Opponent Tracker: ACC, Pac-12 And Big Ten Challenges On The Horizon

Kevin Minor

Prior to steamrolling through the bracket at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, Michigan head coach Juwan Howard welcomed the challenge of facing the talented field, stating that the Wolverines were “built for the competition.”

U-M has the opportunity to continue to prove this statement true over its next four games against foes that own a combined 24-5 record.

Louisville is ranked No. 1 for tonight's matchup, but has looked very beatable in recent weeks against inferior competition. Oregon should be ranked somewhere in the Top-25 for the Dec. 14 contest, but finished 1-2 in the same holiday tournament that Michigan just bulldozed through. Iowa appeared formidable in an upset win over Texas Tech, but has been inconsistent at times against quality opponents—notably in losses to DePaul and San Diego State. Illinois, while 6-1, was destroyed by the only quality opponent they’ve faced so far.

Can the battle-hardened Wolverines remain undefeated over its next five games? Here is a closer look at what they’re up against, as well as an update on how U-M’s previous five opponents have fared recently.

Michigan’s Next Five Opponents

Combined Record: 26-11

Dec. 3: at No. 2 Louisville (7-0) *Big Ten/ACC Challenge

Dec. 6: vs Iowa (5-2)

Dec. 11: at Illinois (6-1)

Dec. 14: vs No. 11 Oregon (6-2)

Dec. 21: vs Presbyterian (2-6)

Dec. 3 - at No. 2 Louisville (7-0) *Big Ten/ACC Challenge:

Louisville will likely hold the No. 1 ranking in the AP Poll by default when it hosts Michigan in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge Clash Dec. 3, but the Cardinals have looked far from unbeatable in recent weeks.

After trailing briefly in the second half to a one-win USC Upstate team in a 76-50 victory Nov. 20, UL nearly squandered a 22-point second-half lead against Akron Nov. 24, and needed late free-throws to hold off the upset-minded Zips in a 82-76 win. Head coach Chris Mack’s squad returned to form in its most recent outing, a 71-54 dispatching of Western Kentucky in which it held the Hilltoppers to just 1 of 17 shooting from beyond the arc (5.9 percent).

On the season, Louisville is holding opponents to just 28.7 percent three-point shooting and ranks 8th in the nation in KenPom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.

Dec. 6 - vs Iowa (5-2):

Following an early season drubbing by DePaul, Iowa has looked the part of an NCAA Tournament team in winning four of its last five contests, including a 72-61 upset of No. 12 Texas Tech Nov. 28 at the Las Vegas Invitational tournament. It’s only loss during that span was a 83-73 slip-up against undefeated San Diego State in the championship game of the same tournament.

Junior center Luka Garza continues to cement his place as one of the nation’s top big men, averaging 19.6 points and 10.1 rebounds this season. He has scored in double-digits in six of seven games this season, including three games of at least 20 points. As a team, Iowa is averaging 80.1 points per game and ranks eighth in the nation in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.

Dec. 11 - at Illinois (6-1):

With six victories in its first seven games, Illinois is half-way to matching its 12-win total from all of last season. Averaging 107.3 points per game over its last three, albeit against far inferior competition, the Illini offense has shown marked improvements from one that struggled to score just 72.7 points per game last season. In total, UI is scoring 88.3 points per contest but were held to below 70 in a 90-69 loss to No. 14 Arizona, its only true test of the season thus far.

Freshman center Kofi Cockburn has proven a priceless addition for an Illini team that leads the nation with a 46.6 offensive rebound percentage (OR%) and ranks second in the country with a 4.0 Block Percentage (Blk%). He is one of four different Illinois players averaging double-digit scoring this season, and the Illini are amassing 60.7 percent of their points on two-point field goals—the highest such percentage in the Big Ten.

Dec. 14 - vs No. 11 Oregon (6-2):

Oregon did not perform as well as the Wolverines during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, leaving the Bahamas as losers in two out of three. They opened the competition with a tight 71-69 win over No. 13 Seton Hall, but dropped a 73-72 overtime thriller to No. 8 Gonzaga in the semifinals before losing 78-74 to No. 6 North Carolina in a consolation contest.

