The Michigan Wolverines have had two prime opportunities to earn signature non-conference wins early in the 2022-23 season, but they came up just short of both Virginia and Kentucky.
With most of the non-conference schedule behind, Michigan has been gifted one last opportunity to help its resume before action starts in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are headed to North Carolina for a game in the Spectrum Center, where it will feel like a home game for the Tar Heels.
We have witnessed the struggles of the Wolverines this season, but North Carolina has also had a tough go of it. The Tar Heels were ranked as the No. 1 team in the country before a four-game losing skid that saw them fall outside the top-25. This week, they beat their first ranked team with an 89-84 overtime win over the Ohio State Buckeyes.
This battle is going to be huge for both teams and a couple players stand out on either side. Let’s take a look at the players to watch between two teams who would love to earn a big win in December.
Forward Armando Bacot
Earlier this season Michigan fans saw a matchup between Hunter Dickinson and lear season’s Player of the Year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe. Now, he faces another great big in Armando Bacot.
He is an absolute machine and was one of the biggest reasons the Tar Heels went on the NCAA Tournament run they did last season. He posted a double-double in every single game of the Big Dance, including two games with 20+ rebounds.
In Saturday’s win over the Buckeyes, Bacot posted 28 points and 15 rebounds while shooting 11-of-19 from the field.
How do you get a Bacot out of his game? Go at him early and often on both ends. He had four fouls in each of North Carolina’s losses this season and was frustrated on the offensive end, turning the ball over several times.
His numbers in those losses: 14 points, 10.5 rebounds and four turnovers per game. While that is still good, it’s less than his totals for the season. Limiting his impact will be huge for the Wolverines on Wednesday.
This guy is a bucket, and that could be a problem for a Michigan squad that’s been giving up way too many points to the position this season.
The Wolverines are coming off a game that was too close for comfort against Lipscomb because Will Pruitt scored 27 points. Virginia’s Ronnie Beekman scored 18, Arizona State’s Desmond Cambridge had 20 and Emoni Bates dropped 30. With the exception of Bates, that is nearly double the production those players have had this season.
Love has had five 20-point games already this year, and some of that is because of his usage. Love shoots the ball a lot; his average is sitting around 16 attempts a game, and about seven of those are coming from behind the arc. Dating back to last season, in games where Love converted on four or more three-pointers, regardless of the number of attempts, the Tar Heels are a perfect 11-0.
The offense runs through the North Carolina point guard and Michigan will have a big task slowing both him and Bacot down.
It’s going to be really interesting to see how Michigan utilizes Dickinson in this game. Against UVA and Kentucky, Dickinson had 39 shot attempts. Since then, in two contests, he’s had just 20 total, with similar production on the offensive end. Much of the offense went through the big man’s hands, and the goal was to get him in iso situations and let him go to work.
In the wins over Minnesota and Lipscomb, the offense has felt more cohesive, with reliance on the Wolverines’ guards to put points on the board. It will be interesting to see how Juwan Howard elects to attack the Tar Heels who have two 6-foot-11 big men, Bacot and Pete Nance. Because of that, I would be shocked if North Carolina elects to double-team Dickinson in the post early in this game.
Dickinson will be tasked defending Bacot, who is tenacious on the boards and thrives on second-chance opportunities. He’s more athletic than Dickinson and will very likely rely on that. If the Wolverines want to keep this one close, they will need a strong performance from Dickinson on both ends.