When the Michigan men’s basketball team tips off against Tulsa on Wednesday night in its First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, its two seniors — guards Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht — will be watching from the bench.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, the Golden Hurricane (12-6 American Athletic Conference, 20-11 overall) will run out four seniors in their starting lineup. They’ll have five more on the bench. Their nine seniors are the most of any team in the country, and they will depend on their veteran leadership in order to take down a favored Wolverines (10-8 Big Ten, 22-12 overall) team at University of Dayton Arena (9:10 p.m. on truTV).
“I have much respect for the Tulsa program,” Michigan coach John Beilein told reporters on Tuesday in Dayton. “And playing against nine seniors, I don’t think we’ve had nine seniors total in the last four or five years together. So there’s a great amount of experience, and we’re going to have to find a way to win despite that difference.”
In fact, Michigan has had 10 seniors on the team since the 2011-12 season, but Beilein’s point stands: Michigan is lacking experience. Junior guards Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. are the only scholarship players who will play in the game and have been to the NCAA Tournament before.
“Experience definitely helps,” Walton said. “But we’re here now, and excuses kind of go out the window, and we kind of roll with what we have right now. So at this point, we just hope to band together as a collective unit and play as best as possible and click on as many cylinders as possible.”
The Wolverines are coming off of two wins in the Big Ten Tournament, including an upset of No. 1 seed Indiana, and appear to be playing their best basketball of the year. Meanwhile, Tulsa is coming off of a 22-point loss to Memphis in the AAC Tournament which many, including guard Shaqulle Harrison, thought would end their hopes for a bid. Harrison tweeted after the game that he didn’t think his team would make it.
“I felt like we deserved to be here and everything,” Harrison said. “But how things were looking, how people were talking, (not getting a bid) was just kind of what my mind was at at the time.”
Harrison is part of a trio of guards — that also includes senior James Woodward and junior Pat Birt — that has led the Golden Hurricane this season. The three have averaged a combined 42 points per game with Woodward leading the team with 15.6 points per contest.
Tulsa shoots 44 percent from the field, but just 33 percent from deep. On the other end of the court, it has struggled to defend opponents from the perimeter — something Michigan could take advantage of. The Golden Hurricane’s opponents have shot better than 36 percent from deep against them.
The Wolverines could also gain an advantage down low. Tulsa’s biggest starter is 6-foot-9, 209-pound forward Brandon Swannegan. D’Andre Wright, who comes off the bench, is 6-foot-9, 245 pounds.
Michigan has struggled against size this season, particularly when shots aren’t falling for it, so the Golden Hurricane’s lack of it will bode well for the Wolverines.
In scouting Tulsa, Beilein said that his staff focused mostly on their most recent games instead of looking back at similar opponents. The Golden Hurricane played both Southern Methodist and Connecticut this year twice, splitting their series with them. Michigan lost to both in non-conference play.
“They went to SMU and won, they beat Connecticut good, too,” Beilein said on “Inside Michigan Basketball,” his weekly radio show, on Monday. “I got my team’s attention right away. ‘How’d we do against SMU and Connecticut, guys?’ All right, well they beat them.”
On the opposite side, Tulsa coach Frank Haith has tried to prepare his team for Michigan’s ball-screen heavy offense.
“They do a lot of neat things offensively,” Haith said. “They have great screening actions, and our defense has to be on point to defend them. I think that they’re as good as offensive team as there is in the country. I think their numbers say that. And that’s going to be a key for us. And for us to have success tomorrow night, we’ve got to do a tremendous job of guarding them. They’re difficult to prepare for.”
The winner of Wednesday night’s game will clinch a No. 11 seed in the field of 64 and face No. 6 Notre Dame in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Friday.