Styles make Tournament classics, and one of the standout stylistic contrasts in this year’s first round has 7-seed Clemson facing 10-seed Michigan in the South region.
Clemson is a running team; the third-highest scoring unit (79.0 ppg) in the ACC behind North Carolina and Wake Forest, and the most profilic three-point shooting squad in the conference, hitting an ACC-high 8.1 threes per game at a conference-best 37.9% clip. Michigan, meanwhile, relies on its 1-3-1 zone defense while also taking a lot of threes; 859 triples total, by far the most in the Big Ten and more than Clemson despite playing at a slower pace.
Whichever coach imposes his game plan and gets the game going at his desired speed, the one player who could swing the difference is Michigan’s sophomore two-guard Manny Harris.
An All-Big Ten selection, Harris (16.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.3 spg) is athletic enough to run all day with Clemson, and his long-distance shooting has a lot to do with the Wolverines establishing an offensive flow. In UM’s two most recent losses (Illinois and Wisconsin), Harris combined to go 2-for-11 beyond the arc, and in turn, his team only averaged 52.5 points. In Michigan’s last two wins (Minnesota and Iowa), Harris went 6-for-13 on threes, and the Wolverines put up 70 points per outing.
Harris is a 32% shooter from deep, but he can also get to the rim better than anyone on Coach John Beilen‘s roster — and once he gets there, makes teams pay by either scoring inside or getting to the line, where he’s an 86% shooter. Harris scored 27 against Purdue earlier this year, had 25 against Duke, and in two games against Ohio State averaged 21.5 ppg. In Michigan’s upset win over UCLA, another squad loaded with athletes, Harris had 15 points and three steals.
It’s not like Michigan is a one-man squad; junior big man DeShawn Sims (15.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg) was Top-5 in the conference in scoring and rebounding, and the point guard duo of senior starter C.J. Lee and freshman backup Laval Lucas-Perry also play key roles.
That said, though, few players in the field of 65 have as much riding on their performance as Harris. If his shot is falling, the Wolverines can compete with anybody in the country. If not, the program’s long-awaited return to the Big Dance could very well be a one-and-done affair.
(Photo. Ann Arbor News)