If you put Michigan’s and LSU’s basketball team’s side-by-side, you can physically see the difference between a No. 1 seed in the NCAA East Region and a No. 8 seed.
The Wolverines have five players measuring 6-9 or more, LSU has two.
Four of those same five Michigan trees weigh 240 pounds or more. LSU has three.
Michigan has a 7-1, 255-pound freshman starting center.
LSU’s tallest (6-11) and heaviest player (255 pounds) is a freshman reserve center who has played 33 minutes this season.
Michigan’s head coach is also tall, a 6-9 19-year NBA veteran who played 1,257 games with eight teams, was part of two NBA championships and was part of Michigan’s Fab Five that lost in the 1993 NCAA championship game.
LSU’s head coach measures 6-5, played on his high school golf team and began learning to coach as a student manager at Clemson.
Based on all that, how is Michigan (21-4) just a 5½-point favorite in its East Region second round game vs. LSU (19-9) Monday night at 6:10 in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium?
For the same reason No. 8 Midwest Region seed Loyola-Chicago, a 6 ½-point underdog, beat No. 1 Midwest seed Illinois 71-58 in a second-round game Sunday afternoon.
Anything can happen in the NCAA tournament.
Like No. 2 South Region seed Ohio State losing to 15-seed Oral Roberts Friday in a first-round game. Or East Region No. 2 seed Texas losing a first-round game Saturday to No. 15 seed Abilene Christian.
But admittedly for LSU, Michigan is a nightmare matchup on both ends of the floor.
“They’re a 1-seed for a reason,” Tigers’ coach Will Wade said. “They well-coached. They run great stuff on offense, they change their defenses. There are a lot of things to prepare for in a short period.”
LSU hasn’t played a team with a post player like Michigan freshman Hunter Dickinson, a 7-1, 255-pound second-team All-American who’s averaging 14.3 points and 7.4 rebounds.
Dickinson has 6-8, 240-pound backboard banging buddy in power forward Brandon Johns. And Johns has help from 6-9, 220-pound guard Franz Wagner.
The Tigers’ best hope of getting Michigan out of sync is luring Dickinson away from basketball with LSU’s two largest players, forwards 6-7 Darius Days and 6-9 Trendon Watford. Mays and Watford can both hit 3-pointers and Watford is adept at driving to the basket.
Also, as Wade pointed out, Michigan is a different team when Dickinson is sidelined in foul trouble. But then again, Wade believes 6-10, 250-pound Austin Davis, Dickinson’s replacement, is more than capable.
“There’s nobody in the SEC that looks like him, either,” Wade said. “They have low post threat after low post threat. We’ve got to somehow keep the ball out of the post. Not only do they have high-quality scoring opportunities, they’re going to get the offense rebounds. It’s a matter whether they make them or we foul them.”
LSU had three players with double-doubles in Friday’s 76-61 first-round win over No. 9 seed St. Bonaventure as the Tigers dominated rebounding 49-30 including 14 offensive boards.
“Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding is what we did the other night,” said Days, a junior who had 13 points and 11 rebounds vs. St. Bonaventure. “That’s what we’ve got to do tomorrow night. It’s going to be a very physical game.”
From Michigan’s standpoint, its defensive game plan is about defending the 1-on-1 abilities of LSU freshman guard Cam Thomas (22.8 points per game), sophomore forward Watford (16.5 ppg) and junior point guard Javonte Smart (15.6 ppg).
Everything in LSU’s offense is created by that trio, often using each other and Days in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pops plays.
“LSU plays with a lot of one-on-one, that’s basically what it comes down to,” Wagner said. “Watford is a good driver, he can shoot and has a good handle. With Smart and Thomas, they take a lot of shots and they’re very aggressive. I think we gotta make sure we do our job on the pick-and-roll and we can’t lose them on the perimeter. They both shoot it from very deep.
“We’ve got to be connected with our coverages and stuff like that. I think a huge part of that, like I mentioned earlier, we always say, ‘Guard your yard.’ Guard your player in a 1-on-1 situation cause Thomas and Smart, and obviously Watford, all the other players, are very talented and skilled.”