Well, no one quite expected this. The Michigan Wolverines have picked up right where they left off, winning each of their first seven games and bringing home a trophy from the Bahamas, doing so with a brand new head coach and without three heavy contributors from last season. The Wolverines are one of the biggest surprises nationally and are rapidly proving that expectations for this season should be lofty.
The Battle 4 Atlantis championship saw Michigan take down a pair of top 10 teams in Gonzaga and North Carolina, and victories over Iowa State and Creighton give the maize and blue four very impressive wins already. The schedule does not get any easier, however: Tuesday brings a trip to No. 1 Louisville in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the team’s first true road game. The last time these two teams met was the Second Round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, where the seventh-seeded Wolverines pulled off the upset.
Louisville has not played any top 50 opponents so far, but that has not stopped the Cardinals from impressing. Just one win has come under 10 points, and Kenpom places both the offense and the defense in the top 10 nationally. Michigan has been awesome to start the year, but facing Louisville on the road is unlike any of the previous contests. Fortunately, the Wolverines are more or less playing with house money right now.
What to watch
Pull the trigger: Michigan has suddenly transformed back to teams of recent years, eviscerating opponents from behind the arc. The Wolverines currently sit in the top 10 with a 42.4 percent three-point rate, and almost everyone is contributing. No, really, almost every key contributor is lighting it up from downtown: Isaiah Livers sits at 51.2 percent, Eli Brooks is right at 50 percent, and Zavier Simpson and David DeJulius are both over 44 percent. This does not even include Franz Wagner, who is still getting into the swing of things. For Michigan to pull off a big upset on the road, it will need to be lethal from deep. This team has shown that this is a definite possibility.
Lead with defense: As impressive as the offense has been, the Wolverines will need to win the game on the other end of the floor against Louisville. Michigan held both the Tar Heels and Bulldogs to just 0.91 points per possession, significantly below both team’s season averages. The Cardinals have yet to score fewer than 1.08 points per possession this year. The Wolverines have been great at limiting open looks and challenging every shot, but this is an opponent with plenty of weapons that can score in a variety of ways. Michigan is not going to win by forcing a ton of steals or grabbing every possible rebound, but playing fundamentally sound defense — led by Simpson and Teske — will give the team a good chance.
Manage Nwora: Michigan “held” North Carolina’s Cole Anthony to 22 points on Thanksgiving, which was a positive outcome against one of the top players in the nation. On Tuesday, the Wolverines will have to figure out how to stop Jordan Nwora, who is arguably better than Anthony and every other player in basketball; Nwora is currently ranked as a top-three player by both Kenpom and Torvik. The junior is averaging 21.9 points per game on a ridiculous 50.5/50.0/90.0 percent shooting line and a 31.9 percent usage rate. It is unlikely that he will be held completely in check, but limiting his damage, especially from outside, is paramount.
Michigan is playing like it can beat anyone right now, but Louisville is a different beast. At a different venue this might go the other way. 73-70 Louisville.
Teams: No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (7-0) at No. 1 Louisville Cardinals (7-0)
Date: Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Location: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, KY
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Television/Streaming: ESPN/Watch ESPN