Michigan visits South Carolina in clash of unbeatens
Perhaps no team in college basketball has made a better first impression to the season over the last couple weeks than Michigan.
Not ranked at the beginning of the season and not getting the attention of other Big Ten programs such as Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan State and Purdue, the Wolverines have started off 4-0, including an impressive performance at the 2K Classic in New York City last week.
Michigan routed Marquette (79-61) and Southern Methodist (76-54) to win that tournament title, and its reward was becoming the fifth Big Ten team in this week's Associated Press poll, cracking the rankings at No. 25.
With a little more of a target on its back, Michigan now will prepare for what could be a challenge tougher than what it faced in New York City — its first true road game against another team off to a great start when it plays at South Carolina at 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday in Columbia, S.C.
“It's always interesting,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said of his team's first road game. “In all the years we have been here, it's always been challenging.”
South Carolina is also off to a 4-0 start, although those four wins have all come at home against Louisiana Tech, Holy Cross, Monmouth (70-69 in overtime) and South Carolina State.
Earning a win against a ranked team could no doubt provide a springboard to the rest of the season for the Gamecocks.
“I'm excited for the progress our team has made after the first four games,” South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said. “I think we have gotten better every game offensively and defensively.”
Senior guard Sindari Thornwell is off to a hot start for the Gamecocks. He is averaging 20.8 points per game and has made 10 of 21 shots from 3-point range.
Sophomore guard PJ Dozier (11.5 ppg), senior guard Duane Notice (10.8 ppg) and sophomore forward Chris Silva (10.3 ppg) are also averaging in double figures for South Carolina.
“They are going to really be very aggressive defensively trying to turn us over and get steals,” Beilein said. “We are going to have to be really good with our offense and then staying in front of them on defense is going to be a challenge. They've really got some great quickness and are shooting the lights out.”
The Wolverines have also received good perimeter play, relying heavily on their captains in senior guard/forward Zak Irvin (14.5 ppg) and senior point guard Derrick Walton (14.0 ppg), who has made 14 of his 28 attempts from 3-point range.
Junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkmann (11.3 ppg) and senior forward Mark Donnal (11.0 ppg) also are off to good starts for Michigan.
“They are a typical John Beilein team,” Martin said. “They don't foul and they don't turn it over. They are so unselfish on offense and they don't take bad shots. They play through their structure and you say John Beilein, you think a 1-3-1 zone. But they are pretty darned good at man-to-man defense right now.”