Tomorrow night, the Tar Heels will face off against the Michigan Wolverines in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. These teams have met three times over the last five years, and the Heels are 4-4 all-time against the Wolverines. Of course we know quite a bit about the most famous game between these two teams, so we don’t need to take a time out to revisit that. See what I did there?
Anyways, the Heels will be in action for the first time since their 73-53 win over UNC Asheville last Tuesday. The game didn’t exactly leave fans with warm fuzzies and good vibes, mostly because of the 18 turnovers. Now that they are rested and have had extra prep time, will they finally be able to earn their first ranked win of the season? Let’s discuss three things to keep an eye on during tomorrow night’s game.
Eli Brooks vs. Caleb Love
I would argue that a lot of why Michigan has been successful over the last few years has to do with senior point guard, Eli Brooks. he has been a valuable cog in the Wolverine engine, and so far is having a very good year. When these two teams met in 2019, Brooks went off for 24 points and five rebounds, and shot a blistering 64.3% from the field and 66.7% from three. Truth be told, even though the name of this section implies that Brooks and Caleb Love will go at it with each other all night, one has to wonder if Leaky Black will be the one that’s chosen to guard Brooks. We’ll have to wait and see, but at any rate, the Heels’ number one goal is to make Eli Brooks uncomfortable for 40 minutes if they want a chance to win this one.
On the other side is Caleb Love, who has had a couple of impressive performances himself. His shot is looking much better from last year, he’s getting space in the paint, and while the entire team is struggling defensively, he has had some good moments that I hope we see more of on a consistent basis. What’s going to be tough on Brooks in this game is containing Love without ending up in foul trouble, but on the flip side, Love is going to have to do everything he can to take care of the ball, or Brooks is going to make him pay on the other end of the floor. This matchup should be a good one, but let’s hope that Caleb Love comes out on top.
Which Dawson Garcia shows up?
I’m sure to some degree I’ve sounded like I’m super critical of Dawson Garcia, but it’s only because we’ve seen how good of a player he is, and that’s what I’d like to see most nights moving forward. The way he took over the game in his 26-point performance against Purdue was incredible, and it’s even more impressive that he did so without fouling out. That performance was closer to the version of Garcia that we saw at Marquette, while every other game he has played at UNC has been a little bit of a head-scratcher at times. Is it because of his role? Maybe. Is he still getting used to the new system? All I know is, I want to see this kid ball.
The Heels are going to need a lot to go right to come away with a win tomorrow night, and Garcia must fit into that equation. The three big things for him is to attack the basket, attack the boards, and also take care of the ball. Having merely an efficient night shooting could be just fine, but that will only be good enough if he manages to limit his turnovers, as he is currently averaging 2.2 per game. Even if he manages to do just two of these three things, I’d say the Heels have a pretty decent shot to win this game.
Killing old habits
It’s no secret that the Tar Heels have historically had a terrible time guarding the three-point line. It’s been so bad at times, that teams that have been shooting poorly up until playing the Tar Heels have these performances that make little to no sense. The defense so far has been a big problem in general, but if there’s one main thing the Heels can do to give themselves the best chance to win, it is to make sure that Michigan doesn’t figure out how to shoot from deep.
As of right now, the Wolverines are shooting 29.1% from three as a team. Eli Brooks and Devante Jones have been pretty good from the perimeter, but the rest of the team has struggled to get a whole lot going. UNC will need to stay on top of Brooks and Jones all night, and make sure that they don’t get hot from deep. It should be interesting to see what kind of tweaks Hubert Davis made to the defense over the last 7-8 days, if any. If they can guard the perimeter without continuing to leave shooters open/barely contesting shots, it will make their night a whole lot easier. Oh yeah, and Armando Bacot staying out of foul trouble, because Hunter Dickinson is going to be a tough guy to deal with in the paint.