NCAA Tournament 2021 East Region Preview: Michigan Won’t Have Isaiah Livers, Can They Still Make A Final Four Run?


(CBS Local)- The Michigan Wolverines are one of two Big Ten teams to draw a one seed in this year’s tournament (Illinois is the other). Juwan Howard’s group finished the season tops in the Big Ten, but suffered two losses in the conference tournament. They fell in the semifinals to Ohio State, but perhaps more importantly, they lost senior forward Isaiah Livers to a stress fracture in his foot. Livers was second on the team in scoring and averaged over 31 minutes per game.

While the Wolverines certainly have the talent to replace the production, the question is how much they will miss Livers’ steady hand and leadership in the pressure cooker of the tournament. With Alabama, Florida State, and Texas potentially waiting in the later rounds, it will be a test for this Michigan team that at times this season had seemed to place itself firmly in the contenders tier with Gonzaga and Baylor.

No. 1 Michigan

The loss of Livers is big, but there is a lot of experience on this roster. Grad-transfer senior guard Mike Smith is a steadying hand at the point dishing over 5 assists per game. He’s joined by fellow seniors Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown. In the front court, sophomore Franz Wagner (12.8 ppg 6.2 rpg) and freshman center Hunter Dickinson (14.2 ppg 7.6 rpg 1.4 bpg) are handfuls for opponents. Michigan is strong from the three point line (38.7%) and defends the line well allowing opponents to hit just 33.5% of threes.

No. 2 Alabama

The Crimson Tide completed the double winning both the regular season and conference tournament titles in the SEC. Nate Oats’ group features a balanced attack with four players averaging 11 or more points per game and defensively, they’re the nation’s 2nd most efficient unit per Ken Pomeroy. They are particularly effective defending the three point line (28.8% opponent 3PT) and crash the offensive glass well (12.4 ORPG). They do struggle a bit on the defensive glass which could be a problem against later opponents.

SEC TOURNAMENT CHAMPS! The historic season continues as #Alabama has won the #SECMBB tournament for the first time in 30 years!! #RollTide | #BlueCollarBasketball

— Alabama Men’s Basketball (@AlabamaMBB) March 14, 2021

No. 3 Texas

The Longhorns finished third in the Big 12 in the regular season before winning the conference tournament. Shaka Smart’s group has a trio of experienced guards in senior Matt Coleman and juniors Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey and a talented freshman who could be a top draft prospect in forward Greg Brown. They rate as a top 25 offense in efficiency and top 40 defensively. But, they can fall in love with the three ball at times and don’t shoot it overly well (35.7%) which could hurt them in the tournament.

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No. 4 Florida State

Leonard Hamilton’s group finished 2nd in the ACC and made it to the conference title game before falling to Georgia Tech. They’re a particularly strong three point shooting group (39%) and are strong on the offensive glass (11.6 per game). They’re 10th in offensive efficiency and Top 50 on the defensive end in that category. They also are one of the best rim protecting teams averaging 5.1 blocks per game.

No. 5 Colorado

The Buffaloes finished third in the Pac-12 in the regular season and made it to the tournament title game before falling to Oregon State 72-70. They appear to be a bit under seeded rating 17th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings (17th in offensive efficiency and 29th defensively). Senior guard McKinley Wright IV leads the team in scoring (15.5 ppg) and is joined by forwards Jeriah Horne (11.4 ppg) and Evan Battey in double figures (10.2 ppg). The Buffs are the second best free throw shooting team in the country (82.2%) and take care of the ball (11.1 turnovers per game).

No. 6 BYU

The Cougars finished second in the West Coast Conference and runner-up to Gonzaga in the title game. They’re efficient on both ends of the floor (Top 30 in both per Ken Pomeroy) and are strong three point shooters (37.8%). The trio of Alex Barcello, Brandon Averette and Matt Haarms are the clear leaders. They do struggle at times with turning the ball over, averaging over 13 per game in the bottom half of Division I.

No. 7 UConn

The Huskies appear to be under seeded judging by Pomeroy’s ratings. They check in as a Top 25 offensive and defensive efficiency team and don’t turn the ball over much (11.7 per game). Sophomore guard James Bouknight leads the way averaging 19 points per game with juniors R.J. Cole (12.3 ppg) and Tyrese Martin (10.7) also averaging double digits. Cole is questionable at this point, recovering from a concussion. Also a concern is their shooting where they rank in the bottom half of DI, hitting on 33.6% of their threes.

