Because of Fort Wayne’s Covid issues, the Michigan Wolverines had an unexpected 12-day break during the heart of December. This time of year is traditionally slower anyway, but the schedule is ready to kick into gear with the formal start to Big Ten play. Before the calendar turns, however, the Wolverines have one more major test.
Michigan hosted Central Florida last year and pulled away in the second half of a 80-58 victory in Ann Arbor. The two schools will meet again this season in the increasingly less common home-and-home with the Knights looking like a borderline top-50 team. This will not be an easy game in Orlando.
Michigan Wolverines (7-4) vs. Central Florida Knights (8-2)
Date & Time: Thursday, Dec. 30, 7:00 p.m. ET
Location: Addition Financial Arena, Orlando, FL
DraftKings Sportsbook Odds: MICH -3, O/U 139
Advanced metrics like UCF, but it is hard to get a good sense from the previous 10 games. Contests against top teams like Auburn and Oklahoma resulted in the only two losses, while the best win of the eight came against a fringe top-100 Miami team. Of course, Michigan has not excelled against top teams either, though the strength of schedule differences between the two schools are stark.
The Knights rank well defensively overall, but there should be some opportunities against a two-point defense that sits 263rd nationally. This is a game for DeVante Jones to continue his ascent and for Hunter Dickinson to continue his extreme efficiency; the sophomore is also carrying a four-game streak of 15-plus points.
Offensively, the Knights are pretty efficient themselves, doing most of their work inside the arc. Interior defense from Dickinson and Moussa Diabate will be essential, and the growing theme of keeping dribblers in front and navigating screens will continue being relevant. Too many breakdowns this year have led to avoidable baskets.
With conference play looming, it still remains to be seen which backup guards can solidify a spot in the rotation. Frankie Collins is keeping the pressure on Jones, while Kobe Bufkin and Zeb Jackson have seen some minutes lately. Against a team whose steal numbers match Michigan’s on both ends, perhaps the young guards can bring a little energy on Thursday.
While UCF does not shoot a ton of threes, the top two scorers are both over 40 percent from deep. Guards Darin Green and Darius Perry do not take a lot of deep shots, but leaving them open is a terrible idea. Three-point defense is the one place Michigan has excelled, and taking them away will be an important part of the game plan.