South Dakota State can win because…
It will be going up against a team that is not particularly dependable or confident. Michigan ran out of steam last season, falling to a No. 4 seed after failing to make the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament. This year, the narrative is very much the same. Michigan was supposed to be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, but the Wolverines lost a number of games down the stretch, especially a head-scratcher to lowly Penn State, a team that won only two Big Ten games all season. Michigan had a 15-point lead in the second half of that contest; blowing it to a good team would be one thing, but blowing it to a bad team is quite a source of alarm if you're a Michigan fan. The Wolverines are such an inconsistent team, as you can see. One fact which magnifies this reality is that Michigan held Wisconsin to 17 points in the first half of a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal game on Friday in Chicago, only to allow 51 points to the Badgers in the second half. Will the real Michigan please stand up.
South Dakota State also has a terrific player, Nate Wolters, who averages 22.7 points per game, fourth in the United States. Wolters also averages just under six rebounds and six assists per game, making him a complete player with a full skill set. Wolters could distort the shape of Michigan's defense. If the Wolverines double-team him, he can find open teammates. If those teammates hit shots, Michigan could be in trouble.
Michigan can win because…
In this round of 64 matchup the Wolverines are going to look to set a pace and precedent by pulling off a strong win in this year's NCAA Tournament. Michigan teams, knowing that they have stumbled in this event in the recent past as a favorite, know that this is precisely the kind of game they need to regain rhythm and flow in their halfcourt offense. They are gifted with multiple high-level scorers, such Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Trey Burke, who can create shots and find ways to carve up a defense in so many ways. If that isn't enough reason to recommend Michigan in this game, one should add the well-used 1-3-1 zone defense of this team, a staple of head coach John Beilein, which will make penetration to the rim difficult for South Dakota State, which does not see a lot of 1-3-1 in its own league. South Dakota State won't see zone all the time, but Beilein will throw it in as a change-up, and the Jackrabbits will probably suffer some crucial scoring droughts as a result.
The last thing to consider here is the shooting ability of the Wolverines' opponents. The Jackrabbits, who, although they did win their automatic bid in their conference, do not come from a league that can come close to what the Big Ten offers. They do not have the size to play over the top of a Michigan zone which will make their shots more contested. The probability that South Dakota State is also going to get a lot of second-chance points in this game is very low, because the Jackrabbits are ranked 131st in the country for rebounding this season and that does not bode well for them on the college basketball odds.
Outlook & Prediction:
Although many people will make South Dakota State on their NCAA Basketball picks, this feels like a game in which Michigan won't blow out South Dakota State but won't be taken to the wire. The Wolverines will wobble at times but Burke and Hardaway will score enough to keep the margin at eight or nine points in the final minutes. Take SD State on your sports picks but Michigan in your bracket.
NCAA Basketball Pick: SD State +11 at Bovada