The matchup similarities to Michigan’s 2009 trip to New York continues in the Maui Invitational on Wednesday as the Wolverines face UCLA.
In John Beilein’s second season at Michigan, his team beat UCLA in the 2K Sports Classic semifinals before losing to Duke in the finals. This season, the Wolverines lost to Duke in the semifinals, setting up a third-place game against the Bruins.
The difference this time, though, is Michigan is the team expected to win. Should the Wolverines do that, this could be considered a successful tournament in Hawaii and a good harbinger for what the rest of the season might hold.
So how does that happen? Here are three keys to tonight’s game.
This is especially important in this game -- the third in three days for Michigan. Sometimes, the fatigue factor is overrated as most college players are used to multiple games in consecutive days during the AAU season. However, college games against top-rated competition are much more intense. And the Wolverines have a freshman point guard in Trey Burke who played 35 minutes against Memphis and 39 minutes against Duke. He has been exceptional thus far in Maui, but he’ll need one more big-minute game for the Wolverines tonight against UCLA.
Remember, too, that this was a much longer trip for Michigan -- the Wolverines traveled approximately 4,500 miles to reach Maui while the Bruins had half that. That, eventually, can weigh on legs and bodies. It’ll be interesting to see how Michigan, which has played hard against two top-flight opponents thus far, deals with that.
This battle of sophomore guards will be the most fun matchup of the game. Duke did a good job taking Hardaway Jr. out of the Michigan offense in the first half in the semifinals -- but as Hardaway Jr. is prone to do, he responded with a 19-point second half after a scoreless first half. Lamb’s length will cause the Michigan standout some problems, but if he’s able to put together a 16-to-18 point night, Michigan should be fine.
If Lamb is able to fluster Hardaway Jr., UCLA has a good shot of taking Michigan out of the rhythm of its offense, which should give the Bruins openings. Plus, Lamb is athletic enough and a good enough shooter that Michigan will need to account for him on the offensive end as well. He made 3 of 4 3-pointers against Kansas in the semifinals.
Beware the Wears (and Reeves Nelson)
The Wear twins, who transferred from North Carolina to UCLA, are like a lesser version of the Plumlees from Duke, but the 6-foot-10 brothers could create matchup problems for Michigan if they are on the floor at the same time. Michigan did a good job on the Plumlees, holding Mason to six points and five rebounds and Miles to four points and five rebounds.
If Michigan can do something similar to the Wears -- both David and Travis struggled against Kansas -- it’ll take away a noticeable size advantage. The key here will be for Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford and Evan Smotrycz to stay out of foul trouble, because that trio is more effective offensively than the Wears and Reeves Nelson, who will be a matchup problem for Morgan or Smotrycz.