CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On Friday morning, shortly after 10 a.m., assistant men’s basketball coach Bacari Alexander received a text message from Jalen Rose: Go Blue! Go win and good luck!
After Michigan ran over Tennessee that afternoon, Alexander received another text message from the famous Fab 5 member.
“He just expressed his love to the guys and wanted us to, on his behalf, wish the guys success against Duke,” Alexander said Saturday.
After last weekend’s premier of ESPN’s Fab 5 documentary, every viewer learned of the rivalry between the members of that year’s Michigan team and that year’s Duke team. And while the media has covered the frenzy of feuding between those two teams from nearly 20 years ago, the Michigan men’s basketball team is remaining focused on this singular matchup between the two squads tomorrow in the third-round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Right now this is 2011 Michigan versus 2011 Duke, 2011 NCAA Tournament,” junior guard Zack Novak said. “That’s all we’re focused on.”
This will be Novak, and fellow junior Stu Doulgass’ third matchup with Duke. In their freshman year, the Wolverines fell to the Blue Devils at Madison Square Garden before having the chance to reface the team at Crisler Arena. That time around, they won.
A main difference in those two games was the outside shooting. When Michigan lost, it shot 26 percent from range, but when the Wolverines won, they knocked down 44 percent of their shots from behind the arc.
“They have great spacing. You can only have great spacing, and have it be effective, if you have good shooters,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “(They have) spacing, good ball movement, and they have good offensive egos of all the kids that play for them. In other words they believe they can make plays and make shots.
“They’re a very good basketball team.”
In Michigan’s 75-45 win over Tennessee, the Wolverines shot 52 percent from the floor, with the majority of their points coming from inside the paint.
Against the Blue Devils’ front court, Michigan may not be able to get those same type of shots. Both of the Plumlee brothers, sophomore Mason and junior Miles, stand at 6-foot-10, while senior Kyle Singler is 6-foot-8. The three combine for 21 rebounds per game.
And Duke doesn’t lose any fire power going into its backcourt with the likes of senior Nolan Smith and sophomore Seth Curry. Smith averages a team-high 21 points per game and has an ACC-high of 20 games with 20 or more points.
Returning to his team’s roster is freshman Kyrie Irving, who missed 26 games with a right toe injury. In the Blue Devils’ destruction of Hampton in the second-round game on Friday, Irving scored 14 points and grabbed four rebounds in just 20 minutes of play.
“Playing in the Big Ten, we see a lot of big guards every game, so we can’t panic,” freshman Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “We just have to stay the course, deny the wings and play our game.”
Along with denying the wings and guards, the Wolverines will most likely use a mix of defensive schemes to contain the usually explosive Duke offense.
Michigan has been known to utilize the 1-3-1 zone defense, a set that a lot of teams don’t normally see, to throw off its opponents and force turnovers.
“We slow it up and make the (opposing) guards really have to make decisions on the fly,” sophomore point guard Darius Morris said. “It switches up the game and changes up the pace.”
The pace will definitely be changed when the Wolverines come onto the floor at Time Warner Cable Arena, which is a three-hour drive from Durham, N.C. Those fans may be bringing some animosity for what was and wasn’t said in the Fab 5 documentary.
In addition to the current Michigan men’s team that isn’t using the film as inspiration is the Duke men’s team.
“I didn’t watch the documentary,” Krzyzewski said plainly. “We’re coaching against a great university, a great coach and this team. It really has absolutely nothing to do with this game.
“This is my 101st NCAA game. Do you think I need motivation from a documentary?”