NCAA Tournament First Four Preview: Will Michigan or Tulsa Advance?
You could easily make a case that Tuesday’s 11 seed clash featured two teams that deserved better than the First Four.
It would be even easier to argue that the final First Four matchup includes a pair of teams that shouldn’t even be in the NCAA tournament.
11 seeds Michigan and Tulsa will meet Wednesday evening in Dayton for the right to face Notre Dame in the first round, but advanced stats suggest the two schools should not have received at-large bids.
The Wolverines (22-12) rank 52nd in the country per our nERD power ratings (9.49 points above average), which is worse than nine teams who are instead playing the NIT.
An additional six teams in the NIT rank ahead of Tulsa (20-11), who is 63rd in nERD at 7.95 points above average.
Still, while it will be a tough game for fans of teams like St. Mary’s to watch, it could at least be an intriguing one.
In the night’s first game, 16 seeds Holy Cross and Southern will square off to earn a date with Oregon.
Michigan vs. Tulsa
Whether or not Michigan should have made the field, they would not have even been able to sniff the NCAA Tournament if not for their efficient offense.
The Wolverines are tied for 30th in our Offensive Efficiency rankings and own the country’s 18th-best Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%; 55.1%) and 15th-best Turnover Rate. They would rank even higher on offense if not for putrid Offensive Rebounding and Free Throw Attempt Rates (ranking 324th and 340th, respectively).
Tulsa, who ranks 100th in overall Defensive Efficiency, is probably not the best team to exploit these weakness. The Golden Hurricane defense is tied for 200th in Rebounding Rate and 130th in Free Throw Attempt Rate.
They have been better in terms of forcing turnovers (tied for 56th in Turnover Rate) and defending inside the arc (42nd, 44.7% on two-pointers), but putrid three-point defense drags their eFG% down to 103rd.
Tulsa has allowed opponents to shoot 36.3% from three-point range, and 36.8% of the field goal attempts they allow come beyond the arc (tied for 232nd).
32.6% of the points Tulsa has allowed have come from three-point range, which is 55th-highest in the country, per KenPom.
Michigan’s eyes have to be lighting up given the opportunity, as the Wolverines have scored 39.1% of their points on threes, which is 11th-highest nationally. They are 19th nationally in Three-Point Attempt Rate (44.1%) and 30th in three-point shooting percentage (38.4%).
The biggest beneficiaries here could be point guard Derrick Walton (39.3% three-point shooter) and forward Duncan Robinson (44.8%).
Three-point shooting can be prone to variation, though, and Michigan’s reliance on it is a big reason why they have been the single most inconsistent team in our ratings.
Michigan is also one of the slowest teams in our rankings and is in the 13th percentile in terms of Pace. When they do get out and run, though, they rank 61.3% in Effective Field Goal Percentage in transition, according to Hoop-Math.
This is another area where Tulsa is vulnerable, as while they are tied for 95th in non-transition eFG% (46.6%), they are tied for 228th in eFG% allowed in transition (56.0%).
When Michigan is on defense, their strengths and weaknesses directly contrast with that of their offense. The Wolverines' defense is poor in terms of shot defense (tied for 232nd with a 50.8% Effective Field Goal Percentage) and forcing turnovers (tied for 162nd) but has been solid in terms of both offensive rebounding and Free Throw Attempt Rate (tied for 74th and 13th, respectively).
Unfortunately for them, field goal defense and turnovers are the most important of the Four Factors, which is why Michigan ranks 133rd in our Defensive Efficiency ratings.
The Tulsa offense is hardly a juggernaut itself, coming in at 106th in our ratings. The only thing they really excel at is avoiding turnovers (23rd nationally), which shouldn’t be much of a challenge against Michigan anyway.
Opportunities from long range should be available for Tulsa, given the Wolverines allow a ton of long range two-pointers (39.7% of all field goals, the 10th highest rate in the country) and three-pointers (224th in three-point attempt rate), but it’s doubtful the Hurricane will be able to take advantage.
Tulsa is 226th in the country in shooting percentage on two-point jumpers (34.8%) and 260th on threes (32.9%). They might have more luck attacking a Michigan interior that ranks 349th with a 70.6% field goal percentage allowed at the rim (Tulsa’s is 110th, shooting 61.4% on these shots).
Michigan is currently is a three-point favorite, though by nERD, the margin between the two teams is only 1.5 points.
Holy Cross vs. Southern
It really is amazing Holy Cross is even here.
The Crusaders lost nine of their final 11 regular season games and went into the 10-team Patriot League tournament as the 9 seed, with a 10-19 record.
After shooting 31.9% from three-point range in the regular season, they found their stroke in the conference tournament, shooting 38.3% from long-range to earn an automatic bid to the Big Dance.
It’s great story, though Wednesday will probably be its last chapter.
Holy Cross (14-19) is the lowest rated team in the tournament, with a minus-7.82 nERD rating that ranks 287th.
They are 290th in Offensive Efficiency and tied for 268th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (47.9%), so it won’t exactly be a great challenge for a Southern defense that ranks 103rd in Defensive Efficiency.
The Jaguars (22-12) are 223rd in nERD and are mostly here because of defense, which is 68th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (47.2%) and 99th in Turnover Rate.
They’re significantly worse on the defensive glass (300th) and in terms of Free Throw Attempt Rate (209th) but should still have the upper hand against Holy Cross’ offense.
The other end of the floor features a battle of weaknesses, as Southern is 178th in Offensive Efficiency and Holy Cross ranks 257th on defense.
Something will need to give on the perimeter, as the Jaguars are 299th in Three-Point Attempt Rate on offense, while the Crusaders’ defense has allowed the 26th-highest rate on defense.
Holy Cross does have the country’s 64th-best Turnover Rate and is 111th in Free Throw Attempt Rate on defense, but given their 36.5% three-point and 52.5% two-point percentages, it has not mattered.
Southern is a 2.5-point favorite but has 4.2-point edge over Holy Cross in terms of nERD.