After over a week off, Carolina returns to the hardwood tomorrow night in the Smith Center, against #24 Michigan, as the two will face off in the annual ACC-Big 10 Challenge. The last time we saw the Tar Heels they secured a less than impressive win over UNC-Asheville, which highlighted the areas Carolina needs improvement even more so, especially as the schedule heats up this month.
Michigan was a popular pick to not only win the Big 10 but to make the Final Four and win the national championship, as former Wolverine player, now head coach Juwan Howard has elevated the program. They’ll bring with them a 4-2 mark to Chapel Hill, having suffered losses at home to Seton Hall, and Arizona on a neutral floor, as like UNC, Michigan has some things they need to work out. Losing Isaiah Livers has proven to be a big loss for them, as the usually potent Michigan offense only has two players averaging double figures scoring. Those two players, Eli Brooks and Hunter Dickinson are big-time college basketball players and will pose a challenge for the Tar Heels.
The college basketball season is a marathon, but Carolina enters this game needing a win. In Uncasville, they had the opportunity to add a Top 25 win or two, to their resume, instead, they dropped both, making it the first time since the 2010-11 season, UNC lost back-to-back games in November. With that being said, Carolina doesn’t have a quality win to date, and it’s never too early to start putting together your NCAA Tournament resume. Given the state of the ACC currently, you can’t bank on there being ample opportunities to secure Quad 1 wins, as the conference appears to be in for another down season. Furthermore, while Hubert Davis won’t say so publicly, he desperately needs a win like this, to take the pressure he’s feeling being the head coach of the sport’s best program. After a week off, preparation shouldn’t be an issue, here are the keys to securing a win:
Play Physical: For Michigan’s lack of offense at times, they are still a very good defensive team. Led by the 7-1 Dickenson, the Wolverines are a physical team that will extend pressure well beyond the three-point line and makes you earn everything you get. We’ve seen maturation from Caleb Love and R.J. Davis, and while they say physical teams in Purdue and Tennessee, they aren’t quite as tough as the Wolverines. Carolina is still having issues finishing at the rim, and that goes for both the guards and the bigs. That can’t tomorrow night, as the team that plays the toughest, for the longest, will most likely win the game.
Limit Turnovers: This will most likely be a key in every game moving forward, but it has more importance in a game like this, where possessions will be limited. Michigan doesn’t want to run with anybody, let alone Carolina, who’s scoring the ball very effectively so far this season. In their game against UNC-Asheville, Carolina committed a season-high 18 turnovers, which allowed the visiting Bulldogs to be hanging around in the second half. If that happens against this bunch, Carolina will get run out of the gym. You have to imagine that over the 8-day layoff, Hubert Davis and his staff stressed the importance of not turning the ball over, and valuing every possession.
Get Kerwin Going: After 6 games, the sophomore is averaging just 6.7 points per game. While Carolina has 5 different players averaging double figures scoring, they need their best shooter more involved in the offense. Davis has limited his minutes at times, due to his lack of defense, but he knows how important Walton is to this team. The good news is that Walton hasn’t lost any confidence in his shot, despite not getting consistent playing time, but he needs to be in the rhythm of the offense starting now.
Win The Painted Area: In their two losses this season, Carolina got pummeled in the painted area. Now every team has film of how to attack them and will look to get the ball close to the basket. As mentioned above, UNC needs to play physically, Michigan only has 3 players 6-10 or taller, and like Carolina, they aren’t very deep. UNC has yet to have a game where the trio of Armando Bacot, Dawson Garcia, and Brady Manek play at a high level. Tomorrow night seems like a good starting point.
Series History: This will be the ninth all-time meeting between these two storied programs, with the series being even at 4-4. This marks the third time in five seasons, the two have met in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, and the fourth time they’ve met in the last five seasons. The Wolverines have won the last two contests, but the only other time Michigan visited Chapel Hill, UNC won. Of course, the most famous matchup dates all the way back to the 1993 national title game, where UNC prevailed to earn Dean Smith his second national championship.
ACC-Big 10 Challenge History: Believe it or not, Carolina is just 10-12 all-time in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, having lost 3 straight. Ironically enough, the last time they won in the Challenge, was against Michigan in December of 2017. Michigan will be the 23rd opponent Carolina has faced in the Challenge, with 19 of them being ranked including this one.
UNC - 50th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 112.5 (18th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 99.0 (113th)
Michigan - 9th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 113.2 (12th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 89.7 (10th)
TV Info: Tomorrow night’s contest will tip-off at 9:15 on ESPN.
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