No. 1 Louisville Cardinals (7-0) vs. No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (7-0)
ACC-Big 10 Challenge
Game Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: KFC Yum Center: Louisville, Ky.
Announcers: Dave O’Brien (play-by-play), Dick Vitale (analyst), and Kris Budden (reporter)
Officials: Ron Groover, Jeffrey Anderson, Roger Ayers
Favorite: Louisville by 5.5
Series: Louisville leads 3-1
Last Meeting: Michigan won 73-69 on March 19, 2017 in the NCAA tournament second round
Probable Starting Lineups:
Michigan’s Season to Date:
After winning the Battle 4 Atlantis with fairly dominant performances against Iowa State, North Carolina and Gonzaga, Michigan suddenly finds itself as the talk of the college basketball universe. The Wolverines big week in the Bahamas allowed them to go from unranked in last week’s AP poll to No. 4 this week. That jump matches the largest in the 70-year history of the poll.
Despite losing its top three scorers from last season’s 30-win squad, Michigan’s roster was never its biggest question mark. The Wolverines were returning one of the best point guards in the country in Zavier Simpson and one of the best centers in the country in Jon Teske. That alone should have been enough to garner some preseason top 25 buzz.
The bigger issue, of course, was that in mid-May of this year, John Beilein stunned the entire basketball world by announcing that he was leaving Ann Arbor to take over as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Michigan replaced one of the premier college basketball coaches of the last two decades with Juwan Howard, one of the basketball program’s most famous and recognizable alums, but also a man who had never served as a head coach at any level before.
The early returns are that Howard can coach a little bit.
The most notable thing about watching Michigan through seven games is how similar they’ve looked to Beilien’s recent elite teams. With one of the best point guards in college basketball in Simpson, a handful of solid outside shooters on the wings and a true pick and pop threat in Teske, Howard has made the wise choice to stick with a halfcourt offense that is ball screen heavy.
In the videos below, Jordan Sperber illustrates how Howard is continuing to run Beilien’s “Chin” action, which is an offshoot of the famous Princeton offense.
Lots of Chin backscreens from both Maryland and Michigan today. Michigan wants to loosen you up to then set a ball screen (Maryland started switching). Maryland wants to rescreen and get Cowan coming off a pin down pic.twitter.com/8INrG91bvg— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) February 16, 2019
Michigan is still ball screen heavy this season with Zavier Simpson, but Isaiah Livers showed some offensive diversity today vs Gonzaga. Hit jumpers off: pick and pop, transition trail, and even an early O pin down pic.twitter.com/s76IRpjnnZ— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) November 29, 2019
While a lot of Michigan’s halfcourt sets will look familiar to anyone who watched the Wolverines under John Beilein, Howard does appear to have incorporated some stuff from his time as an assistant with the Miami Heat. That makes this team even more difficult to prepare for defensively.
For instance, take a look at this “ATO (after time out) Special” action:
Michigan | ATO Special— Eric Shapiro (@eric_shap) November 13, 2019
Pin --> Hand-back --> Step-up Ball Screen pic.twitter.com/QOYtvrq9Mx
Look for Michigan to utilize this action out of a break or at the start of the second half to try and get an easy look this evening.
This “Pistol” set that Michigan runs with some regularity is also something you’re going to see if you watch any Miami Heat game:
Michigan ran Dive, Pistol, and "ATO Special" again in their exhibition game against SVSU. Here's Pistol: pic.twitter.com/z4g7c3qWOo— Eric Shapiro (@eric_shap) November 4, 2019
First up: Pistol - This set is commonly used in early offense. It's simple to get into, starting with a pass to the wing, but is difficult to defend w/ many read & react options after the initial pass. The most frequent option allows the guard (X) to make plays after a hand-back: pic.twitter.com/inoZ8gqvtq— Eric Shapiro (@eric_shap) October 28, 2019
The most noticeable difference between Michigan’s offense under Howard and Michigan’s offense under Beilein (at least the last three years) is that the Wolverines have been more willing to get out on the break this season. I wouldn’t call it “pushing pace” or “getting up and down,” more like “looking to be opportunistic.” After missed shot, Zavier Simpson and company like to get out quick, probe for an easy scoring opportunity in transition, and then quickly settle into their halfcourt stuff if nothing’s there. Louisville will see a ton of this in conference play, but hasn’t seen a whole lot of it through its first seven games. The Cards will have to be vigilant after missed shots and live ball turnovers.
Thanks in large part to defensive guru Luke Yaklich — now an assistant for Shaka Smart at Texas — Michigan ranked in the top three of Ken Pom’s defensive efficiency rankings in each of the last two seasons. They haven’t fallen off too much under Howard, currently ranking No. 12 in the category.
