As Kelly Graves entered his team’s locker room on March 25, 2017, his Oregon Ducks squad showered him with water and jumped up and down in jubilation. His team had done something no other team in program history had done: reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Why am I starting this game preview off with an Oregon Ducks story? Because Oregon became only the third double-digit seed to ever advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, and the most recent. The Ducks defeated the 3-seed Maryland Terrapins 77-63. They would go on to play and lose to UConn, but the milestone is not forgotten.
Like I said, only three double-digit teams have ever reached the National Quarterfinals: The 2017 Oregon Ducks(10), 2011 Gonzaga Bulldogs (11), and the 1991 Lamar Cardinals (10). Friday and Saturday, two teams have a legitimate shot to add to that list. Those teams are Creighton (10) and South Dakota (10). Here are three ways I believe will help USD defeat Michigan:
Naz Hillmon vs Hannah Sjerven
For some reason, Hannah Sjerven did not make the “Top-25 players left in the Tournament” for ESPN. Her defense alone in the first two rounds deserves praise. Well, next up is Michigan’s Naz Hillmon. The 6’2″ Senior is one of eight active players in NCAA Division 1 with at least 50 double-doubles in a career. She has scored in double figures in all but one of her 29 games played this year, and is the only player in Michigan history – man or woman – to have 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career.
Through the first two rounds, the Coyote Defense has been able to pressure and wreck havoc among the best players on the opposing team, two of which are projected top-5 picks in the upcoming WNBA draft. Hannah and the Coyote defense will need to continue this in order to be successful on the defensive end. Something to note, Hillmon does lead the team in turnovers with 97 on the season (just over 3 per game).
I see Hannah having a good game against Naz. I think the help defense from the guards will be there too; expect a lot of double teams in the post again. Look for Michigan to not only kick and shoot a ton, but to attack Hannah early to get her in foul trouble.
USD Guards vs Michigan Guards
Believe it or not, USD actually had a size advantage at the guard position against Baylor. This time around they will not be as fortunate. Michigan’s top-playing guards are 5-11, 6-0, and 6-1. This length will make a difference on the rebounding end; hence why Michigan outrebounds their opponents by over 10 rpg. I think that the biggest key to the game will be to slow down 6-1 G Leigha Brown. She is currently averaging 15.5 ppg in the Tournament and is coming off a 20 point performance against Villanova. She’s really good at scoring inside the arc, so the Yotes hands will need to be active on defense. Brown is my player to watch in this game.
It’s been stated earlier, but Michigan is not the best at taking care of the ball. They average over 16 turnovers a game, while USD averages below nine per game. What worked against Baylor was the pressure the Coyotes had in the post. That being said, I think that happened because Baylor was completely caught off-guard at the intensity and style of the Coyote defense (Right, Ole Miss?). Michigan will be ready. They will be ready to rotate and kick out for jumpers, and they will be ready to make some pretty cool backdoor cuts from the top of the key and baseline on their way to the basket for easy layups if USD’s defense isn’t ready.
That’s the thing about basketball though, it’s a chess match. How many times have we seen defensive schemes change in a game to respond to the other team? The answer is a lot. I think that Michigan’s length at the guard position will force more turnovers than USD normally has, but it’s all about how the Coyotes respond to that. We will see.
If USD can control Naz Hillmon on the boards, contain Leigha Brown and force her to take tough shots, and take care of the ball, USD will win. The Coyote defense has been dynamite this tournament and I’m not going to be the one to doubt them this game. I know I didn’t talk too much about offense for USD this preview, and that’s okay. USD offense has been efficient and I don’t see that slowing down this game. Liv and Chloe wil both score in double figures again. My focus is all about the Coyote defense and if they can dig their heels in for one more game to advance to the Elite 8. I believe USD does that on their way to a 59-57 win against Michigan.
Before You Go
Finally, this is the first time these two programs have ever met. Since the 2009-10 season, USD is 2-5 in games played in the state of Kanas; winning their last two games in 2017 and 2020 against Wichita State. USD has yet to trail in this tournament, it will be interesting to see how they respond if Michigan were to jump out to a hot start.
No matter what happens, it has been a treat to watch this team play and redeem their 2020 season that was cut short due to the pandemic. Go get ’em Yotes!