At the beginning of the season, Saturday’s televised matchup versus Michigan was expected to be one the premier games on Arizona’s non-conference lineup.
A week ago, it still looked that way, as Michigan was off to a 6-1 start and ranked No. 16 in the nation.
Then the Wolverines suffered one of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball history, losing to N.J.I.T. in Ann Arbor. That should have been rock bottom.
But three days later, John Beilein’s group was stunned at home again, this time falling to nearby Eastern Michigan. In less than a week, Michigan fell from national relevancy to national parody.
Despite two embarrassing losses, the Wolverines are still a talented team. Only now, they’re even hungrier to put the past behind and pick up a signature win.
“There are guys in that program and the coaching staff who have been in the winners’ circuit for a long, long time,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said on Thursday. “So they get hit with a couple of early setbacks and they’re not going to panic or self-destruct. They’re going to correct it and get stronger. We just don’t want it to be against us.”
Leading Michigan is junior Caris LeVert. The 6’7 wing averages nearly 18 points per game and can score from anywhere on the court. He is currently shooting 49 percent from behind the arc.
Stanley Johnson will likely be the one guarding LeVert, and it could be the toughest matchup he faces defensively all season. If Johnson prevents LeVert from driving to the hoop and can force him into some uncomfortable looks, Arizona should be in good shape.
Zak Irvin is Michigan’s other big-time scorer, averaging 15.4 ppg. However, Irvin is currently in an enormous slump, as he’s made only five of his last 23 attempts.
Like point guard Spike Albrecht, Irvin is a streaky shooter. If he and Albrecht turn it on, Arizona could be in a bit more trouble.
In the paint is where the Wildcats have a decisive advantage, one that Michigan likely won’t be able to overcome.
Going up against Kaleb Tarczewski will be redshirt freshman Mark Donnal, who at 6’9 averages 14 minutes per game. An inexperienced and undersized center, Donnal shouldn’t pose much of a threat offensively, but Tarczewski – as well as Dusan Ristic – need to attack right away.
Donnal’s backup is another undersized redshirt freshman. Ricky Doyle, also at 6’9, has had a little more success scoring the ball but shouldn’t cause much havoc against Zeus.
For the Wildcats, a fast start would be a welcomed chance of pace. While Arizona may be a second half team, this is not the game to let the opponent hang around.
Brandon Ashley could be the guy to get Arizona’s offense going, as Michigan doesn’t have anyone his height that can guard the perimeter and also block off traffic to the hoop.
All in all, Gonzaga posed a much more difficult matchup for the Wildcats than Michigan. But Arizona fans know as well as anyone that what’s supposed to happen doesn’t always translate into what actually happens on the court.