Five Things to Watch as UNC meets Michigan

Brant Wilkerson-New

On this beautiful Thursday, we are thankful for college basketball instead of mediocre NFL games.

With Wednesday’s victory, North Carolina moved on to today’s Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals where it will meet Michigan (1:30 p.m., ESPN) for the opportunity to play for a championship.

Here’s what to watch for as the Tar Heels (5-0) and Wolverines (5-0) get together for a little Thanksgiving lunch:

Anthony’s Efficiency

After Cole Anthony’s phenomenal start, the freshman has understandably taken a step back over the past two games on the offensive end.

First, the positive: other areas of Anthony’s game haven’t suffered, as he’s averaged 8.5 rebounds and 7 assists. That’s not always a given with a young player whose shot isn’t going down.

On the other side, Anthony has made 8 of 27 field goal attempts overall, including 1 of 8 from 3-point range while averaging 11 points. Naturally, Anthony is going to take the most shots for Carolina, but some of them haven’t been great looks. He’s also settled a bit too much for jumpers, attempted  just nine free throws over the past two games after averaging 8.3 attempts over the first three games.

Anthony is a tough, intelligent player. He’ll figure it out sooner than later, but 10 turnovers over the past two games isn’t good enough to beat teams like Michigan.

A Stout Defense

Michigan is the best defensive team that Carolina will have faced this season, which doesn’t come at a particularly good time for the Tar Heels.

The offense is nowhere close to where it needs to be, averaging 13 turnovers per game and giving it up on 19.7 percent of possessions — a number that ranks 167 nationally. The Tar Heels rank 145 in 3-point percentage, and shockingly, 249 in 2-point percentage.

Per, Carolina’s current offensive efficiency rating of 109.6 is only comparable to one season-end number in the Roy Williams era — 107.4 in 2010, when the Tar Heels were 20-17.

Fewer turnovers, better shots and better execution on the break are vital against Michigan.

Bacot and/or Brooks?

Will it be Armando Bacot or Garrison Brooks that has a big game, or both?

At this point, both are delivering consistent performances for the Tar Heels unlike they’ve had from true post players in recent seasons with Brooks averaging 12 points and 8.3 rebounds while Bacot has chipped in 10.3 points and 8.5 rebounds.

Carolina will need at least one of them to play well, as Michigan has a formidable front line in the 7-1, 265-pound Jon Teske and 6-11, 235-pound Colin Castleton. Teske is the better rebounder of the two and will be tasked with competing on the boards.

Defend the Line

This is also the best offensive team that Carolina has faced this season, as Michigan ranks 22 nationally in 3-point percentage and, typical of the Wolverines, third in 2-point percentage at 61.7 percent. It certainly appears Juwan Howard has carried on John Beilein’s legacy of having Michigan work for good shots and make said shots.

The Tar Heel defense has posted some decent numbers, but they’re a bit inflated by opponents missing the open shots that Carolina has allowed. The Michigan offense is balanced and has four double-figure scorers, led by Isaiah Livers (17.3 points) and Zavier Simpson (14 points, 9 assists).

The only area lacking in the offense — and it hasn’t mattered — is at the free throw line. This is a jump-shooting team and to this point, Carolina hasn’t proven it can consistently limit good looks.

Kevin Jairaj | USA TODAY Sports

Supporting Cast

Brandon Robinson was excellent in his return from injury with 12 points and six rebounds, and Leaky Black took a major step in the second half with nine points and nine rebounds. Andrew Platek was steady off the bench in 15 minutes, while neither Justin Pierce or Christian Keeling played particularly well.

So far, the complimentary spots have been a revolving door for Carolina, but with Robinson back in the lineup, there stands to be some separation with some players solidifying their minutes while others fall out of the rotation.

Those roles are going to start become crystal clear over the next several games. It’s almost certain Robinson’s will be a big one, while Black’s assertive second half is what the Tar Heels need from him.

Keeling and Pierce have to do more.