Virginia basketball moves up to 3rd place and meets Michigan in the latest ACC/Big Ten Challenge

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia used its size and strength advantage in the color in batting at Maryland’s Eastern Shore Friday night. On Tuesday in Michigan, the Nikes will be on the other legs.

“They’re big,” said UVa coach Tony Bennett of the Wolverines, who have five players 6ft 8 or taller on their roster and six others at 6-7.

Bennett designed Virginia’s challenging non-conference basketball schedule to provide his experienced team with a variety of challenges, both in terms of skill and style of play. In victories over Baylor and Illinois in Las Vegas, UVa’s defense was tested with strong defensive play.

Baylor freshman guard Keyonte George had 20 points but also committed five turnovers, went 6 for 15 shooting and was fouled in the Bears’ loss to Virginia. Two days later, Virginia choked Illinois star Terrence Shannon Jr., holding him at 9 points on 4 for 10 shooting and forcing him to 6 turnovers.

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Next, however, Michigan is showcasing a combination of talent and size the Cavaliers, who have risen to No. 3 in Associated Press’s most recent Top 25 poll, have not seen this season.

UVa (5-0) plays Tuesday night in Michigan in the final year of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, his first trip to Ann Arbor and fifth-ever meeting with the Wolverines (5-1).

The Wolverines ranked third in the Big Ten last season in both field goal percentage (46.7) and rebound margin (up 5.5), with Hunter Dickinson leading. His 18.6 points per game was the fifth-best grade in the conference, and his 8.6 rebounds ranked fourth.

The 7-foot-1, 260-pound Alexandrian native, who starred in DeMatha Catholic, has made a similar start to this season. He’s averaging 18.5 points and averaging 9.5 rebounds per game for the Wolverines.

“He’s an elite talent,” said UVa center Kadin Shedrick. “I look forward to the challenge.”

The 6-1, 231-pound Shedrick and senior center Francisco Caffaro (7-1, 254) play key roles in defense, although Virginia could also sometimes challenge Michigan’s postal players with a smaller, faster lineup.

This is the first game between the teams since Virginia’s 70-52 win at Charlottesville in 2011 and the fifth-ever 2-2 draw in the series. UVa won two home games while Michigan won a neutral game in Pittsburgh in December 1951 and an NCAA tournament game in Lexington, Kentucky in 1989.

While the two programs aren’t very familiar, Bennett was part of his share of matchups with the Wolverines dating back to his days as an assistant coach in Wisconsin, also in the Big Ten.

Bennett faced Michigan six times as a Badger assist, going 4-2 in those encounters, including 1-2 at Ann Arbor.

Bennett’s NBA career also overlapped with current Michigan coach and former Wolverines star Juwan Howard. Bennett played for the Charlotte Hornets from 1992 to 1995. Howard was the 1994 Washington Bullets first-round draft pick.

Virginia is 13-8 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, including last season’s home loss to Iowa. This is the final year of the multi-conference event. Starting next season, it will be replaced by an ACC/SEC challenge, ESPN, and the conferences announced Monday.

“The future ACC/SEC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Challenges will be outstanding events for our student-athletes, member institutions and fans,” said ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips in a statement. “The SEC, led by Greg Sankey, and our partners at ESPN have been amazing and we are excited for next season’s first annual ACC/SEC Challenge. As part of this announcement, we would like to recognize the Big Ten for their partnership in the ACC/B1G Challenge, which has spanned more than 20 years.”

The Cavaliers opened the season at No. 16 but shot up after their two wins in Las Vegas to finish at No. 5. The No. 3 finish this week is the program’s highest season finish since UVa was No. 1 at No. 2 at 2019 NCAA tournament.

Houston, who visits Charlottesville for a game against Virginia on December 17, is the nation’s new No. 1 team.