A new matchup has emerged as arguably the signature game of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
While many focused all offseason on Duke playing at Michigan State, it’s Michigan at Louisville that is the highest-ranked matchup and the must-see game of the Challenge. Those teams collide on Tuesday night.
Michigan was unranked as of last week but skyrocketed to No. 4 in Monday’s poll after an incredible performance at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in The Bahamas. The Wolverines recorded lopsided wins over North Carolina and Gonzaga and are off to a 7-0 start in Juwan Howard’s first year as head coach.
Meanwhile, Louisville (7-0) will enter as the country’s new No. 1 team, moving up a spot after then-No. 1 Duke’s suffered a stunning home loss to Stephen F. Austin.
The big difference is that while Michigan will be playing its third team that was ranked in the top 10 entering the game, this will be the first ranked opponent for Louisville.
Cardinals head coach Chris Mack said he’s like everyone else: Michigan has caught his attention with its fast start.
“I haven’t seen all the teams, but they played exceedingly well down in Atlantis,” Mack said.
“They’re a very talented, well-coached and connected team. Anytime somebody that’s never been a coach at this level comes in, from our perspective, you can always see the seeds of either it’s not going the right way, or he really knows what he’s doing. The respect level (Howard’s) players have for him is extremely evident.”
One advantage for Howard is that he inherited a veteran group that already had chemistry from playing together for so long.
Senior point guard Zavier Simpson is one of the top defensive guards in the nation and is averaging 12.3 points and 9.7 assists per game. Senior 7-foot-1 center Jon Teske (13.3 points, 9.7 rebounds per game) is an all-around force who can bury outside shots and dominate in the paint, while junior Isaiah Livers is in the midst of a breakout year, shooting 51.2 percent from 3-point range and averaging a team-high 17.0 points.
The Wolverines are averaging 82.4 points.
“I’m sure we are on the map now,” Howard said after the 82-64 win over Gonzaga in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game.
“I’m not saying we weren’t before, but a lot of teams are seeing that Michigan’s name is out there. You beat teams like Creighton and Iowa State, as well as North Carolina and Gonzaga, you are no longer under the radar.”
Louisville has one of the premier frontcourts in the nation, led by 6-7 junior forward Jordan Nwora, who is averaging 21.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
Senior forward Dwayne Sutton is averaging 11.1 points and 8.4 rebounds, and senior center Steven Enoch is averaging 10.9 points and 7.9 rebounds to flank Nwora in the paint.
On the perimeter, Louisville senior guard Ryan McMahon is averaging 11.0 points per game and shooting 53.8 percent from 3-point range.
–Field Level Media