Michigan Men’s Basketball Big Ten Season Preview

BIG TEN Hoops Season Preview

Schedule Analysis.

Here we check out the best and worst-case scenarios for the Michigan men’s basketball team coming into the Big Ten season.  The way the schedule is set up, each team plays a home and home series against all the other teams in the conference except for four.  Michigan plays lowly Penn State and Northwestern only at home – and plays Ohio State (14-0) and Illinois (12-2) only on the road.

With losses against a respectable group of Arizona, Duke, and Iowa State (for the record Charlotte was not a respectable loss), Michigan may be the best 4-loss team in the country right now.   And the Big Ten has more teams set to make the tournament than the seven they sent last year in 2013! Evidence of the depth of the league showed when 6/7 won their first matchup.  It will be a fight to the finish in the Big Ten and the schedule can make or break your season… I’m looking at you right now, Iowa.

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[1] http://kenpom.com/ updated as of 1/1/14

This table shows the average ranking of the teams on each contender’s Big Ten schedule.  Illinois and Indiana are stretch contenders that will need a miraculous run so I didn’t include them, but they may very well be top-50 teams in contention to make the tournament at the end of the season.  The verdict is the teams Michigan misses are an unfortunate group to miss.  They would probably rather get a shot at Ohio State and Illinois at home to give those two an extra loss in the end-of-year conference standings instead of guaranteeing wins at home against Penn State and Northwestern.

Wisconsin is a classic example of how important holding home-court is to the Big Ten championship race.  Imagine a world where home-court is the most important statistic to predict if a team will win or not.  A team playing in that world would win their nine conference games at home each year, lose their nine on the road, and go home 9-9.  In Wisconsin’s case, they identify easily winnable road games to put their record at a solid 12-6 or 13-5 annually.  Recruiting world-class talent is not easy for Wisconsin basketball, so it needs another way to guarantee success over the median even if the schedule is unfavorable.  The way they did it? Home-court advantage.

Well….this seemingly modest formula for success works so well that the last time they didn’t finish in the TOP FOUR in the conference was before Bo Ryan was introduced as coach in 2001! A CRAZY record considering Michigan celebrated the Manny Harris-led team that finished 7th place in the conference – the team that broke the NCAA tournament drought.  In Ryan’s first 8 seasons, his team was a remarkable 61-5 at home!  And the team had a part of three Big Ten titles.  Winning in the Big Ten is easy now, right? Wrong.

After Indiana seemingly had the Big Ten locked down going into the final week of the season in 2013, Ohio State came into their house and unseated them just in time for the final day of the year pitting Indiana against Michigan in Bloomington, IN.  The game was a raucous affair and came down to the buzzer. Hypothetically thinking now for anyone who remembers the game.  If Michigan’s last second scoring attempts had fallen through against Indiana, Trey Burke finishes tied for first atop the conference with Indiana, Michigan State, and Ohio State all combined at 13-5.  In reality, neither Burke’s last-ditch lay-up nor Morgan’s put-back attempt fall through after hanging on the edge of the rim a few milliseconds longer than Cody Zeller would have liked.  In reality, Indiana wins and finishes in sole possession of first place at 14-4.  Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin Badgers and the Michigan Wolverines slide together into a tie for 4th place at 12-6 – extending the fourth place or better streak to an astounding 12 years.

It is so incredibly difficult to maintain focus throughout the long season that there’s bound to be letdowns.  Although the season before Michigan had a miraculous run led by fantastic, senior classmen Zack Novak and Stu Douglas, and a perfect infusion of young talent in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to tie for first in the conference the season before, the Big Ten is so tough Michigan’s best team in recent memory couldn’t win it all (let’s be honest, the team that made it to the Final Four in 2013 was way better than the one that won the Big Ten in 2012).  The good news is Michigan has improved its home Big Ten record from 4-5 and 5-4 from 2009-2011 to 8-1 in each of the past two seasons, indicating they play at a higher level of intensity consistently from January to March and are more focused throughout the season.  In fact, it’s no coincidence Michigan got to hang its first Big Ten championship banner since 1986 when it started holding its own on home-court, and was only a tip-in away from hanging its second in a row last season.

With that done… Here are the best and worst-case scenario forecasts for Michigan’s Big Ten basketball season.

BEST CASE (13-5)

@Minnesota.                         L

NORTHWESTERN.             W

@Nebraska.                         W

PENN STATE.             W

@Wisconsin.                         L

IOWA.                                     W

@Michigan State.             L

PURDUE.                         W

@Indiana.                         W

NEBRASKA.                         W

@Iowa.                         L

@Ohio State.                         L

WISCONSIN.                         W

MICHIGAN STATE.             W

@Purdue.                         W

MINNESOTA.                         W

@Illinois.                         W

INDIANA                         W

Tied for 1st! Also tied: Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State.

home record = 9-0; away record = 4-5;

WORST CASE(8-10)

@Minnesota.                         L

NORTHWESTERN.             W

@Nebraska.                         W

PENN STATE.             W

@Wisconsin.                         L

IOWA.                                     L

@Michigan State.             L

PURDUE.                         W

@Indiana.                         L

NEBRASKA.                         W

@Iowa.                         L

@Ohio State.                         L

WISCONSIN.                         L

MICHIGAN STATE.             L

@Purdue.                         W

MINNESOTA.                         W

@Illinois.                         L

INDIANA.                         W

7th place;    Behind Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa, Indiana, and Minnesota.

home record = 6-3; away record = 2-8;

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