|WHAT||#7 Michigan (6-0) vs
#4 North Carolina (6-1)
Ann Arbor, MI
|WHEN||9 PM Wednesday|
|LINE||Michigan -2 (KenPom)|
Michigan's Only Revenue Sport™ returns to the court tomorrow in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, sporting a shiny #1 in Kenpom's defensive efficiency rankings. This kicks off a four-game stretch, including two conference games, that will either firmly establish Michigan as a contender in the league and maybe for a 1-seed or cause the total implosion of the Michigan fanbase. No pressure!
This stretch kicks off with a return game from North Carolina. Last year a frenetic start (20-20 six minutes in) gave way to a Michigan scoring drought and a 14-point halftime deficit Michigan never ate into. Luke Maye put up 27 points as Michigan forced just six turnovers and allowed 57% shooting from two. Michigan gave up 1.23 points per possession, their worst performance of the year outside of that Purdue insanity.
This edition of UNC is insanely fast and Michigan's D is locked in. Should be fun.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.
|G||2||Coby White||Fr.||6'5, 185||57||27||120||No|
|#25 composite freshman is giant point guard who hit 7/10 threes against Texas. Bad so far inside line. Pull-up three shooter.|
|G||24||Kenny Williams||Sr.||6'4, 191||65||15||110||No|
|Low usage but very efficient (59/40 shooting) last year. Rarely creates own shot, but will convert off cuts a lot. Scuffling early this year.|
|F||5||Nassir Little||Fr.||6'6, 220||50||23||129||Kinda|
|#3 composite freshman is absurd athlete hitting 64% from two and grabbing a ton of OREBs. 95%(!!!) at rim. Iffy shooter.|
|F||13||Cameron Johnson||Sr.||6'9 210||64||21||135||No|
|Grad transferred from Pitt last year and fit in as versatile stretch four. 52/34 from floor, not much of an impact without the ball.|
|C||32||Luke Maye||Sr.||6'8, 240||71||21||119||No|
|Stretch 5 hit 43% on 116 threes last year and is burly enough to be a major factor on the boards. Not a great athlete and just a 50% shooter from two in 2017-18.|
|C||15||Garrison Brooks||So.||6'9, 230||45||20||118||Yes|
|Conventional big is hammering the offensive boards and converting off others' assists.|
|C||21||Sterling Manley||So.||6'11", 235||30||21||96||Yes|
|Extremely typical backup C.|
|F||1||Leaky Black||Fr.||6'7, 185||36||13||120||No|
|#71 composite freshman got ~15 MPG vs Texas and UCLA. Super low usage so far.|
|G||4||Seventh Woods||Jr.||6'2, 185||40*||16||117||Yes|
|PG has whopping 43% assist rate and basically never shoots because he's awful at it. 25 TO rate against jabronis.|
*[Woods missed UNC's games against UCLA and Texas but was averaging about 15 MPG in their previous outings. ]
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
UNC is coming off a strange, disappointing year by their standards that featured two wins over Duke (and one over Michigan) and a two-seed but also seven conference losses and a second-round exit in the tournament. The Tarheels lost Theo Pinson and Joel Berry off that team but return two seniors—one of whom trashed Michigan in this game last year—and added the usual level of recruit to fill a couple of holes in the starting lineup.
The senior who trashed Michigan, as you no doubt remember, is Luke Maye. Maye is Ethan Happ with three-point range and a supporting cast: a burly, super-skilled, below-the-rim big who the NBA isn't going to be too interested in but dominates in college. He went 10/14 from two against Moe Wagner last year; Wagner responded with 8/10 from two and an ORTG of 142.
When not playing Wagner, Maye pounded the boards on both ends, had an assist rate higher than his TO rate (highly unusual for a big), and hit 43% on 116 threes. What he didn't do is crush people's heads on the interior. He shot 50% from two last year. That's what you're going to get his year, too—dude is already on his ceiling.
Maye's inside-out ability makes him a problem for many defenses but he's not a switch-everything positionless guy, so Jon Teske won't be too difficult to keep on the court. UNC will kick Maye down to the 4 for about half his minutes, bringing on one of a couple Generic Backup Centers at the 5. The goal there will be to bully Isaiah Livers or Iggy Brazdeikis on the block, which didn't go that well for Eric Paschall.
Maye's undersized; the rest of the team is giant. The shortest guy UNC puts on the floor much is 6'4", and aside from the Generic Backup Centers everyone is a threat both inside and out. Cameron Johnson, who you may remember as the prize catch in the Great Pitt Basketball Dispersal Draft, is a 6'9" guy who plays the 3 and 4. He's Not Just A Shooter, with all that term implies. Last year he split his usage about equally from two and three, had meh shooting (52/34), and relied on a rock-bottom turnover rate for his overall offensive efficiency. He's a guy who can create the occasional look for himself but will mostly find those coming in the midrange. He's off to a blazing shooting start, FWIW.
Nassir Little gets most of the rest of UNC's minute in the frontcourt. Little is the top freshman in the country, non-Duke division, and is projected as a top five pick many places. That hasn't stopped Roy Williams from giving him the Jaren Jackson treatment early in the season: Little does not start and gets almost exactly 20 minutes a game.
