The Big Ten/ACC Challenge concludes on Wednesday night with the highlight of the game being the No. 24 Michigan Wolverines traveling to face the North Carolina Tar Heels. Heading into Wednesday, the Big Ten leads 6-2, so the ACC needs UNC to pull off the upset. The Wolverines are listed as a 1.5-point road favorite with the over/under set at 148.5 points.
Michigan is a little lucky to still be ranked in the Top 25 after some early-season struggles. Juwan Howard’s team has already lost to both Seton Hall and Arizona, putting the Wolverines at 2-4. They’ve also been a little unconvincing in some of their wins with Buffalo being their most impressive victory thus far.
The Tar Heels have had similar issues after starting the season as a Top 20 team. Granted, North Carolina’s two losses came to Purdue and Tennessee, which are both ranked teams. But the Tar Heels have also had some close calls with the likes of Brown and College of Charleston, so they haven’t looked the part of an elite team.
Feels Like the First Time
In a way, we should have expected the Tar Heels to have some growing pains with this being Hubert Davis’ first season as head coach. On the bright side, North Carolina has five starters who are averaging double figures, so there is a good balance. Despite a poor effort against UNC-Asheville last week, Caleb Love looks like he’s taken positive steps forward this season while backcourt mate R.J. Davis is shooting 50% from the perimeter.
In the frontcourt, Armando Bacot has taken the lead and been a monster in the paint, averaging 15.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Transfers Brady Manek and Dawson Garcia are also off to good starts with Manek averaging 14.8 points per game as another perimeter threat while Garcia has added to UNC’s size in the paint. However, depth beyond those five players is a concern with Leaky Black and Kerwin Walton being inconsistent contributors coming off the bench.
The Dynamic Duo
The Wolverines took heavy hits after last season, leaving guard Eli Brooks and center Hunter Dickinson as the only returning players who averaged more than five points per game last season. The good news is that both have taken the lead this season, combining for over 30 points per game. Brooks has jumped from 9.5 last season to 15.7 points per game while Dickinson continues to control the paint with Dickinson averaging 14.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
However, the rest of Michigan’s rotation is made up primarily of freshmen and transfer DeVante’ Jones with nobody other than Brooks and Dickinson averaging more than 8.8 points per game. Jones is providing steady play at point guard, averaging four assists per game. But the Wolverines are still waiting for their four top-50 recruits to chip in more with forwards Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate being the players who have to contribute more.
Michigan has failed to beat quality opponents this season, so going on the road could be tough for the Wolverines. While the Tar Heels have also faltered in their toughest games, UNC has more depth in the backcourt, better shooters, and enough frontcourt depth to handle Dickinson. Bet on the Tar Heels to pull off a win as home underdogs on Wednesday.
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