Opponent Tracker: Ducks, Cupcakes And Conference Clashes

Brandon Brown

No. 4 Michigan closes out 2019 with two more stiff challenges in a better-than-expected Illinois squad and one more marquee non-conference game against No. 13 Oregon. Things don't get any easier in the new year, with the Wolverines opening 2020 in East Lansing for head coach Juwan Howard's first shot at rival Michigan State.

In its matchup against the Illini, U-M has an opportunity prove that it is a better road team than it showed in a 58-43 loss to No. 1 Louisville. Against the

In between, while most students are away for the holiday, the Wolverines will enjoy a break of their own against Presbyterian and UMass Lowell squads with a combined 7-13 record.

Here is a closer look at Michigan's next five opponents, as well as an update on how its last five foes have fared as their seasons have progressed.

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Michigan’s Next Five Opponents

Combined Record: 25-21

Dec. 11: at Illinois (6-3, 0-1)

Dec. 14: vs No. 11 Oregon (7-2)

Dec. 21: vs Presbyterian (2-7)

Dec. 29: vs UMass Lowell (5-6)

Jan. 5: at Michigan State (5-3, 0-0)

Dec. 11 - at Illinois (6-3, 0-0):

Illinois enters its Dec. 11 contest with Michigan on a two-game losing streak, but have shown noticeable signs of improvement in its third year under head coach Brad Underwood. The Illini’s last two losses have been by a combined three points, and they most recently took No. 3 Maryland to the limit on the road in a 59-58 loss Dec. 7. UI controlled a majority of the game, leading for 38:21 of 40 minutes and going up by as many as 15 points in the second half, before relinquishing the lead for good on a made Terrapin free-throw with 2.1 seconds left. Underwood’s squad, failed to make a field goal over the last five minutes of the contest and shot just 6 of 22 in the second half (27.2 percent) while turning the ball over eight times. In a 81-79 loss to Miami Dec. 2, Illinois mounted a furious second-half comeback that nearly erased a 22-point second-half Hurricane lead.

Led by talented freshman center Kofi Cockburn, the Illini lead the country with a 42.8 Offensive Rebound Percentage (OR%) and sit 12th in the nation with a 4.8 Block Percentage (Blk%) according to KenPom advanced stats. UI is 5-1 at home this season, but have dropped all three of its contests against Power 5 opponents.

Dec. 14 - vs No. 13 Oregon (6-2):

In its only game between the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament and its upcoming tilt with Michigan, Oregon routed Hawaii 89-64. The Ducks exploded for 55 points in the second half to pull away from a decent Warrior team and shot 58.3 percent from the field, including 44.3 percent from beyond the arc.

On the season, UO ranks eighth in the country in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (113.1) according to Kenpom, and are second in the PAC12 with a 44.0 three-point percentage (3P%) and fourth in Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) at 54.7.

Fifth-year senior forward Shakur Juiston, who is averaging 8.8 points and team-best 6.5 rebounds per game, missed the Ducks conquest of Hawaii with a lower leg injury suffered against North Carolina earlier in the season. He is currently listed week-to-week and his status against the Wolverines remains uncertain.

Dec. 21 - vs Presbyterian (2-7):

Losers in six of its last seven, Presbyterian has struggled offensively, ranking 298th in the country in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (93.4), 285th in eFG% (45.4), 263rd in 3P% (30.1) and 269th in 2P% (45.5). Following its 80-68 loss to South Carolina State, the Blue Hens have lost five games by double-digits and are averaging just 57.4 points per game in its seven losses.

Of 10 Presbyterian players that have seen meaningful playing time this season, eight have recorded an Offensive Rating (ORtg) of below 100.0, which is considered the threshold rating for good offensive efficiency by KenPom. Senior combo-guard JC Younger has been the most efficient offensive player for the Blue Hose, leading the team in eFG% (59.4, 5th Big South) and ORtg (109.0, 14th Big South).

Dec. 29 - vs UMass Lowell (5-6):

UMass Lowell has won three of its last four games, including a season-high scoring output in a 94-63 destruction of St Francis BK Dec. 7. On the season, the River Hawks are averaging 75.1 points per game, but have shown an ability to erupt offensively against lesser defenses with four games of 80-or-more points scored this season. In its only game against a Power 5 foe, UML was routed 76-56 by Ohio State.

A veteran squad that starts four upperclassmen, the River Hawks are led offensively by senior guard Christian Lutete, who boasts a team best 26.1 percentage of possessions used rating (%Poss), 20.3 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game. He scored a career-best 51 points in an 87-74 win over LIU, and has stockpiled at least 20 points five times this season.