Still, the Ducks are a dangerous team with a 2-2 record against AP Top 25 teams this season, and rank ninth in the country in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Their 6.0 Steal Percentage (Stl%) is the 12th best in the nation, and this propensity for theft could cause issues for a U-M squad that has struggled with ball security at times this season. Senior guard Payton Pritchard ranks second in school history with 164 steals and fourth with 487 assists, and is averaging 18.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds this season.

Dec. 21 - vs Presbyterian (2-6):

With 20-plus point losses already this season to Clemson, Morehead State and Sacred Heart, Presbyterian should provide a brief reprieve for a U-M team coming off of a seven-game gauntlet against teams with winning records. Although the Blue Hose did hang tough in a 63-53 loss at Notre Dame Nov. 18, they are averaging just 55.7 points in their six losses this year.

Presbyterian boasts just two double-digit scorers in sophomore forward Cory Hightower (13.9 points per game) and fifth-year senior guard Ben Drake (10.8 points per game), and has been a poor shooting team with a 45.3 eFG% that ranks 282nd in country. Defensively, the Blue Hose are even worse with a 107.9 defensive efficiency rating that puts them 327th in the country in the metric according to KenPom.

Michigan’s Last Five Opponents:

Combined Record: 20-16

Gonzaga (W 82-64): 8-1

North Carolina (W 73-64): 6-1

Iowa State (W 83-76): 4-3

Houston Baptist (W 111-68): 0-5

Elon (W 70-50): 2-6

Gonzaga (W, 82-64):

With its surprisingly lopsided loss to the Wolverines in the finale, Gonzaga concluded the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament with a 2-1 mark and second-place finish. The Zags 64-point output was more than 23 points less than their 87.1 season average, and eight points fewer than their previous season low. Prior to losing to Michigan in the title game, Mark Few’s squad pummeled Southern Mississippi 94-69 in the tournament opener and snuck past No. 11 Oregon 73-72 in overtime in the semifinals.

North Carolina (W, 73-64):

North Carolina closed its trip to the Bahamas with a 78-74 triumph over No. 11 Oregon to capture third place in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Freshman forward Armando Bacot, who was limited to just six points and six rebounds against Michigan, bludgeoned the Ducks with 23 points, 12 boards and six blocked shots.

Despite a 6-1 record, UNC has uncharacteristically struggled on the offensive end. For the first time since the 1949-50 season, the Tar Heels have failed to score 80 points in a game over its first seven contests. North Carolina has yet to shoot 50 percent or better from the field, the first such seven-game stretch to open a season since the 1959-60 campaign.

Iowa State (W, 83-76):

Iowa State rebounded from its loss to Michigan in its Battle 4 Atlantis opener to outrun Alabama 104-89 in its next battle. The Cyclones made 15 of 29 three-point attempts (51.7 percent), and sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton paced ISU with 23 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. The hot-shooting Cyclones were stifled in their tournament finale, shooting just 45.3 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc in a 84-76 loss to No. 13 Seton Hall.

Houston Baptist (W, 111-68):

Houston Baptist has played just once since its 111-68 drubbing at the hands of the Wolverines, and it was more of the same from its fledgling defense. The Huskies were thumped 112-73 by Houston, marking the third-straight game they’ve yielded over 100-points. In three games against major conference teams this season, HBU has given up an average of 108.7 points and has been dominated by 37.0 points per game.

Elon (W, 70-50): After winning its first two games of the season, Elon has dropped six-straight, most recently a 77-67 loss to Texas Arlington Nov. 28 and a 97-61 defeat by Furman Nov. 26. During this winless stretch, the Phoenix are averaging just 57.3 points per contest and have lost five by double-digits, including four by at least 14 points.

Which figure stands out the most? How will Michigan do over its next five games? Comment below!!!

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