won 17 straight games behind Coach of the Year, Tod Kowalczyk, and unanimous MAC Player of the Year, RayJ Davis.

Davis, a 6-2 junior, averaged 19.7 points, 5.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game and shot 37.1% from 3-point range. While Davis is the catalyst, he's far from the only weapon on an offense ranked No. 4 nationally in points scored (85.6 per game), No. 2 in 3-point shooting (39.7%) and No. 4 field goal percentage (49.6%).

The Rockets have a pair of 6-7 senior forwards who can score in JT Shumate and Setric Milliner. Shumate, a fellow All-MAC first teamer, is a pick-and-pop "four" who shoots 53.9% from the floor and 40.2% from long range; Milliner shoots 43.3% on 3s.

Dante Maddox Jr. leads the team in 3-point shooting (45.4%) and Tyler Cochran and Ra'Heim Morris add depth on the perimeter.

The Rockets rank No. 287 per KenPom on defense. They're No. 296 in field goal percentage defense (45.8%) and No. 325 at 76.5 points.

Trouble with the MAC

U-M is 14-8 all-time against Toledo and won its last matchup, 91-71, in 2021 when Dickinson came off the bench and scored 18 points with seven rebounds. The two sides have met in the NIT, with U-M winning 80-68 in 1981.

However MAC opponents were no pushover for U-M this season, going 2-1 in three games that were all decided by five points or fewer.

U-M used a late 6-0 run to hold off Eastern Michigan at Little Caesars Arena in the second game of the season for an 88-83 win. Dickinson scored 31 points.

Nine days later, the Wolverines rallied and clipped Ohio in overtime, 70-66.

The low point of the season came Dec. 29 vs. Central Michigan, the final nonconference game, when CMU's Reggie Bass hit the winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds to play as U-M fell 63-61. The Quad 4 loss proved to be the biggest blemish on the U-M resume.

Size advantage

While Toledo is a prolific offensive team, U-M has a distinct advantage with its size.

Junior center AJ Edu, who plays 12 minutes a game, is the Rockets' only player above 6-7 who in the rotation. That should mean good things for Dickinson, who is averaging 25.2 points and 11.8 rebounds in his past four games, as well as Tarris Reed Jr.

It should make things easier for U-M's backcourt players when they attack the rim. Kobe Bufkin had a streak of 10 straight games scoring 13 or more points snapped Thursday, and Jett Howard was limited to six points and Dug McDaniel scored two.

Despite the lack of height, Toledo (No. 174) and Michigan (No. 177) are almost exactly even in rebounding margin at plus-one per game. But U-M goes against much better rebounding teams in the Big Ten.

Prediction

Toledo is a team whose capability far outweighs its brand and can fill it up on offense. While Dickinson will likely have a field day down low, U-M hasn't fared well in close games all year, and a shocking end would be fitting in a season that never got on track. The pick: Toledo 86, Michigan 85

Contact Tony Garcia at apgarcia@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @realtonygarcia.

Next up: Rockets

Matchup: No. 3 Michigan (17-15) vs. Toledo (27-7), NIT first round.

Tipoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday; Crisler Center, Ann Arbor.

TV/radio: ESPN2; WWJ-AM (950).

At stake: Winner faces winner of Vanderbilt vs. Yale on either Saturday or Sunday.

Tony Garcia's prediction: Toledo is a team whose capability far outweighs its brand and can fill it up on offense. While Dickinson will likely have a field day down low, U-M hasn't fared well in close games all year, and a shocking end would be fitting in a season that never got on track. The pick: Toledo 86, Michigan 85

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