ACC–Big Ten Challenge: Three Michigan Wolverines to Watch


Nov 4, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Zak Irvin (21) receives congratulations from forward Mitch McGary (4) in the first half against Wayne State Warriors at Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

We are now just eight hours away from tip-off at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Duke Blue Devils (6-2) will be hosting the Michigan Wolverines (5-2). Both teams are in desperate search of an impressive win, and one of them is going to get one tonight. If Duke intends to be on the winning side, they have plenty of work to do, as Michigan boasts a very well-rounded, balanced team.

That said, here are my picks for the three Wolverines we should be paying the most attention to, all for three very different reasons.

Zak Irvin – Freshman – Guard – 6’6″ – 200 lbs

Ever since Nik Stauskas sprained his ankle, Michigan has depended on Irvin to fill in, boosting his minutes from the 10-15 range to 25+. Filling the shoes of your best player can be tough, but the freshman has shown all the reasons why he was a five-star guard coming out of high school.

Irvin wasn’t particularly sharp against Charlotte, hitting just three of this fourteen shots, but with a few days to practice and get more immersed into his bigger role, he exploded against Coppin State. He shot 9-13 from the field, including 6-10 from beyond the arc, and finished with 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists in an 87-45 victory.

If he carries this hot hand into Cameron Indoor Stadium, it would pose a real threat to a Duke team that has been struggling to score the ball as of late. As I pointed out in my five keys to victory for the Blue Devils, defending the perimeter will be crucial, and Irvin could be one of the biggest performers should they not.

There is no telling how his role would be affected if Stauskas plays tonight, but his performance against Coppin State should warrant him plenty of playing time.

Mitch McGary – Sophomore – Forward – 6’10” – 255 lbs

McGary has been a force on the boards, pulling in 23.0% of available defensive rebounds while he is on the floor. He also boasts a 79.2 DRtg, which is one of the better numbers you’ll find in the country. Basically, he has been a monster, and he could give guys like Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood fits in the paint.

It isn’t just the defensive end where he performs, either. While his field goal percentage is way down from a year ago, his size and strength is far greater than anything the Blue Devils will bring to the table and he very much has the potential to go off for 20+, something he did twice in last year’s NCAA Tournament (21 vs VCU, 25 vs Kansas).

If Duke is going to stop McGary on either end, it is going to take some creativity on their part. As it currently stands, he is a matchup nightmare, and I expect to curse his name plenty of times tonight.

Here is a video of McGary crushing a VCU player back twenty years:

Nik Stauskas – Sophomore – Guard – 6’6″ – 205 lbs

Nov 17, 2013; Ames, IA, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Nik Stauskas (11) dunks the basketball against the Iowa State Cyclones at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Iowa State beat Michigan 77-70. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

This is a pretty obvious player to ‘watch’ pick; Stauskas’s status for the game is still up in the air, with the most recent update we’ve received being that he is questionable.

If he does manage to play, it spells trouble for the Blue Devils. Stauskas has been off the charts this year, currently maintaining a 26.6 PER, an AST% of 17.3, an ORtg of 137.6, and a DRtg of 95.1, all of which are pretty damn good.

The new rule changes have resulted in a drastic decline in defense from Duke’s guards, and defending Stauskas would be their most difficult challenge yet.