No. 8 LSU

The Tigers finished third in the SEC and fell just short against Alabama in the conference tournament championship game. Will Wade’s group is one of the most efficient offenses in the country (5th in Ken Pom) averaging 82.1 points per game and shooting 74.6% from the free throw line. Freshman Cameron Thomas leads the group in scoring (22.6 ppg) but three other players are also averaging double digits. The question is defensively where they allowed opponents over 75 points per game. They defend the three point line well (30% allowed) which could come in handy.

No. 9 St. Bonaventure

The Bonnies were Atlantic 10 regular and tournament champions thanks to a balanced offensive attack and a strong defense. The defense hinges on junior forward Osun Osunniyi who averages 2.9 blocks per game and routinely alters shots at the rim. The perimeter players all defend well also with three players (Kyle Lofton, Jaren Holmes and Dominick Welch) averaging over a steal per game. They are also adept at defending the arc (30.6%) making for a fun first round battle against LSU.

No. 10 Maryland

The Terps finished eighth in the Big Ten in the regular season and bowed out in the tournament quarterfinals to top seed Michigan. Mark Turgeon’s group has been okay from deep 35.3% but below average from the free throw line (70.2%) which could hurt them in the tournament. They take care of the ball (11.2 turnovers per game) and the guard combination of Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala is a strong one. Both they and UConn play at a slower pace which means that game could come down to free throw shooting late in a tight affair.

No. 11 Michigan State/UCLA

March is the month of Izzo and the Spartans being in as an 11-seed is a bit scary for those who are used to seeing them higher up the bracket. They’re strong in the rebounding department but struggle from deep (32%). The Bruins lost their top player, senior guard Chris Smith just eight games into the season. They were able to pull together and make the tournament finishing fourth in the Pac-12 and featuring an attack that saw four players in double figures. They’re much better from three than the Spartans (36.7%) but don’t shoot a ton (18.7 attempts). Rebounding could be the difference as the Bruins average just 35 per game on the season.

No. 12 Georgetown

The Hoyas stunned the Big East, finishing eighth in the regular season before running through the conference tournament to win the automatic bid. Patrick Ewing’s group shoots the three (36.6%) and free throws (75.4%) well while also being dominant on the glass averaging over 40 rebounds per game, 28.5 defensively. They do have turnover issues (15.4 per game) which could cost them the chance at the first round upset against Colorado.

No. 13 UNC-Greensboro

The Spartans are back in the tournament for the first time since 2018 after winning the Southern conference. Senior guard Isaiah Miller is the leader averaging 19.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4 assists per game. They’re a strong ball handling team and Miller can certainly cause opponents issues. But, they shoot just 30% from three and 68.3% from the charity stripe which, like the Wildcats below, could pose problems for trying to pull off an upset.

No. 14 Abilene Christian

The Wildcats won the Southland conference to make their second tournament appearance in the last three seasons. Senior center Kolton Kohl (7′ 240) leads the way in scoring 12.3 ppg and with junior forward Joe Pleasant (10.8 ppg) and sophomore guard Coryon Mason (10.7 ppg) right behind. The Wildcats are in the Top 30 in defensive efficiency and shoot fairly well from three (35.3%). The big question is free throw shooting where they connect on just 67.3% of their attempts. That could be a big road block for trying to pull the upset.

No. 15 Iona

The Gaels are probably the biggest unknown in the field outside of those programs dealing with COVID issues. They had the longest pauses in the country due to COVID this year and played just 17 total games. Despite not playing a game between February 20 and the conference tournament on March 9, Iona won four straight to book a spot in the tournament. Head coach Rick Pitino brings plenty of tournament experience and the Gaels are solid defensively. But, they struggle on the defensive glass and do foul quite a bit.

No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s/Texas Southern

Mount St. Mary’s won the Northeast Conference tournament after finishing third in the regular season. They boast the duo of guard Damian Chong-Qui and forward Nana Opoku who combine for 25 points and 11 rebounds per game. The Mountaineers are solid defensively (62.7 ppg allowed) but they struggle from the charity stripe (67.8%). Texas Southern won the SWAC after finishing third in the regular season and are led by a trio of juniors in guard Michael Weathers and forwards Joirdon Karl Nicholas and John Walker. The Tigers play at a fast pace and can put up points in a hurry.

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