As was the case with the offense, Michigan looks pretty similar defensively to what they have been in recent years past. The Wolverines play mostly man-to-man and still employ Yaklich’s “no help” philosophy. That “no help” mentality extends to the post, where unlike pretty much every team Louisville has faced this season, they won’t double the post. Teske is one of the best post defenders in the country, and Howard will trust him to handle Steven Enoch and Malik Williams one-on-one.
This defense works because the Wolverine defenders are super disciplined. They cut off driving angles effectively, play physically without fouling, and are good and not falling for ball fakes.
Michigan will play zone if the situation calls for it. They busted it out for extended stretches with a great deal of success last week against North Carolina, but that was primarily because “no help” defense on Cole Anthony is not the easiest thing in the world. Given Louisville’s shooters and (relative) lack of guys who are elite drivers, you would expect to see Howard call for an almost exclusive evening of man-to-man against the Cards, unless his team gets torched early on.
Louisville shoots the three about as well as any team in the country. Expect Michigan to try and take that away by simply not utilizing any help defenders. This will put a significant amount of pressure on U of L’s primary ballhandlers to not just beat their defenders off the dribble, but to make the right decisions after they gain that advantage.
As far as personnel is concerned, the conversation begins and ends with Simpson, the man whose teammates call him “X” despite there not being an actual X in his name. There is no guard in America who utilizes the high ball screen as well as Simpson. If you hedge the ball screen (which is what Chris Mack is committed to doing), Simpson is tremendous at getting downhill and either scoring himself — often with his famous hook shot — or setting up teammates. He currently leads the nation in assists at a preposterous 9.7 apg.
Most teams defend Simpson by going underneath the ball screen. Though he’s never going to be known as an elite outside shooter, Simpson does have sort of a Christen Cunningham thing going where he’s taking open looks and shooting the three at a much higher clip as a senior than he ever has before. He enters Tuesday night’s game hitting on 44.4 percent of his three-point tries, almost a full 15 percentage points higher than his best average for a season.
The other thing about Simpson is that he rarely over-penetrates. A big part of that reason is because he’s not a great free-throw shooter (just 57.1 percent). If he does get into the lane, Louisville’s defenders would be better served pushing him all the way to the basket than they would forcing him to stop and make an accurate pass to an open teammate, because that’s the play Simpson makes 95 percent of the time.
Defense has never been an issue for Simpson. Michigan’s no-help defense has been so effective these last three years primarily because Simpson rarely gets beat off the bounce. He was a finalist for the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year award last season, and should be back in the mix again this year.
Michigan’s defense also works because of Teske, who is an elite rim protector and defends ball screens as well as any big man in the country. For evidence, you can check out the second half of this video. For most of his career, Teske has been known as a defensive specialist with a limited offensive game. That has changed.
Teske has developed a versatile offensive game over his four years in Ann Arbor. He enters Tuesday shooting a career-high 56.1 percent from the field and averaging career-bests in both points (13.3 ppg) and rebounds (9.7 rpg). He’s a solid scorer with his back to the basket, but he is an extreme threat to kill you on pick and pops, something Louisville has struggled to defend the last couple of seasons. This is a game where U of L is fortunate to have Malik Williams back, because his superior defense is going to be relied upon heavily.
Michigan’s leading scorer is forward Isaiah Livers, who has made the proverbial star turn in his junior season. He showed flashes of brilliance as a sophomore, but often got lost in the shuffle on a team that also featured three future pros in Iggy Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole. Now, Livers is averaging 17.0 ppg and hasn’t scored fewer than nine points in a game this season. He torched Gonzaga in the Atlantis title game to the tune of 21 points on 8-of-11 from the field and 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. Livers has diversified his offensive game, but where he’s the deadliest is still on the perimeter. Whoever’s guarding him has to stay glued to him and resist the urge to drop down and help when Simpson is driving to the basket.
Another deep threat for the Wolverines is sophomore reserve guard David DeJulius, who reminds one of Livers before this season. He is a lethal outside shooter who is 11-for-23 (47.8 percent) from three so far this season. DeJulius can score in bunches, and is is the case with so many players who have that ability, his isn’t lacking in confidence.
You think Michigan is confident?— Daniel Dash (@danieldash428) December 2, 2019
David DeJulius on facing top-ranked Louisville tomorrow night: “We want it all. We want all the smoke.”
