[Ed.- With the bye week upon us, it’s time to turn a sliver of our attention to Michigan basketball. Please welcome Sam, who will be leading our basketball coverage this season. He’s a recent Michigan grad and former president of the Maize Rage.]
While many maize and blue fans have not a care in the world other than college football Saturdays right now, others like me would rather fast forward a couple of months to the cold nights of November to watch the Michigan basketball team take to the court at the Crisler Center and beyond. The athletic department recently released the finalized schedule, including the finishing touches to the preseason NIT Tip-Off. Here is a look at that schedule with a few quick thoughts.
|2012-13 Michigan Basketball Schedule|
|Thu, 11/1||Northern Michigan (ex.)||Ann Arbor, Mich.||7pm||BTN.com|
|Mon, 11/5||Saginaw Valley State (ex.)||Ann Arbor, Mich.||7pm||BTN.com|
|Fri, 11/9||Slippery Rock||Ann Arbor, Mich.||8:30pm||BTN.com|
|NIT Season Tip-Off|
|Mon, 11/12||IUPUI||Ann Arbor, Mich.||9pm||ESPNU|
|Tue, 11/13||Bowling Grn/Cleveland St.||Ann Arbor, Mich.||8pm||ESPN2|
|Wed, 11/21||Semifinal||New York, N.Y.||7/9pm||ESPN/U|
|Fri, 11/23||Championship||New York, N.Y.||TBD||ESPN|
|ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|Tue, 11/27||N.C. State||Ann Arbor, Mich.||7:30pm||ESPN|
|Sat, 12/1||Bradley||Peoria, Ill.||3pm||ESPNU|
|Tue, 12/4||Western Michigan||Ann Arbor, Mich.||8:30pm||BTN|
|Sat, 12/8||Arkansas||Ann Arbor, Mich.||12pm||CBS|
|Tue, 12/11||Binghamton||Ann Arbor, Mich.||7pm||BTN|
|Sat, 12/15||West Virginia||Brooklyn, N.Y.||8pm||ESPN|
|Thu, 12/20||Eastern Michigan||Ann Arbor, Mich.||8:30pm||BTN|
|Sat, 12/29||Central Michigan||Ann Arbor, Mich.||7pm||BTN|
|Thu, 1/3||Northwestern*||Evanston, Ill.||7pm||ESPN2|
|Sun, 1/6||Iowa*||Ann Arbor, Mich.||TBA||BTN|
|Wed, 1/9||Nebraska*||Ann Arbor, Mich.||7pm||BTN|
|Sun, 1/13||Ohio State*||Columbus, Ohio||TBA||CBS|
|Thu, 1/17||Minnesota*||Minneapolis, Minn.||7pm||ESPN/2|
|Thu, 1/24||Purdue*||Ann Arbor, Mich.||7pm||ESPN/2|
|Sun, 1/27||Illinois*||Champaign, Ill.||6pm||BTN|
|Wed, 1/30||Northwestern*||Ann Arbor, Mich.||6:30pm||BTN|
|Sat, 2/2||Indiana*||Bloomington, Ind.||9pm||ESPN|
|Tue, 2/5||Ohio State*||Ann Arbor, Mich.||9pm||ESPN|
|Sat, 2/9||Wisconsin*||Madison, Wis.||12pm||ESPN/2|
|Tue, 2/12||Michigan State*||East Lansing, Mich.||9pm||ESPN|
|Sun, 2/17||Penn State*||Ann Arbor, Mich.||12pm||BTN|
|Sun, 2/24||Illinois*||Ann Arbor, Mich.||1/4/6pm||TBA|
|Wed, 2/27||Penn State*||State College, Pa.||6:30pm||BTN|
|Sat, 3/2||Michigan State*#||Ann Arbor, Mich.||5:15pm||BTN|
|Wed, 3/6||Purdue*||West Lafayette, Ind.||7pm||BTN|
|Sun, 3/10||Indiana*||Ann Arbor, Mich.||1/4/6pm||TBA|
|Big Ten Tournament|
|Thu, 3/14||First Round||Chicago, Ill.||TBA||TBA|
|Fri, 3/15||Quarterfinal||Chicago, Ill.||TBA||TBA|
|Sat, 3/16||Semifinal||Chicago, Ill.||TBA||CBS|
|Sun, 3/17||Championship||Chicago, Ill.||3:30pm||CBS|
|Thu, 3/21||Second Round||TBD||TBD||TBA|
|#Wildcard game (could be Sun 3/3) – All times Eastern|
1. The non-conference portion of the schedule will neither help nor hurt Michigan’s tournament seeding
We may be getting ahead of ourselves a little bit here, and a tournament berth is never a sure thing, but it is safe to say at this point that Michigan projects to be dancing into March. As we know by now, strength of schedule is a key ingredient to seeding tournament teams and in deciding who is in and whose bubble pops. Assuming Michigan doesn’t end up as a bubble team, the Wolverines’ non-conference SOS should fall right in the middle of the pack. And that is a good thing. The Big Ten should once again be the strongest conference in the country, so there was no need for John Beilein to frontload the schedule this season.
