After three cupcakes to open the season, Michigan finally has a chance to show what it’s truly made of against a quality opponent on the big stage. The Wolverines face Pittsburgh tonight in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off in Madison Square Garden.
The Panthers are 4-0 with wins over Mount St. Mary’s (80-48), Fordham (86-51), Lehigh (78-53), and Oakland (72-62 OT). While the first three results were expected just like Michigan’s first three, the overtime win over Okland was not. The Golden Grizzlies are a traditionally solid mid-major, but are just 2-3 so far this season.
In the game, Oakland built a 14-point halftime lead and pushed it to 18 at one point in the second half. But Pitt flexed its big boy muscles and came roaring back, using a 7-0 run in the final minute to force overtime. In the extra stanza, the Panthers continued that hot end-of-game run by scoring 11 of the first 13 points to put the game away.
Pitt is led by a trio of scorers, redshirt junior forward Talib Zanna, senior guard Tray Woodall, and junior forward J.J. Moore. Zanna is currently the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14 points per game. The 6’9″ Nigerian has scored 20 points each in two games and eight points each in the other two. In the two that he scored 20, he shot a combined 18-of-21 from the field.
Woodall is the man who runs the show, averaging 13.8 points and 7.3 assists per game so far. He scored 23 against Lehigh, but struggled against Oakland, shooting 2-of-14 overall and 2-of-10 from three-point range, scoring just six points.
Moore scored 20 against Fordham and recorded a double-double against Oakland with 16 points and 10 rebounds while coming off the bench.
Along with Zanna and Woodall, the other starters are freshman guard James Robinson (seven points per game), redshirt junior wing Lamar Patterson (2.5 points), and freshman center Steven Adams (7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds).
Another interesting player to watch for is former Michigan target Trey Zeigler. The junior transfered to Pitt from Central Michigan when his father, who was CMU’s head coach, was fired in March. He received a special waiver from the NCAA to play right away and is averaging 6.5 points in just over 18 minutes per game.
Last season, Pitt went 22-17 overall, but just 4-12 in the Big East. They didn’t receive a bid for the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, but instead played in the College Basketball Invitational and won it over Washington State.
Pitt certainly won’t be the best team Michigan faces all season, but the Panthers do present a solid early season test. Michigan’s freshmen that play a big role this season will be playing outside the comforts of the Crisler Center for the first time and against a major college opponent. The winner will face the winner of Kansas State and Delaware on Friday afternoon.