- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
Michigan would never say it publicly, but this has to be what it wanted when it first saw the Maui Invitational bracket earlier this year.
Duke. In the semifinals.
Michigan came inches away from forcing the Blue Devils to overtime on a Darius Morris runner at the buzzer during the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament last season and lost, 73-71. Only Morris and walk-on Jordan Dumars departed from that Michigan team, part of the reason why the Wolverines are both highly ranked and this matchup is highly anticipated.
As the game tips of at 7 p.m., here are three things worth focusing on while No. 15 Michigan and No. 6 Duke play in Hawaii.
In the first tough test of his career, the freshman Burke handled himself well. He dealt with Memphis' pressure and showed poise in his handling of the ball and his decision-making, finishing with 14 points, four assists and three turnovers in a team-high 35 minutes. Duke offers a different challenge, as he could be matchup up against one of the top freshman guards from his class: Rivers.
Rivers has seen tougher competition early in his college career but hasn’t been as impressive as Burke. He struggled in spurts against Tennessee on Monday and has been averaging 14.2 points, 2.4 assists and 2.6 turnovers this season. Burke already got the better of one highly -regarded freshman in Joe Jackson from Memphis (seven points, two assists, one rebound). If he bests Rivers' performance, that could go a long way to a Michigan win.
The last time Michigan faced Duke, there were only two Plumlees on the Blue Devils. Now there are three.
While it is unlikely the youngest Plumlee -- freshman forward Marshall, who had a scholarship offer from Michigan -- will play against the Wolverines, older brothers Miles and Mason will see significant time. The Wolverines did a good job on both of them last season, holding Mason to four points and seven rebounds and Miles to four points and three rebounds. It'll be interesting to see if Michigan tries to go zone on the Plumlees or stick more with man-to-man, where the Wolverines don't match up too well defensively.
Which Smotrycz will show?
The X-factor against Duke will be how sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz plays. He was a difference-maker against Memphis, scoring seven points and grabbing eight rebounds. How he plays -- and if he is able to cause a matchup problem for either Plumlee or Ryan Kelly -- will be a key to the game.
If Smotrycz can mix up an inside and outside game -- he did that against the Tigers -- that could go a long way for Michigan. The Wolverines are simply a better team when Smotrycz can move both inside the paint and out on the 3-point line. If Duke neutralizes him, it could solve some spacing issues Smotrycz can cause defenses.