Like most of the Big Ten in this year’s Big Ten-ACC Challenge, Michigan came up on the wrong end against North Carolina on Wednesday night by a score of 86-71.
The Wolverines came out hot to start the game, creating an exciting back-and-forth matchup throughout most of the first half. However, things went downhill from there with North Carolina leading by as many as 29 points in the second half.
It wasn’t the greatest night for Michigan fans, but we are still here to offer up some key notes from this game. You may want to forget the final result, but at least remember these three takeaways.
What We Learned
1) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde first half killed Michigan
Through the first 13 minutes of the game, Michigan looked like they would hang around with the Tar Heels. However, a late North Carolina run to end the first half busted it open and created too big of a hole for the Wolverines to dig themselves out of.
North Carolina went on a 17-to-5 run to end the first half and carry a 14-point lead into halftime. Up until this point Michigan was holding its own against the Tar Heels, and even started the night a perfect 8-for-8 from the field. However, Michigan went cold to finish the rest of the half, hitting only seven of 21 shots from the field after its hot start.
In a nutshell the first half showed us what this Michigan team is capable of when it’s hitting shots versus when it can’t find a bucket. When the Wolverines are hot, they can beat anyone anywhere, when they are not they are average at best. The first half proved that.
2) Where was the Michigan defense?
The Wolverines had been boasting a solid defense entering Wednesday but that was not the case in Chapel Hill.
Until Wednesday, Michigan gave up more than 70 points only once this year. Michigan gave up a season-worst 86 points, as the Tar Heels were able to do whatever they wanted for most of the night. North Carolina finished with an outstanding 54.8 percent from the field, and was even better in the first half, shooting 64.5 percent before the break.
Part of this shooting display was North Carolina rebounding from a terrible shooting performance last time out against Michigan State. They are too talented to have back-to-back poor offensive outings, but Michigan also needs to take some blame. Boxing out under the hoop and closing out on the shooters will improve Michigan’s defense immensely because there was not enough of either of those against the Tar Heels.
3) Mo needs more help
The defense was MIA on Wednesday, and the same could be said for some of the Wolverines’ offensive threats too. That includes senior guards Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.
Mortiz Wagner did his job with 20 points and nine rebounds, but the same could not be said for some of his teammates. Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman were both averaging double-digit point totals entering the night but finished with only five combined points. Even worse, they were a combined 2-for-12 from the field and 1-for-9 from three point range.
Wagner is going to be the focal point of this team offensively but he can’t do it alone. Charles Matthews added 12 points to help the cause, but the Wolverines will need more from its two senior guards in order to beat good teams like North Carolina.
Listen, it’s not easy to beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Especially when the Tar Heels are hitting shots like they were on Wednesday night. Part of that falls on the poor defense by Michigan so that area must improve, but overall this isn’t a season-defining lost or anything like that.
Obviously, winning against North Carolina would have been huge for this Wolverines team. They simply aren’t at that level yet, but we saw a flash of how good this team can be at times in that first half, and if we see a more complete performance than Michigan will be just fine this year.