And even though this year’s non-conference schedule may lack the ‘wow’ factor of years past when Michigan played UCLA, Duke, and UConn in their primes, there are some exciting games to look forward to. Cleveland State is always a solid mid-major who should present a decent early test as long as they beat Bowling Green. N.C. State is full of talent with C.J. Leslie and T.J. Warren and widely projects as a top-10ish team. West Virginia is a quality neutral court play in New York that will play great defense and grind the Wolverines down.
2. The three Michigan directional schools in December are an interesting but welcome addition for a year
While John Beilein has never made special mention of wanting to play any of the Michigan MAC directional schools on a yearly basis, the inclusion of Western, Central, and Eastern should provide fairly easy matchups that excite fans around the state. Central fired head coach Ernie Zeigler after six mediocre seasons and thus lost star player Trey Zeigler to Pitt (who could end up facing Michigan at Madison Square Garden in the NIT Tip-Off). Western and Eastern have been down for a while, but who wouldn’t rather play some in-state schools than the Arkansas Pine-Bluffs and Norfolk States of the college basketball world?
3. The Big Ten didn’t do Michigan any favors with their single plays in Iowa and Nebraska at home and Minnesota and Wisconsin on the road
Let’s get one thing out of the way – Nebraska will be one of the worst two teams in the Big Ten. A Big Ten road win is always huge, and Michigan will be missing out on one of the easiest road games in the league. Iowa is a popular sleeper pick, and Beilein certainly hasn’t breezed by in Iowa City lately, so that isn’t the worst draw, but I still think the Hawkeyes are more than beatable in the silent Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
On the other side, Minnesota and Wisconsin will be very difficult road games but would have been solid and winnable home games. I give Michigan about a 15 percent chance of winning both of these games. If these one-plays would have been flipped, I think Michigan would have easily won three of the four games. As it stands now, Beilein would be stoked to win 75 percent of these single plays.
And going off-topic for a second, I wish the Big Ten would do something to protect rivalries in basketball the way it does in football. I never want to see a season where Michigan doesn’t play Michigan State and Ohio State twice, but that season will come down the line with the way the scheduling is set up now. Give each team one or two protected and real rivalries and everyone should be happy regardless of how tough or easy it may make the schedule.
4. The Big Ten portion of the schedule is very balanced
Unlike last season, when Michigan had stretches of at Nebraska, vs Illinois, vs Ohio State, at Northwestern, vs Purdue, at Illinois, and at Penn State, resulting in a 6-1 finish to the regular season, and at Iowa, vs Michigan State, at Arkansas, at Purdue, at Ohio State, vs Indiana, and at Michigan State just before that, there is a little more balance this season.
For starters, there is no non-conference game against a BCS-level opponent that takes away a critical natural bye week. Secondly, there is nary a stretch of more than four easy or tough games in a row. Sure, the at Indiana, vs Ohio State, at Wisconsin, at Michigan State package to start off February looms large in the back stretch, but Ohio State at home is really not that scary this season and the stretch is book-ended by vs Purdue, at Illinois, vs Northwestern and vs Penn State, vs Illinois, at Penn State. Both sets of three are very winnable games this year.
Obviously, the going is never going to be a cakewalk in the nation’s best and toughest conference, but I really think Beilein will like the balance his team has in conference play.
5. The last two home games will decide the Big Ten Championship
On March 2nd or 3rd, the Wolverines will welcome the Spartans of East Lansing in a weekend tilt roughly a week before closing out the schedule with Tom Crean’s Hoosiers coming to town. These three teams are certainly the biggest contenders to take home the conference title, and it’s great news for Beilein & Co. that both these games come in the friendly confines of Crisler. A potential problem, however – students will be away on Spring Break, as Dylan points out over at UMHoops. These games couldn’t come at a worse or better time. Coming at the end of the season and at home is terrific, but coming without the noise that the students have provided so well over the past couple seasons could really hurt.