Six games into the 2021-22 season and the Michigan Wolverines have opened more questions than they have answered. They suffered losses against the best two teams they faced, were pushed to the brink by Buffalo in the opener, and barely escaped lowly Tarleton State at home last week (though maybe the Texans are better than they seem?). With the 88th-ranked SOS, this schedule has not been a pushover, but most expected title contender Michigan to look much more polished.
This team still has quite a high ceiling, but time is running out to get its act together. Early conference play starts on Tuesday (!!) and those games are absolutely must-wins. Before that is a visit from likely NCAA Tournament bound San Diego State on Saturday and Wednesday’s massive Big Ten-ACC Challenge tilt in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina has been through a bit of a downturn since seeing the Wolverines for three straight years (currently 49th per Kenpom). The Tar Heels won the first half of a home-and-home in 2017 before Michigan held serve in 2018. The two squads met for a rubber match in the 2019 Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals which saw the maize and blue upset No. 6 UNC on the way to winning the title.
No. 24 Michigan Wolverines (4-2) vs. North Carolina (4-2)
Michigan has struggled in a variety of ways, but one player who has been as good as advertised is Hunter Dickinson. The sophomore is picking up exactly where he left off last season, posting nearly identical point, rebound, block, and field goal percentage figures as he did as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The Wolverines need to continue working through him and letting him fuel the offense as everything else works out the kinks.
Dickinson should have plenty of opportunities against a Tar Heel defense that struggled in the paint against both Purdue and Tennessee. This also means that Michigan should lean more on Moussa Diabate who has simply been one of the best players on the team so far. The five-star big is still very raw, but his impact on the glass and defending the rim could be a game changer, and his high shooting percentage makes him an extremely valuable piece.
While the bigs have been good, the guards have really struggled. DeVante Jones might not be close to losing his job yet, but he continues to miss significant minutes anyway because of his foul troubles. That will give freshmen Frankie Collins and Kobe Bufkin more and more chances to gain valuable experience and fight for a bigger role. Before long, the transfer Jones might find himself working with the second unit should he continue to make inexcusable mistakes.
UNC is fairly lopsided statistically, with Kenpom’s 19th-ranked offense but just 113th-ranked defense. This is a chance for Michigan to get into a rhythm against a team that is near dead last in both steals and non-steal turnovers. Giving up the ball has been the Wolverines’ obvious weakness thus far, so a sound game from the guards should lead to plenty of points, especially down low.
The Tar Heels have a very balanced lineup with five players averaging double-digits. UNC ranks 12th in three-point shooting, which is the number one key for Michigan defensively. The Wolverines are generally strong in this department as well, but have suffered way too many miscommunications which have led to open looks; doing this on Wednesday will led to big baskets that can get the crowd going.