This might be justified. Little sucks up a ton of oxygen when he's on the court and does little other than shoot. Against Texas and UCLA, Little had ORTGs of 99 and 102 on usage of 25 and 32 percent, respectively. He's absurdly athletic and you can probably chalk up one poster-worthy dunk over Teske, but he's a black hole who puts his head down and tries to get to the rim and he's 5 of 17 from three on the year.
Senior Kenny Williams is also Not Just A Shooter. 56% of his attempts last year came from deep; he hit them at a 41% clip. When he ventures inside the line he's split about evenly between rim attempts and Other Twos. He's legit great at the latter and decent at the former. He's another guy who can attack an unbalanced defense but isn't going to be taking it to the rack to initiate an action. A scanty free throw rate indicates what kind of guy he is inside the line.
Williams has taken on more playmaking responsibilities this year, which has spiked his assist and turnover rates. It may be affecting the quality of his shots from deep, as he's just 5 of 26 so far this year. Williams is a guy who needs an open look; he's not a rise-up or jab-step guy.
Freshman Coby White has been the starting point guard from the jump. He's also a five-star, albeit one who checked towards the tail end of that range at 25th. White is enormous and promising. He's the only UNC player with usage meaningfully above 20%; he's hitting 44% from deep; a third of those are unassisted; he draws a ton of fouls and is an 80%+ shooter at the line. He's not good inside the line and a TO rate nearing 20 is poor for a guard.
White's matchup against Zavier Simpson is going to be fascinating. Simpson's likely to be in his shirt and pawing at the ball; White can clearly rise up over him and may be inclined to try the Brunson down on the block. Preventing him from launching is gong to be a key factor. He was 11/17 in UNC's two real games to date.
Backup and strangely-named person Seventh Woods missed the UCLA and Texas games with a concussion but is cleared to return tomorrow. He's got a giant assist rate that would be top-ten nationally if he had enough minutes to qualify, which is strange because he's hitting 35% from two on about 80 career attempts. It would seem like you should just D him up and never help off of him. Simpson should eat him alive if he does hit the floor. Brandon Robinson also gets backup guard minutes. He's been a horrendous offensive player in his career to date; a few bunnies against Tennessee Tech and their ilk have propped his numbers up this year. Minutes for either of these guys are a gift.
Finally, excellently-named freshman Leaky Black is a low usage spectator thus far in his career.
Hoo, boy. North Carolina has a bizarre tempo profile. They're the second-fastest team in the country on offense. That in itself is unusual. The upper reaches of that stat are dominated by bad teams trying to get shots up because they're hopeless in the halfcourt.
UNC is not that. Even so 41% of their shots come in the first ten seconds of the clock. This is a giant uptick from last year, when UNC was the 14th fastest team in the country with 27% of their shots early. Last year this made sense: UNC had an eFG rate of 55% in transition and was 51% in the half-court. This year that relationship has inverted: UNC is at 53% in transition and 58% in the half-court. They're going so fast that it might be hurting them.
A couple of other notes from their tempo-free profile:
- UNC is bad at preventing threes. 43% of opponent shots come from behind the arc, and while they've survived the barrage this doesn't look like a situation where it's sustainable. Last year's Tarheels were about equally bad at preventing threes… and 316th in opponent 3PT%. Texas and UCLA both hit 46% on a lot of attempts.
- They also don't put many threes up, just 32% of their shots. That's around 300th, and that's despite the fact that they're well above average. This may be an artifact of competition level.
- The tall men crash the offensive boards; UNC is 8th in OREBs.
But really it's the tempo man.
Get organized fast. Approximately one out of every six UNC shots is a bad, rushed take in a not-really-transition situation, against a large number of bad teams and a UCLA outfit that's more or less uncoached. Michigan's usual level of transition avoidance will be extremely useful. If that transition avoidance results in bad shots instead of half-court possessions all the better.
Rebound as a team. The only starter UNC puts out who won't crash the boards with regularity is the point guard. Lineups with Maye at the 4 will put pressure on whoever is checking him to match his physicality and crafty old man game; Charles Matthews (presumably) will have to be on all-out boxout alert for Little, who's already got ten putbacks on the season despite only playing half the time.
Michigan's doing that thing where everyone boxes out and the point guard goes and gets it again, and that's worked brilliantly so far. Michigan is top 30 in defensive rebounding despite the fact that Zavier Simpson has a higher DREB rate than Jon Teske.
Survive Maye. Michigan's absurd at-the-rim D (45%!!!) will get a test, sort of? Maye killed Wagner last year but he's pretty mediocre inside the arc overall. Trying to bully Iggy and Livers didn't work before and probably won't work now.
Hit open shots. UNC's freshman-and-help-heavy defense gave up a ton of quality threes last year and gave up a ton of quality threes in UNC's most recent games. Michigan is scuffling from three. They were 5 of 17 against Villanova and 6 of 18 against Providence—numbers that may not cut it against these dudes.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 2.