The No. 24 Michigan Wolverines will head to Chapel Hill for their Big Ten-ACC Challenge game against the North Carolina Tar Heels. Both teams enter with 4-2 records, with the Tar Heels off to a 3-0 start at home. This will be the first true road game for the Wolverines this season. Despite a somewhat lackluster start to the season, Michigan still has time to figure things out.
While expectations were high in the preseason and the Wolverines looked like they could breeze through their early games, it’s time to realize some expectations have to be adjusted before going into 2022. Heading into a tough road environment and coming away with a win won’t be easy for this young team, but Michigan will be competitive and determined to solve early-season issues that have plagued them thus far.
This game presents a particular challenge for both programs. The Wolverines are trying to find out who they are as a team with an extremely talented roster, while struggling with high turnover rates and poor outside shooting. UNC also has struggled to find a cohesive identity as it, like the Wolverines, has increased the talent at the individual level, but has struggled to find consistency.
Michigan was able to come away with a win against Tarleton State last week, despite an overwhelming amount of turnovers and lackluster scoring. They beat the Texans 65-54. Hopefully after a week off, the Wolverines found ways to improve before they head to Chapel Hill. UNC headed into their week off with a win over UNC-Asheville by a score of 72-53. The Tar Heels also struggled with turnovers, but luckily their higher shooting percentages and ability to score were able to elevate them to a win.
A main commonality between these two teams has been turnovers. Michigan has 89 so far this season, while UNC has 81. However, the turnover totals are deceptive as the Wolverines have one of the worst turnover rates per possession in the country, turning the ball over on 21.5% of their possessions, according to KenPom. The Tar Heels play at a faster pace and have more possessions per game in comparison to the Wolverines, which helps explain their higher turnover total. If the Wolverines want to stay competitive in this game, they have to address the turnover issue and find active solutions before Wednesday’s tip.
The Tar Heels outperform the Wolverines in every aspect of play except steals and points allowed. UNC averages 83.2 points a game off 48.7 percent shooting from the floor and 41.4 percent shooting from three. Despite a higher scoring efficiency, the Tar Heels allow on average 78.7 points a game in comparison to the Wolverines, who allow 64.5 points a game. But UNC has the highest effective field goal percentage (56.2 percent) of any team the Wolverines have played so far this season.
UNC has a young team, but the Tar Heels are led by junior forward Armando Bacot as he currently leads the team with 15.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game off 66.7 percent shooting. Sophomore guard Caleb Love averages the most minutes and leads the Tar Heels in assists (4.2) and steals (0.8) per game. Love averages 15.2 points off 43.1 percent shooting from the floor and 32 percent from three. R.J. Davis, the sophomore starting point guard, averages 13.7 points and 4.0 assists per game off 45.8 percent shooting from the floor and 50 percent shooting from three.
Sophomore forward Dawson Garcia and senior guard Leaky Black round out the starting five for the Tar Heels. Garcia averages 10.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, shooting 46.8 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. Black, the lone senior starter, though averaging 23.8 minutes a game, accounts for 4.8 points per game off 44.4 percent shooting.
Sophomore guard Kerwin Walton and senior forward Brady Manek also contribute meaningful minutes to the Tar Heels. Manek averages 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 50 percent and 41.9 percent from beyond the arc. Walton contributes 6.7 points per game off 41.7 percent shooting and 38.5 percent shooting from three.
The Wolverines also enter with a younger roster, however their starters consist of three seniors. Michigan is led by senior guard Eli Brooks, who leads the team in minutes (34.8), points (15.7) and steals (1.2). Brooks, in his fifth year with the Wolverines, shoots 50 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from three. He is followed closely by sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, who leads the team in rebounds (8.2) and blocks (1.3).
Freshman Caleb Houstan follows Brooks in average minutes a game, playing 33 on average. He contributes 8.8 points, shooting 34.7 percent from the floor and 25.8 percent from three. Grad transfer DeVante’ Jones leads the team in assists (4.0), while averaging 7.7 points per game. Senior forward Brandon Johns Jr. rounds out the starters, averaging the fewest minutes of Michigan’s starters. He averages 5.3 points per game on 41.9 percent shooting from the floor.
The Wolverines have been experimenting with a lot different lineups, which have given a lot of guys the chance to play. One is explosive freshman forward Moussa Diabate, who averages 7.7 points per game and 5.7 rebounds off 67.9 percent shooting from the floor. Terrance Williams II, a sophomore forward, also has a consistent presence for the Wolverines.
UNC reliably distributes its minutes to seven players, and there is a significant decrease with the next highest averaging 9.2 minutes. The Wolverines have seven with a consistent presence on the floor as well, but they extend their minutes to an additional two, freshmen guards Kobe Bufkin and Frankie Collins. When comparing the two teams, it becomes apparent UNC relies on its significant contributors, whereas Michigan likes to spread the ball around.
The Tar Heels are a team with a lot of talent. They have a lot of shooters, where Michigan has struggled to find reliable shooters so far. If the Wolverines want to keep the game close, they are going to need to find a shooting rhythm early while keeping turnovers low. The Tar Heels are going to have to rely on their ability to make shots and run a fast-paced game if they want to stay undefeated at home.
It will likely be a tough go for the Wolverines if they can’t get shots to fall and turnover the ball like they have been. They have the talent to make this a competitive game, which could shape up to be an entertaining matchup in Chapel Hill. They’ll have to play clean and as a cohesive unit, which is well within their capabilities.
The Wolverines head to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels on Wednesday at 9:15 p.m.