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Battle 4 Atlantis: Michigan and North Carolina game preview

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The Wolverines and Tar Heels meet for a neutral site rubber match.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Battle 4 Atlantis is perennially one of the toughest tournaments in college basketball, and this season is no exception, with half of the teams ranked inside the top 15. That group does not include Michigan, although the 5-0 Wolverines are starting to make some noise under first-year head coach Juwan Howard.

The Maize and Blue continued its strong start to the season by taking down Iowa State 83-76 in the opening round. Up next is a date with North Carolina, a team that Michigan has seen each of the past two seasons. Last year’s contest in Ann Arbor ended in a convincing 17-point victory for the home side after the Tar Heels won in Chapel Hill the year prior.

North Carolina also enters the semifinals undefeated on the year, but has yet to face a top 50 side per Kenpom. This will be each team’s toughest contest of the young season, with both teams capable of advancing to the championship game.

What the opponent is saying

The North Carolina Tar Heels have started the season to a little bit of a bumpy start when it comes to finding some cohesion. Most of their success has been due to freshman star Cole Anthony, but recently Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot have had standout performances. Going into their trip to the Bahamas, the biggest questions are whether or not Brooks and Bacot will continue to perform well, if Cole Anthony will recover from his shooting slump during the game against Elon, and whether or not senior guard Brandon Robinson will make his return to the team from his ankle injury.

Roy Williams is likely going to push his team to get things going through his bigs during this trip, playing the inside-out style of basketball that he is notorious for. Setting up high-percentage opportunities near the rim is sorely needed thanks to the team’s poor shooting percentage from the three-point line so far. On the other side of the ball, the Heels’ defense has been impressive more often than it hasn’t, and they have played with a lot of aggressiveness particularly when Brooks and Anthony are on the floor together. For the opposition during this trip, the keys to beat UNC would be stopping them from getting good looks in the paint and keeping their bigs off of the boards, forcing Cole Anthony into bad shots, and limiting turnovers to prevent fastbreak opportunities.

Brandon Anderson, Tar Heel Blog

What to watch

Play fast but controlled: Michigan was always going to see its turnover numbers increase after the departure of John Beilein, and Howard’s style of play opens the team up to a faster pace. Against Iowa State, the Wolverines kept shooting themselves in the foot with 22 giveaways, many unforced and unnecessary. It is definitely possibly to play aggressively and opportunistically without playing sloppy. Michigan needs to find this balance — especially Zavier Simpson, who tallied eight turnovers against the Cyclones.

Limit Anthony: As Brandon mentioned, five-star freshman Cole Anthony is the main driver of the North Carolina offense. The point guard started his career with three straight performances of at least 20 points and easily leads the team in usage rate. Michigan has not faced a player of this caliber this season, and while the defense has looked decent so far, this will be a true test of discipline.

Next man up: It may only be five games into the year, but Howard’s preferred rotation is starting to become clear. Wednesday’s contest brought the debut of Franz Wagner, which sent Adrien Nunez to the bench, and foul trouble to Jon Teske saw extended minutes from Colin Castleton, Brandon Johns, and even Austin Davis. As underdogs against North Carolina, every single player will need to contribute. Fortunately, Michigan has had great balance to start the year, which is pivotal for a team that lost three starters from last season.

Prediction

Despite being underdogs on paper, it would not be a complete shock to see Michigan come out strong, clean up the mistakes, and buckle down on defense to earn the win. Still, the Wolverines’ inexperience probably leaves them just a little short. 80-75 North Carolina.

Game Info

Teams: Michigan Wolverines (5-0) vs. No. 6 North Carolina Tar Heels (5-0)
Date: Thursday, November 28, 2019
Location: Imperial Arena at Atlantis Resort, Nassau, Bahamas
Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
Television/Streaming: ESPN/Watch ESPN