The North Carolina Tar Heels will head back home to Chapel Hill after a week-long west coast trip. The likes of which saw the Tar Heels go up against an old assistant (Jerod Haase), some horrendous-looking uniforms, and numerous Bill Walton tangents. In this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, UNC will host the Michigan Wolverines in a rematch of the 1993 National Championship game (If you want to feel old, just think, most of these players were not even born yet the last time that these two teams played.). It is hard to believe that these two schools have not played one another in 24 years, especially with what seems like an annual matchup (played 12 times since 1993) against Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans.
The Wolverines head into Wednesday night’s game with a record of 6-1 on the season. John Beilein’s team returns from the Maui Invitational having won two out of three games. They lost the opening game to LSU, 77-75, before rebounding to win the next two games against VCU and Chaminade.
When you take a quick glimpse at the Wolverines’ opponents you will notice it is not an overly impressive group. According to sports-reference.com, Michigan currently has the 264th (out of 351) hardest strength of schedule. In comparison, the Tar Heels have the 6th hardest strength of schedule through the early part of the season. This will be one of the biggest tests for Michigan early on in the season to truly see if they are playing up to their 6-1 record or if their record is merely a byproduct of their weak opponents. The game on Wednesday will also be their first true road game of the season.
Michigan will need to rely heavily on a number of their upperclassmen if they are to have any chance against North Carolina. Coach Beilein’s team has four players who average in double figures. Junior, Charles Matthews, leads the team in points per game with 16.7 ppg. Junior, Moritz Wagner (15.3 ppg), and seniors, Duncan Robinson (13.0 ppg) and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (11.0 ppg) all average double-figures for the Wolverines.
As a team, Michigan averages 78.7 ppg, which is 135th out of 351 teams. Though they may not be a team that scores a lot of points, the Wolverines are an efficient scoring team. They are the 14th most efficient scoring team, according to sports-reference.com (Michigan averages 120.8 points scored per 100 possessions). Again, in comparison the Tar Heels are ranked 103rd in scoring efficiency with 110.2 points scored per 100 possessions.
Defensively, the Wolverines will play their typical 1-3-1 zone that they have traditionally played under Beilein. In order to be effective, they will need to keep UNC off of the offensive glass though. They will rely on Matthews (5.4 rpg) and Wagner (8.6 rpg) to clean up the glass, but Michigan will need to be better against the Tar Heels in order to stay in the game. They rank 121st in total rebounds on the season.
The Tar Heels cruised through the early part of their schedule before hitting a major roadblock on Sunday against the Spartans. Their historically poor shooting night led to their first loss of the season. UNC heads back to Chapel Hill looking to put Sunday behind them and get back to above .500 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (currently 9-9).
The major talking point and question heading into Wednesday night’s game is, how will the Heels respond after Sunday’s poor showing? Obviously, UNC will need to be more effective from the perimeter, and look for them to get some open looks against Michigan’s zone. Kenny Williams and Joel Berry will need to hit some shots early on in order to get some confidence, plus it should help extend the zone and open up some opportunities for UNC’s big men inside or some driving lanes to the basket. Also, Luke Maye could have a big game on the boards with Michigan’s early-season rebounding deficiencies.
As mentioned in his “Three Things to Watch” article, Jake points out that the Tar Heels will need to both force Michigan turnovers and up the Wolverines’ tempo in order for them to come out victorious. UNC and their experienced players should be used to this slow down style of play, as they face Virginia annually, so it won’t be new to them to have to work hard defensively for most of the shot clock. The Tar Heels have played pretty well defensively early on in the season, but knowing that possessions might be at a premium on Wednesday, they will need to place more of an emphasis on the defensive end, be patient and disciplined, and not giving Michigan any second-chance opportunities.
With the leadership of Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, look for the Tar Heels to respond to Sunday’s loss by getting back to their winning ways and showing the rest of the country that the poor offensive showing in the loss to Michigan State was merely an abnormality and not the norm.
North Carolina - 80
Michigan - 67