Maybe the most interesting player on Michigan’s roster at the moment is freshman Franz Wagner. If that last name gives you PTSD, there’s a reason. Wagner’s older brother, Mo, was a star for the Wolverines who burned Louisville for 26 points in that 2017 NCAA tournament game. The younger Wagner possesses a similar skill set and the same professional ability, but missed the first four games of this season with a fractured wrist. He’s just now working his way back onto the court, but it’s already apparent that he has a scary amount of ability. Here’s hoping the Yum Center doesn’t serve as the site of his breakout performance.
Junior guard Eli Brooks (12.9 ppg/2.7 apg) is playing big minutes for the first time in his college carer, and he’s making the most of it. Brooks is a solid compliment to Simpson in the backcourt, and he has the ability to run the show effectively if Simpson needs a breather or gets into foul trouble. Like seemingly everyone else on this team, Brooks is a deadly outside shooter (50.0 percent). He is a capable creator, but has also struggled with turnovers (2.4 tpg).
The only true area of weakness for this Michigan team is a bizarre one. Despite shooting the absolute hell out of the ball from every area on the floor when the clock is running, the Wolverines are a horrendous free-throw shooting team. They rank No. 4 in the country in 2-point field goal percentage, No. 9 in the county in 3-point field goal percentage .... and No. 230 in free-throw percentage. They also rarely get to the charity stripe, ranking No. 328 out of 353 D-I teams in that skill.
—Louisville enters Tuesday night’s game against Michigan as the No. 1 team in the Associated Press top 25 poll for just the third time in program history.
—Louisville is 3-2 all-time in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and 3-0 in ACC-Big Ten Challenge games played at home.
—Michigan is 8-10 all-time in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and 3-6 in road games in the event.
—Tuesday night’s game has been designated as a “White Out” game. Louisville will be wearing all-white uniforms, and fans attending are encouraged to wear white as well.
—Louisville is 7-6 all-time in “White Out” games, including a 79-69 loss to North Carolina last season.
—At halftime of the game, Louisville will unveil a new banner in the KFC Yum Center recognizing its three NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Players.
—Both teams have been ranked in the top 25 for all five meetings between Louisville and Michigan.
—Michigan’s jump from unranked to No. 4 in this week’s AP top 25 matched the largest single-week jump in the 70-year history of the poll. Kansas also went from unranked to No. 4 in 1989.
—Louisville is seventh in the nation in field goal percentage (.519) and is 17th in the nation in three-point percentage (.480, second in the ACC).
—Michigan is shooting 52.9 percent from the field as a team, the third-best field goal percentage in the nation.
—Louisville is off to a 7-0 start for the first time since the 2014-15 season. The Cardinals began that season 11-0.
—Jordan Nwora’s 153 points scored this year are the most by a Louisville player through seven games over the last 20 seasons.
—Ryan McMahon is second in the ACC and ninth in the nation in three-point field goal percentage (53.8 percent) and Jordan Nwora is fourth in the ACC and 19th in the nation (50.0 percent).
—Michigan’s 73-69 upset win over Louisville in the second round of the 2017 NCAA tournament wound up being Rick Pitino’s final game as the head coach of the Cardinals.
—Louisville has lost seven straight games featuring two teams ranked in the top five of the current AP poll. The Cards’ last win in a matchup of top five teams came in the 1980 NCAA tournament.
—Michigan is 2-24 all-time against AP No. 1 teams. The Wolverines last knocked off a top-ranked squad when they upset Duke 81-73 on Dec. 13, 1997 inside the Crisler Center.
—Louisville and Michigan are two of the 20 undefeated teams remaining in Division-I.
—Michigan point guard Zavier Simpson has had six or more assists in every game for the Wolverines this season. He leads the nation in assists per game at 9.7.
—Louisville is 59-47 all-time in games against Big Ten opponents.
—Chris Mack is 1-0 all-time against Michigan. His Xavier Musketeers defeated the Wolverines 86-70 on Nov. 20, 2015.
—Louisville point guard Fresh Kimble spent four seasons playing for Phil Martelli at Saint Joseph’s. Martelli, who was fired after last season, is now a Michigan assistant.
—This will be the eighth matchup of top five teams in the history of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, and just the second featuring a No. 1 team. The better-ranked team is just 3-4 in those games.
—No. 1 teams are 8-3 all-time in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge.
—Louisville is 11-3 all-time in games played on Dec. 3.
—Louisville is 11-9 all-time in games against teams ranked No. 4 in the AP poll.
—Louisville has won its first game played in the month of December in 16 of the last 18 years. The Cards are 42-9 in the month over the last six years.
—Louisville has won 151 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.
—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 18 seasons (also Kansas, Duke and Gonzaga).
Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 72, Michigan 64