#41 Michigan (6-1) at
#13 North Carolina (5-1)
Dean Smith Center
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
|WHEN||7:30 pm ET, Wednesday|
UNC -8 (KenPom)
UNC -9.5 (Bovada)
PBP: Bob Wischusen
Analyst: Dick Vitale
If you were hoping for a Big Ten triumph in the ACC Challenge, it was over almost before it began. Purdue beat Louisville last night; the other six games, including a buzzer-beating finish between Georgia Tech and Northwestern, have gone the ACC's way.
The Big Ten needs a clean sweep for a win. I don't need to run any numbers to tell you that's unlikely.
While the defending national champions have had plenty of turnover, they're still projected to be Michigan's toughest test until January.
UNC took a markedly different approach to early-season scheduling than Michigan; they've already faced five top-100 teams, dispatching four with relative ease, including #29 Arkansas. That got them inside the KenPom top ten for all of one game before Michigan State blew them out 63-45 in the PK80 title game on Sunday. UNC had its worst shooting performance in the history of the program. A dollar says they'll be better tonight.
The Tar Heels are led by 6'8", 240-pound junior big Luke Maye, a hero off the bench in last year's NCAA tournament who's taken well to a much-increased role this year. Capable of scoring in the post or knocking down threes at a 40% clip, he'd fit in really well in Beilein's offense, and he's also an excellent rebounder. His main weakness is at the line, where he's a career 52% shooter.
Point guard Joel Berry is the player you probably best remember from last year's title run. He's struggled to find his shot after missing the early portion of the season with a hand injury; at his best, he's a high-volume three-point gunner and effective pick-and-roll ballhandler. He's joined in the backcourt by sharpshooter Kenny Williams, who's 14-for-25 on threes so far this season.
6'6" wing Theo Pinson is a strong defender who's likely to match up against Charles Matthews. He's a limited offensive player, but his poor outside shot is offset by his ability to finish around the basket. Freshmen Garrison Brooks (6'9" starting four) and Sterling Manley (6'11" backup five) round out the frontcourt. Neither is a huge offensive threat and have some turnover issues; both can make an impact on the boards, especially Manley.
A few young guards—sophomore Seventh Woods and freshmen Andrew Platek and Jarek Felton—should rotate into the game. They're all talented players, as you'd expect at UNC, but only Platek has found much success this year and most of it came against 303rd-ranked Portland.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Small sample size caveats apply.
North Carolina is going to look to run; they're seventh in average offensive possession length. Their halfcourt offense has bogged down against man-to-man defenses, especially MSU's, because they don't shoot the ball particularly well. Their best approach against Michigan is attacking the offensive glass, which they do quite well.
UNC's defense, as usual, is a strength. Their length and athleticism make it tough to score inside the arc. They're 25th in two-point percentage allowed and 66th in block rate despite lacking a true rim protecting center in the starting lineup. They sacrifice their perimeter defense with this approach, however; they're 281st in three-point rate allowed and opponents are sinking 40.4% of them.
Drive, kick, profit. There'll be more on this in a Basketbullets later this afternoon, but Michigan's most reliable halfcourt offense has come when their wings, especially Charles Matthews, attack the paint off the screen. If Matthews can manipulate screens and use his quick first step to get into the paint and force UNC's defense to collapse, there are going to be open threes available. Then it's just a matter of...
Make some dang threes. Michigan has the 58th-highest rate of three-point attempts but is mired in a season-long funk, hitting only a third of their triples. For the above approach to work, that obviously has to change. While Michigan has downgraded their outside shooting considerably at point guard, I believe their poor shooting is mostly a fluke at this point—they're generating good shots and have one starter (MAAR) shooting well below his career mark.
Rebound. Simple but mandatory when facing a team with the size and athleticism of UNC, especially when that team isn't great at shooting. Moe Wagner, Jon Teske, and Matthews have been very good on the defensive boards, but the Wolverines will also need Duncan Robinson and MAAR to be on high alert—both have a tendency to space out on their assignements and UNC will ruthlessly take advantage if they fail to block out.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
UNC by 8.
Maye is going to test Wagner's defense more than anyone he's faced this year, and Pinson is going to make Matthews work hard for his points. Unless Michigan lights it up from the outside, UNC's rebounding ends up being the deciding factor here. If it isn't, we can start feeling pretty good about Michigan's ability on the boards.