The 2021-22 college basketball season is upon us, and the nonconference schedule is loaded with matchups between the top teams in the country. Below is my analysis and favorite bets for Wednesday’s slate.
Things haven’t been the greatest for these programs to start the season after coming into the year with high expectations. UNC was clean swept during their trip to Mohegan Sun, and Michigan has racked up losses to both Seton Hall (at home) and Arizona. For Michigan, the struggles have been on the offensive end as newcomers DeVante Jones and Caleb Houstan haven’t been able to replace the production of wing tandem Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers. The Wolverines are shooting under 30% from three-point range and rank 271st nationally in turnover percentage. It’s the opposite story for the Tar Heels as they have been atrocious defensively ranking out 113th nationally per KenPom. They are 356th in forcing turnovers and rank toward the bottom percentile in transition defense. Which side will get right in this matchup? I have much more faith in the Wolverines’ offense righting the ship than UNC’s defense.
Schematically, Michigan holds a ton of advantages in this matchup. The main focus will be in the paint as two extremely skilled bigs go head-to-head in Hunter Dickinson and Armando Bacot. I’m afraid Dickinson may have his way inside here as UNC allows opponents to shoot 51% at the rim (236th nationally) and Bacot commits 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes while Dickinson only commits 3. In the backcourt, Michigan has struggled with ball security and against length. The Tar Heels don’t pose a threat either way as both Caleb Love and RJ Davis are smaller guards, and they are the third-worst team in the country in forcing turnovers. Hubert Davis has made well on his promise to bring more spacing and an NBA-style offense where the guards and stretch bigs Dawson Garcia and Brady Manek can flourish. But the defense still has a long way to go in order for them to win against the elite. Michigan has a deep playbook in the halfcourt and speed in the backcourt that can take advantage of the poor Tar Heel transition defense. They haven’t shot the ball well this year, but this could be the matchup they need to see some positive regression. I like the Wolverines on the road here.
There are a lot of similarities in these teams as both Michigan State and Louisville are legit defensively, with length on the wings and good size in the frontcourt which will give each other’s offenses a ton of issues in the halfcourt. Sparty ranks second nationally in defensive efficiency per KenPom with their endless rotation (a staple of Tom Izzo recently) anchored by a very improved Marcus Bingham protecting the paint. The Cardinals rank 18th nationally on defense behind a packed-in defense and great rebounding from a finally healthy Malik Williams. Where both teams struggle is on offense and with their turnovers. Neither team is capable of executing in the halfcourt, which will be magnified by the opponent’s stout defense.
What has stuck out to me for both Sparty and Louisville this season is because of their struggles in the halfcourt, both teams have vastly quickened their pace. Their tempo metrics may be middle of the pack due to their great defenses but both rank inside the top 35 in average possession length on offense. Michigan State has always looked to run in transition under Izzo and can easily be sped up. Chris Mack had promised in the preseason that Louisville will play much faster and that has held true. Although on paper this may look like a grind-it-out defensive struggle, I think we see a ton of transition opportunities in this one and the possessions in the 70s. Neither team force a lot of turnovers (which is where the offenses struggle) so both teams should get a lot of shots up. Sign me up for the over at a pretty low number.