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The Big Preview: UVA Basketball at Michigan in the ACC-BigTen Challenge

Wahoos head to Ann Arbor for their first road test of the season.

Jackson State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Under Tony Bennett, the Virginia Cavaliers are 8-4 in ACC/Big Ten Challenge games. That includes two consecutive losses with last year’s loss to Iowa. The average KenPom ranking of Virginia’s opponents in these games was 43, while the average KenPom rankings for the Wahoos was 24.

That discrepancy continues, as the fifth ranked Wahoo take on the 53rd ranked Michigan Wolverines. One of those previous ACC/Big Ten wins, way back in 2011, came against Michigan. The teams have not met since that game.

This Michigan team is led by 7’1” Hunter Dickinson, also last year’s leading scorer. As you’d expect from a seven-footer, Dickenson also leads the team in rebounds and blocks. That being said, Dickinson doesn’t usually face a team with two big men who can defend him and make him work on defense.

The Wolverines are 5-1 on the season, with their loss coming against Arizona State, a team with multiple big men to help keep Dickinson in check. He led the team in scoring, but required 14 shots to get his 14 points. In two other close games Michigan has played (Eastern Michigan and Ohio U), Dickinson has averaged 28 points on 17 shots. That is a far better efficiency.

Dickinson has great position here, and there’s little Ohio can do. The defender tries to flop and draw the charge. Not much else he can do with this kind of position. Virginia has far more size inside than Ohio, but Dickinson may still have a mismatch inside. Virginia hasn’t faced a big man with an interior game in a while.

The play inside very likely determines the outcome of this game. If there ever was to be a Kadin Shedrick game, this would be it. Shedrick has the potential to guard Dickinson one-on-one. If he can manage that, UVA probably wins this game. If not, look for the ‘Hoos to double the post and hope to recover quickly enough on the backside. But, long story short, if Virginia keeps Dickinson in check, they likely win the game. But if Dickinson goes off inside, Michigan may pull off the upset at home.

Michigan head coach Juwan Howard, of Fab Five fame, has two sons on his team. One is freshman Jett Howard, who has started every game and is second on the team with 15 points per game. At this point in his career, he isn’t much more than an outside shooter. He’s made 44% of his threes, but over two-thirds of his shots have come from behind the arc.

This comes off an inbounds play. ASU players close out but, because Howard is 6’7”, he can get his shot off without being impacted by the defense. Other than his shooting, he’s a good shot blocker. Doesn’t bring much else yet though. His older brother Jace doesn’t play much, but also can shoot the rock.

Speaking of shooters, there is one familiar face on the Michigan roster, Joey Baker. Baker transferred after four years at Duke. Although he was around for seven Duke-Virginia games, he totaled just four points in 22 minutes. Baker still only gets minimal playing time, but he’s 9/19 from three in his limited opportunities.

Defensively, Michigan runs a lot of zone defense.

This is a 2-3 zone. Dickinson is in the middle. You can see the guards sliding from side to side, but a couple of quick reversals ends up with an open three. The way Virginia has been shooting the ball, this may be a scary proposition for Howard. They will also run some 1-3-1 and some man defense as well. They’ve even shown some Pack Line looks at times.

Michigan’s starting PG is Jaelin Llewellyn, a grad transfer from Princeton. He has knocked down just 3/22 (13%) from three this year, but made 38% last year on high volume. He’s more of a combo guard than a true PG. Despite starting at the point for 3 years at Princeton, Llewellyn has never led his team in assists.

Howard was counting on Llewellyn to knock down outside shots. Other than his younger son, he has nobody who can consistently knock down shots. Jett has 37% of the team’s three pointers. The other two wings are 6’4” 195 Kobe Bufkin (17% this year) and 6’7” 225 Terrance Williams (30%).

The Wolverines aren’t shy though. They’ll take the shots. They are 83rd nationally in three point rate, taking almost 42% of their shots from behind the arc. But they are shooting just 31.8% (230th nationally). Last year’s team also couldn’t shoot, but took far fewer shots from outside.

That team last year made the Sweet Sixteen, but finished just 19-15. And, outside of Dickinson, none of last year’s main contributors are back. While they have a talented freshman class, only Jett Howard has really contributed so far this year.

Michigan hasn’t played anybody nearly as good as Virginia yet this year. They lost to Arizona State in their toughest game yet. They also struggled with 198th ranked (on KenPom) Ohio and 317th ranked Eastern Michigan. This Michigan team may be good next year or even by the end of this year, as the freshmen get more acclimated and start having more of an impact on the game. Until then, it is a very beatable team with distinct strengths and weaknesses. Exactly the type of team Tony Bennett feasts on.