It’s not uncommon for former teammates to face off against each other in college basketball. Many players come from top AAU teams and elite prep schools, which act as de facto feeders to the upper echelon of Division I.
Wednesday, when the No. 24 Michigan men’s basketball team heads to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina, one of those reunions will occur between Wolverines’ center Hunter Dickinson, forward Terrance Williams II and Tar Heels’ center Armando Bacot, all of whom played together for Team Takeover on the AAU circuit.
“He’s somebody who I really enjoy on and off the court,” Dickinson said. “He’s a really funny guy. And so being able to play against him will be really fun.”
Added Williams: “It’s just gonna be a good feeling to see all three of us on the court in a high-major Division I game.”
While Dickinson and Williams are both looking forward to sharing the court with Bacot for the first time in a collegiate game, the reunion’s outcome has deeper implications, with Dickinson and Bacot taking center stage. Michigan has struggled all season to defend teams with size, which came to the forefront in its blowout loss to Arizona just over a week ago. The Wildcats — who start two players 6-foot-11 or taller — stormed past the Wolverines on the backs of 54 points in the paint.
Like the Wildcats, UNC boasts two bigs in its starting lineup, including Bacot, and Michigan coach Juwan Howard knows the Wolverines will have to give the Tar Heels a tougher time down low.
UNC’s bigs also provide strength on the glass. The Tar Heels rank just 51st nationally in rebounds per game this season but eighth in defensive rebounds. Dickinson will have a tough time getting second-chance opportunities, and, considering the Wolverines have struggled to get him touches with opponents hounding him defensively, points could be hard for him to come by if Michigan doesn’t improve in that regard.
“I’m a big man, so I’m not able to bring the ball up. Sometimes I wish I could show out the handle,” Dickinson said. “But I think it’s just a team thing. I think we’re not clicking as a unit, and so obviously there’s the trickle down effect. To that, I think we’re just trying to find our groove right now.”
Making matters more difficult for the Wolverines is that their achilles heel is out in the open: Limit Dickinson’s touches and their offense lacks pace and flow. And UNC coach Hubert Davis is awfully familiar with Dickinson’s game due to his familiarity with the D.C. area and Dickinson’s time playing with Bacot. There’s no doubt he’ll have his team well-prepared.
“(Dickinson is) a guy that can consistently score down low in the paint,” Davis told reporters Tuesday. “He’s a guy that works extremely hard to get low position down on the block, and he’s extremely skilled. He’s a fantastic passer, and he can shoot the ball from the outside. … But how he competes, how hard he plays, are the things that jumped out to me, and I’ve always been a big fan of Hunter Dickinson.”
The battle between Dickinson and Bacot in the paint could swing the pendulum in Wednesday night’s game with their prior relationship adding intrigue. Williams, for one, has no doubt it’ll be a good one:
“It’s gonna be cool … seeing how (Bacot) and Hunter battle it out because I know they’re probably gonna guard each other.”