Virginia (5-0) will play its first true road game of the season against Michigan (5-1) on Tuesday night in Ann Arbor as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Tipoff is scheduled for 9:30 PM Eastern, televised on ESPN.
Head Coach Juwan Howard only has one returning starter from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team. He brought in a pair of graduate transfers to go along with a talented young core. Seven of their top eight players were consensus Top 100 ranked recruits, including three freshmen in the rotation.
The Wolverines enter with a 5-1 record. It’s been a bit of a disappointing start. Their lone loss came to Arizona State. There’s also been a couple of closer than expected wins, most notably an overtime victory against Ohio. Still searching for their first resume win of the season, the chance to host the 3rd ranked Cavaliers is a golden opportunity. I expect we’ll see their best on Tuesday.
Junior Hunter Dickinson (18.5 PPG) is one of the premier big men in the country. A three-year starter, he’s been consistently productive throughout his career. While not the most explosive athlete, he’s tremendously skilled. Most of his damage is done in the paint, but he will knock down an open jumper. Forward Terrence Williams (8.5 PPG) has stepped into an increased role as a junior. Known for his shooting, he’s off to a rocky start at only 30% from behind the arc.
The coach’s son, freshman guard Jett Howard (15.2 PPG), is a matchup problem at 6-8. He’s off to a great start shooting the ball, connecting on 44% of his three-point attempts on high volume. Senior point guard Jaelin Llewellyn (7.7 PPG) has struggled offensively in the early going after transferring from Princeton. Sophomore scoring guard Kobe Bufkin (9.2 PPG) rounds out in the starting lineup. He’s an aggressive player who loves to attack the basket, but only a 20% career three-point shooter.
Three reserves have received steady minutes. Freshman point guard Dug McDaniel (4.7 PPG) is lightning quick. Duke transfer Joey Baker (5.3 PPG) has added much needed shooting off the bench. And freshman Tarris Reed (2.7 PPG) is a wide body physical player on the interior.
Juwan Howard and Tony Bennett seem to share some philosophies. Michigan plays a fairly conservative style. They really value possessions, with one of the lowest turnover rates in the country.. It’s not a fast-paced team. And they don’t gamble a lot defensively. Like Virginia, they commit very few fouls and make opponents earn their points against a set defense.
This figures to be a comfortable game for both teams. The Wahoos should be able to run their offensive sets more easily in this one than against the two very aggressive teams they faced in Las Vegas. And Michigan probably won’t be bothered by Virginia’s controlled style the way other teams often are. It’ll be a possession by possession contest of halfcourt execution. .
Tale of the Arc
Michigan hasn’t shot the three-ball well so far this season. They’re at 31.8% as a team. Starting guards Jaelin Llewellyn and Kobe Bufkin are both under 20%. Lately, opponents have dared them to take those shots. That led to 30 or more attempts in each of their last two games, something they had only done once over the last two full seasons. They do have some threats, Jett Howard and Joey Baker in particular, but it’s not a strength overall.
Meanwhile, Virginia is at 44.8%. Good for sixth best in the nation. They have come back down to earth in the last two outings though, hitting only five in each game. Seniors Armaan Franklin and Ben Vander Plas were a combined 2-12 in that stretch. It’ll be important for them to regain their form from distance in Ann Arbor.
If you follow recruiting, Michigan’s roster is littered with familiar names. Juwan Howard has had good success recruiting in the DC area. Hunter Dickinson, Terrence Williams, and Dug McDaniel are all alumni of WCAC schools and the Team Takeover AAU program. UVA was involved with each of them to varying extents. And Jaelin Llewellyn starred at Virginia Episcopal in Lynchburg. UVA recruited him back in the 2018 class.
On the other side, this might be a circled game for Virginia’s Armaan Franklin. His mom is a Michigan graduate. That was his dream school. In his chat with Justin Anderson, he said he would have committed there on the spot if they had offered. This will be his first time facing the Wolverines since his freshman season at Indiana, when he played just six minutes in Ann Arbor.
(Featured Image Credit: Matt Riley/UVA Athletics)