Jan. 5 - at No. 11 Michigan State (5-3):

The AP preseason No. 1 and popular pick to win the Big Ten, Michigan State has been one of the more prominent disappointments during the early stages of the college basketball season. Following a 87-75 loss to No. 10 Duke in East Lansing Dec. 3, the Spartans are 3-3 against major conference teams and 1-2 against squads ranked in the AP Top 25. MSU does boast the nation’s top Adjusted Offensive Efficiency Rating (115.0) but has struggled shooting from deep, making just 32.9 percent of its three-point attempts (7th Big Ten).

Senior point guard Cassius Winston, a preseason All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year, is averaging 17.1 points and 6.1 assists per game, but is shooting just 41.5 percent from the field—a nearly five-point decrease from a year ago.

Freshman guard Rocket Watts, who has started every game this year and is averaging 6.5 points per contest, will miss at least MSU’s Dec. 8 Big Ten opener against Rutgers with a stress fracture in his foot. The Spartans have already been without senior guard Jeremy Langford, who suffered a setback from a foot injury last season. There is no set timetable for his return.

Michigan’s Last Five Opponents:

Combined Record: 35-9

Iowa (W 103-91): 6-3 (0-1)

Louisville (L 58-43 ): 9-0

Gonzaga (W 82-64): 9-1

North Carolina (W 73-64): 6-2

Iowa State (W 83-76): 5-3

Iowa (W, 103-91):

For as good as Iowa has been offensively this season, averaging 80.4 points per game and ranking third in the country in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (114.0), its inconsistency on the defensive end has been costly. In its three losses, UI has yielded 92.7 points per game as opposed to just 62.7 points allowed in its six wins.

Junior center Luka Garza’s 44 points in the Hawkeyes’ loss to Michigan was the most ever scored by a visiting player in the 52-year history of the Crisler Center. Currently ranked ninth in KenPom’s National Player of the Year standings, the talented big man is averaging 22.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, and his 118.0 ORtg leads the Big Ten and is second nationally among players with a 28%Poss or better.

No. 1 Louisville (L, 58-43):

Louisville remained unbeaten with 64-46 conquest of Pitt Dec. 6. The game was closer than the final score might indicate, with the Cardinals leading by just five with under 10 minutes left in the second half before going on a 13-0 run to put away the Panthers. It was UL’s second-consecutive game holding an opponent under 50 points—the first such feat for the program since 2015. Head coach Chris Mack’s squad has yielded 25 or less points in eight halves this season.

Junior forward Jordan Nwora continues to stake his place in the Wooden Award discussion, scoring 19 points and grabbing eight boards in the win. The KenPom National Player of the Year frontrunner, Nwora is averaging 21.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

No. 9 Gonzaga (W, 82-64):

Gonzaga rebounded from its 82-64 loss to Michigan in the Battle 4 Atlantis finals with a emphatic 102-61 drubbing of Texas Southern Dec. 4 to improve to 9-1 on the season. Seven different Bulldogs scored in double-figures, led by junior forward Corey Kispert’s 17 points. The 39-point win over the Tigers was the seventh Zags victory by at least 25 point this season, and their fifth time scoring 90 or more points.

No. 7 North Carolina (W, 73-64):

North Carolina’s struggles against Big Ten teams persisted in a 74-49 loss to Ohio State Dec. 4. The 35-point thrashing was the worst home defeat for the Tar Heels since 2013, their 49 points the lowest scoring output at home since 2011, and their 27.4 shooting percentage their lowest at the Dean Smith Center in its 33-year history. It’s second loss in three games, North Carolina is now 6-2 on the season and should drop significantly when the next AP Poll is released. Freshman guard Cole Anthony was the only Tar Heel to score in double-figures with 15 points, and freshman forward Armando Bacot left the game with a sprained ankle that will keep him out indefinitely.

Iowa State (W, 83-76):

In its first game back from the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, Iowa State looked lethargic for large chunks of its 79-61 triumph over UMKC. Up 37-31 at halftime, the Cyclones led 57-54 with under seven minutes to play before going on a 22-4 run that ultimately put the lingering Roos to bed. ISU’s three-point shooting woes continued, making only 5 of 21 attempts (23.8 percent)—head Coach Steve Prohm’s squad now ranks 239th in country with a 30.8 3P%.

How do you think Michigan closes out 2019? Will the Wolverines open 2020 with a win in East Lansing? Comment below!!!

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