On Wednesday, the 2018 edition of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge concluded with a showdown between the Michigan Wolverines and North Carolina Tar Heels in Ann Arbor. It was arguably the biggest game of the event and largely lived up to the hype.
Early on, North Carolina had the momentum. The Tar Heels pushed the pace and were able to jump up double-digits on the Wolverines. However, as the game continued, Michigan was able to slow down North Carolina in transition. Michigan’s defense was stifling on the evening and the team grabbed an 84-67 win over the Tar Heels.
So, what did we learn?
What We Learned:
1. Don’t look now, but Michigan could be on track for some big things.
It’s always dangerous to start looking ahead in November. Teams are still figuring things out, players have yet to emerge, and many freshmen are only just getting started. Between now and March, more than a few things will change. And the Big Ten will be no exception.
But with Wednesday night’s win, it’s hard not to look ahead for Michigan. The team is now 7-0 and has wins over three top 75 teams, including North Carolina and Villanova. And the wins have been impressive, too. Nobody has even been within single-digits on the Wolverines so far this season. That will change at some point, but it’s remarkable.
Michigan will get Purdue at home on Saturday, but Michigan looks like a sizable favorite in every other game moving forward until a trip to Wisconsin on January 13th. It’s unlikely that Michigan goes into that game at 17-0, but the overall point still holds up. The Wolverines could be in position to hit the ground running through January.
2. That Michigan defense is good. Like, really, really good.
Entering Wednesday night’s game, North Carolina had one of the nation’s more prolific offenses. The Tar Heels had scored at least 78 points in every game and were averaging 1.19 points per possession. And Coby White looked like a difference maker for the team.
And early on, it looked like that would hold up. White was able to get out in transition and Michigan had a lot of trouble slowing him down. However, as things continued, he became inefficient and North Carolina had no answers offensively.
Michigan’s defense entered this game as the nation’s best, per KenPom, and acquitted itself very well. This was a dominating defensive performance in every category and but for a late run, North Carolina’s offensive output would have looked horrendous. Moving forward, opponents will have to doubt this defense at their own risk.
3. Ignas Brazdeikis comes up big yet again for the Wolverines.
While the defense has proven itself to be an elite unit, Michigan’s offense remains a bit of a mystery. At times, it looks fantastic. But at other times, it looks inconsistent and overly reliant on a few players. It gets bogged down by underwhelming shooting and a point guard that isn’t an elite offensive player.
But on Wednesday, it was Ignas Brazdeikis who stepped up for Michigan. He finished with 24 points on the evening and many of them came when the Wolverines were trailing in the first half. He hit big shot after big shot and was a difference maker for Michigan.
There’s still a long way for Brazdeikis to go this season, but Wednesday night was another encouraging performance. If he can continue to ascend, the roof is the ceiling for this Michigan squad.
While Michigan was favored heading into Wednesday’s matchup against the Tar Heels, few expected the team to cruise to a convincing win. North Carolina struggled to find answers and the Wolverines were able to score another major resume win.
The Wolverines will now prepare for its Big Ten opener against Purdue at home on Saturday. It will be a key opportunity for the Wolverines to earn a resume win.