North Carolina, Michigan narrow focus

Michigan and North Carolina are experienced enough to understand winter missteps are easier to forget with a little success in March.

While neither college basketball powerhouse is ready to shed serious aspirations of playing into April 2023, this season is not going according to plan for either program just yet.

But expectations could come into focus Wednesday night when the Wolverines and Tar Heels meet at Charlotte, N.C. The neutral-site game comes in the inaugural Jumpman Invitational.

The winner of the game takes home a boost in the way of a non-conference victory.

“When we get it clicking, just like last year, it’s going to be scary,” North Carolina guard Leaky Black. “When the games really matter, we’ll show up.”

North Carolina (8-4) has won three in a row since a four-game losing streak knocked it out of the national rankings.

“We’re getting better and better as a group,” Tar Heels forward Pete Nance said. “We know we have such a long way to go. As you can see in moments, we can be a really, really, really good team. It’s just putting it together all at once. Luckily, it’s only December. We definitely have a lot of confidence right now.”

Michigan (7-3) has won its past two games, defeating Minnesota and Lipscomb. The Wolverines can excel without having the same standout every game.

“We are 1 through 15 solid,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “They find ways. They are gritty. They are competitive. They care.”

The Tar Heels came from 10 down in the final seven minutes of regulation to force overtime in the eventual 89-84 victory against Ohio State on Saturday in New York. Nance hit the tying shot to force the extra session.

“Having a veteran group and an older group, we were able to execute in that moment,” Nance said.

Michigan sophomore Kobe Bufkin had a career-high 22 points in the team’s 83-75 victory against Lipscomb.

“One of the biggest improvements for Kobe has been his defense,” Howard said. “He has become a two-way player.”

This will be the Wolverines’ third game against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent, having defeated Pittsburgh and lost to Virginia. North Carolina lost to Big Ten Conference member Indiana to go with the overtime conquest of Ohio State.

North Carolina has a long history of games in Charlotte, which is about a 2 1/2-hour drive from its campus in Chapel Hill. Florida and Oklahoma meet in Wednesday night’s nightcap, the only day of competition for the men’s teams in the invitational.

–Field Level Media