Tomorrow night the ACC/B1G Challenge comes to Chapel Hill. The Michigan Wolverines and North Carolina Tar Heels will FINALLY face off in the closest thing to a rematch of the 1993 National Championship game we will ever experience. Of course, it’s not a true rematch, as none of the players from the 1993 title game will be suiting up. However, it is the first time these teams have played each other since Dean Smith won his second title. Seriously.
We’ll spare you any trips down memory lane as those are likely to be a dominant feature in the next 48 hours. If you get tired of the fake/overdone drama that may ensue, just take a time out and scroll through these three things to watch.
(Note: All stats are courtesy of sports-reference.com and kenpom.com)
Before the season started, there were legitimate concerns about UNC’s ability to rebound. The youthful post players and the understanding that the Heels would rely on smaller line-ups caused some consternation about who would gather loose balls. Through the first five games those concerns were laughed at, as UNC outrebounded it’s opposition by double-digits every in every game.
For the season, the Heels have received admirable help from the perimeter where Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams, Joel Berry are averaging almost 11 combined rebounds per game. The bench of Seventh Woods, Andrew Platek, Jalek Felton, and now Brandon Robison are contributing an additional combined 6.6rpg. Over 17 rebounds a game from the perimeter is nothing to sneeze at.
However, Sunday’s loss against Michigan State affirmed the worries that there will be nights where extra help is needed. Against the Spartans, the guards only accumulated 12 total rebounds. For reference, last year’s perimeter players averaged a combined 20.1 rebounds per game. Admittedly, injuries and missed games don’t make that an exact science, but the disparity is noticeable.
For the season, Michigan has yet to play a ranked team or any team that is currently ranked higher than 92 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. Four of their opponents are in the 200’s. Their only Power 5 opponent was LSU, whom they lost to. Despite the lack of tough opponents through seven games, the Wolverines have only grabbed 15 more rebounds than their opponents. Total.
This seems like a cliché or low-hanging fruit. Here’s the deal - UNC has given the ball to the other team 13 or more times in every game except the home opener. A team like UNC is usually going to have more turnovers due to their style of play. Most of us understand that. However, that’s an alarming trend that has only been hidden by their own ability to force even more turnovers by their opponents.
That is not necessarily a formula for sustained success.
On the flip side, Michigan has forced double-digit turnovers six times. They haven’t committed more than 11 turnovers in a single game. Four times they’ve kept their giveaways in single digits. Against Michigan, possessions are at a premium. See below.
Attack on offense. Attack on defense.
Michigan’s style of play makes this the perfect recovery game for the Heels. North Carolina got punked in the PK80 finale. Sparty punched them in the mouth, stole their lunch money, and dared them to do something about it. It happens. Shake it off. Move on.
And yet...they still got to the line 24 times. In five of their six games, the Heels have attempted at least 20 free throws. Why does this matter?
Michigan are currently the 350th fastest team in the NCAA, with an Adjusted Tempo of 64.5 possessions a game. (Adjusted Tempo is a metric used to determine how fast a team plays relative to it’s competition). North Carolina is 9th with an AdjT of 74.6. This means that on average UNC has 10 more possessions per game than Michigan.
With an AdjO (points per 100 possession) of 115 points per game — and that's AFTER Sunday’s atrocity— North Carolina should easily put those possessions to good use. That’s 10 extra possession to make the Wolverines run back on defense, create a shot, attack the rim, and draw fouls.
Where Michigan has been impressive, is their overall efficiency. They currently have an AdjO of 113.6, good for 28th in the nation. They also have hit 50% of their total field goal attempts and a whopping 61% of their two-point attempts. So while Michigan doesn’t create many possessions, they don’t waste the ones they do get (which makes turnovers even more important).
However, as Al touched on yesterday, UNC’s defense has been impressive since they reached the West Coast. Their past three opponents shot 40% or worse from the field, including Michigan State. If the Heels can maintain that defensive intensity and combine it with the aggression and attacking game plan they usually show, Michigan won’t even need to call a time-out in the final minute.