Uneasy lies the head which wears the crown, especially when it’s about to face a team that spent last week drilling two top 10 opponents on a neutral court. When newly minted No. 1 Louisville hosts No. 4 Michigan on Tuesday night in the ACC vs. Big 10 Challenge, it might be the game of the early season. And not just because the top-ranked team in the country will play arguably the most surprising team of November. The Louisville vs Michigan odds have the Cardinals as 5-point favorites.
Louisville vs Michigan odds: Louisville -5 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
It might be the game of the early season because it could be a prelude to another matchup between these teams in March … or April.
“I’m sure we’re on the map now,” first-year Wolverines coach Juwan Howard said after Friday’s 82-64 whipping of Gonzaga for the Battle 4 Atlantis title.
It’s hard to imagine that Michigan basketball would ever get rubbed off any map, given what it accomplished the last decade under John Beilein. Their national championship of 1989 or consecutive Final Four trips in 1992-93 with Howard as one of the centerpieces notwithstanding, Beilein’s run might be the most sustained run of consistent excellence in program history.
Beilein, now coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers, went 278-150 in 13 years at Michigan. He won a pair of Big 10 Conference regular season titles, as well as the last two Big 10 tourney titles. There were also two trips to the NCAA title game in 2013 and 2018, and most importantly, zero visits from NCAA investigators.
To say that Howard is filling big shoes is an understatement along the lines of saying Zavier Simpson can lead a basketball team. Which is where Tuesday night’s game could be decided. Everyone knows Simpson’s ability to run an offense and play excellent on-ball defense.
Can Louisville’s Darius Perry rise up to the considerable challenge? How he performs against Simpson could provide a clue as to the Cardinals’ chances to get deep into March. So far, Perry is averaging nearly six assists per game, averaging 3.1 assists for every turnover.
But Perry hasn’t exactly faced a gauntlet. Louisville has mostly cruised through its seven games, only facing game pressure at the end of an 82-76 win over Akron Nov. 24 after leading by double figures for most of the second half.
Louisville vs Michigan odds: 139.5 over/under
Starting with Michigan, the Cardinals’ season gets serious. There’s a home game with much-improved Pittsburgh on Friday night, and then a visit to Madison Square Garden on December 10 to play No. 12 Texas Tech.
“My job is for me to get (our players) to understand we haven’t arrived,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “There’s no team that’s arrived. No team has arrived.”
Perhaps, but the argument can be made these teams are closer to the destination than anyone else. The Cardinals have length, are efficient on offense and make teams shoot one well-guarded shot before closing out with a rebound.
They have canned nearly 52 percent from the field, including an impressive 40.8 percent on 3-pointers, and are making almost 76 percent at the foul line. Opponents are sinking a mere 36.3 percent from the field and only 28.7 percent from 3, and are being outrebounded by 9.4 per game.
“It’s very obvious why they’ll be the No. 1 team in the country come Monday,” Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury said after eating a 71-54 loss to Louisville on Friday night in Nashville. “They’ve got multiple weapons, and they’ve got multiple big guys they can throw it to in the paint. There’s not a lot of teams that have those kind of things.”
There aren’t many teams equipped to defend those things, but Michigan might be one of them. With 7-1 center Jon Teske, who can protect the rim and grab nearly 10 boards per game, the Wolverines have limited opponents to 40.7 percent shooting and 30.4 accuracy on 3-pointers.
Gonzaga’s halfcourt offense is usually a symphony, but the instruments were out of whack with Michigan supplying the competition. The Bulldogs made only 40 percent from the field.
“Their physicality on the defensive end … we missed a lot of shots around the rim that we’ve been deliberate on so far this year,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
Howard inherited tough, smart, winning players. He brought in a good staff, with long-time St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli joining long-time NBA point guard Howard Eisley. And Howard has sped the Wolverines up offensively; they are averaging 82.4 points while shooting 52.9 percent from the field.
Four guys are averaging in double figures for Michigan, but Simpson is the man. Howard calls him “my Tom Brady,” and Simpson is throwing touchdowns all over the place. He’s averaging 9.7 assists per game to go along with 12.3 points and 59.3 percent shooting.
So far, the Wolverines are an eye-pleasing amalgam of Beilein’s strengths and Howard’s feel for the game.
“You can’t play the game if you’re being controlled the whole time,” said leading scorer Isaiah Livers, “and he’d rather go out there and get out and run.”