Virginia against Michigan will be one of the best games in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Can the Wolverines slow down the red-hot Cavaliers?
TV schedule: Tuesday, November 29th, 9:30 PM EST, ESPN
Arena: Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan
The ACC-BigTen Challenge continues on Tuesday night with a full slate of games that is capped off by Virginia’s (5-0) first true road game of the season at Michigan (5-1). The Cavaliers enter the Crisler Center as the number three team in the nation in the A.P. Poll and dominate other metrics like KenPom, where they rank fifth nationally. Coach Tony Bennett’s team is also coming off one of the more impressive Feast Week runs this season with wins over Baylor and Illinois in Las Vegas.
Michigan, however, has flirted with disaster at times. They survived close calls against Eastern Michigan at a neutral site and Ohio at home in overtime. They displayed what the ceiling of their offense can look like against Pittsburgh by putting up 91 points on an insanely efficient 1.36 points per possession. One day later, they got blown out by an underwhelming Arizona State team by 25 points and managed to concede 1.3 points per possession.
It’s going to be a tall task for a Michigan defense that has been shaky at times this year to contain the fifth most efficient offense in the country per KenPom. Like other Bennett-coached Virginia teams, this group is lethal from three-point range. So far this season, they’ve knocked down 44% of their three-point attempts (fourth best in the country) and have five players making more than 40% from three with at least two attempts per game.
Virginia presents such a great challenge not only because they have so many dangerous three-point shooters and scorers (they also have four players averaging at least 10 points per game) but because they facilitate better than any team in college basketball as they lead the country in assist rate per KenPom. With so much experience and continuity from last season’s team, it’s taken them no time to get on the same page.
Defensively, Michigan will have to secure the three-point line and try not to help off some of those shooters like Reece Beekman (53.8%), Armaan Franklin (42.3%), Kihei Clark (43.8%) and Ben Vander Plas (46.2%). What makes this so difficult, is the ability of Clark and Beekman to get into the teeth of the defense and command the attention of additional help defenders. 6-11 forward Kadin Shedrick and second-leading scorer Jayden Gardner will make life even harder in the rare event of a missed three as they are both excellent offensive rebounders. Gardner is also a danger inside the paint as a cutter on drives from guards.
Michigan’s defense has had some struggles turning teams over, ranking 306th in the country in opponent turnover percentage per KenPom. This won’t bode well against a Virginia team that is not only an efficient scoring group but doesn’t commit many turnovers. Lastly, Michigan will have to afford more possessions. Virginia plays at one of the slowest paces in college basketball and with their efficiency and Michigan’s lack of ability to turn teams over, can make for a bad match-up for the Wolverines. But if they are able to create extra possessions and increase their own margin for error, they can stand a chance.
Offensively, if Michigan wants to pull the upset, they will need a big performance from All-American center Hunter Dickinson. The offense runs through him and in the win over Eastern Michigan, was asked to bail them out of that game possession after possession whenever shots weren’t falling. And he did. With 31 points and four offensive rebounds, he rescued them from an upset. It’s hard to double-team him and make him pass out of the paint as he is pretty good at finding open teammates.
More than likely, Dickinson will see a lot of Shedrick, and that match-up, and how Dickinson handles that, can be the key to keeping the Wolverines within striking distance. Michigan will still need Jett Howard, Terrance Williams, Joey Baker and Kobe Bufkin to knock down open shots when those opportunities arise if they are to have any chance of winning. Dickinson can keep them in it, the supporting cast will need to get them over the top.
I think Dickinson shows what he’s made of on a national stage and will play well enough to keep Michigan within ten points. Virginia will not have as many three’s fall because the crowd at Crisler Center and home court advantage might make conditions tougher. Ultimately, Virginia will just have too many weapons and exploit some of the issues Michigan has defensively. I like Virginia to win by five.
Prediction: Virginia 68, Michigan 63