Michigan faces toughest challenge yet against No. 13 North Carolina

Fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson is relishing the opportunity to notch a road win in Chapel Hill.

Fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson is relishing the opportunity to notch a road win in Chapel Hill. Buy this photo
Evan Aaron/Daily
Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - 7:01pm

If the Maui Invitational was the appetizer, Wednesday’s matchup against No. 13 North Carolina is the entrée.

The Michigan men’s basketball team’s visit to Chapel Hill will provide some of the toughest competition the Wolverines will face this season, as the Tar Heels enter the game with a noticeable chip on their shoulder.

North Carolina is coming off a historically poor shooting performance against No. 3 Michigan State in the PK80 Invitational last weekend, posting a program-worst 24.6 field goal percentage while appearing generally disoriented throughout. While the display was rare for a Roy Williams team, the Tar Heels are in a similar transitionary period as the Wolverines with seven roster additions this year, but are still poised for a deep tournament run in March.

“They’ll run you right out of the gym if you don’t play great transition defense and take good shots at the other end,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “They’re obviously a great program in a transition too, even more than we’re in with so many new players, but they’ve really been good.”

The Wolverines, on the other hand, come into Wednesday’s contest after their best game of the season against UC Riverside, executing at a high level in every phase of the game — most notably allowing just 42 points with a staunch defense. Forwards Charles Matthews and Moritz Wagner also continued their scoring crusade and freshman Eli Brooks further established himself as the best option at point guard for Michigan right now.

UC Riverside to North Carolina is night and day, however, and adjustments will have to be made. Beilein noted that a 1-3-1 used sparingly this season will emerge more often against the lengthy Tar Heels, and that his team is ready to execute it. North Carolina’s starting forwards Luke Maye and Garrison Brooks — as well as Sterling Manley off the bench — provide the most challenging combination of floor spacing and uncompromising defense the Wolverines have faced.

“Just hammering transition defense,” said fifth-year forward Duncan Robinson. “Our preparation with that dates all the way back to this summer. That’s been an emphasis for us all the way through, so hopefully we’ll fall back on these habits that we’ve built.”

Added Beilein: “They’re the same really well-coached team with great length. ... They’re gonna change defenses on occasion just as far as not going to zone, but double teaming you, trying to take you out of your rhythm a little bit. Their defense is excellent.”

Beilein, who has only faced off against the Tar Heels once in his career, knows that they are eager to rebound from their previous mistake-filled game back home at the Smith Center.

The rest of the team understands that, too, and it’s an opportunity they relish.

“There’s something very bonding about going into a place where 14, 15 guys are just unanimously hated,” Robinson said. “There’s a cohesive component to that that I thoroughly enjoy. … There’s nothing better than a road win.”