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Can Michigan overtake Duke for top spot?

December 18th, 2012 by Justin Potts

Michigan’s continued dominance coupled with Indiana’s overtime loss to Butler on Saturday afternoon allowed the Wolverines to move up yet another spot in the national rankings. Michigan began the season fifth, but has steadily climbed to second while those above them have faltered. All except Duke, which remains the only team ranked ahead of them.

The last time Michigan reached second in the rankings was the second year of the Fab Five, the 1992-93 season that remains marred by scandal and erased from the record books. Most current college students have never seen Michigan ranked as high as it is now.

So how far can the Wolverines keep going? Can they supplant the Blue Devils for the top spot? How long will Michigan remain unbeaten? Let’s take a look at Michigan’s upcoming schedule as well as those of Duke and the other remaining unbeatens.

Next 10 games
#1 Duke (9-0) #2 Michigan (11-0) #3 Syracuse (9-0) #4 Arizona (8-0)
Dec. 19 vs Cornell Dec. 20 vs EMU Dec. 22 vs Temple Dec. 18 vs Oral Roberts
Dec. 20 vs Elon Dec. 29 vs CMU Dec. 29 vs Alcorn State Dec. 22 vs ETSU
Dec. 29 vs Santa Clara Jan. 3 @ NW Dec. 31 vs C. Con. State Jan. 3 vs Colorado
Jan. 2 vs Davidson Jan. 6 vs Iowa Jan. 2 vs Rutgers Jan. 5 vs Utah
Jan. 5 vs Wake Forest Jan. 9 vs Nebraska Jan. 6 @ USF Jan. 10 @ Oregon
Jan. 8 vs Clemson Jan. 13 @ #7 Ohio State Jan. 9 @ Providence Jan. 12 @ Oregon State
Jan. 12 @ #25 NC State Jan. 17 @ #13 Minnesota Jan. 12 vs Villanova Jan. 19 vs Arizona State
Jan. 17 vs Georgia Tech Jan. 24 vs Purdue Jan. 19 @ #5 Louisville Jan. 24 vs UCLA
Jan. 23 @ Miami Jan. 27 @ #10 Illinois Jan. 21 vs #11 Cincinnati Jan. 26 vs USC
Jan. 26 vs Maryland Jan. 30 vs NW Jan. 26 @ Villanova Jan. 31 @ Washington

Right off the bat, the main thing that’s apparent is that Michigan faces the toughest schedule in the next month. Eastern and Central Michigan will close out the non-conference slate and the calendar year, while Northwestern, Iowa, and Nebraska should also be victories, leaving Michigan 16-0 heading into the Jan. 13 matchup at Ohio State. That would match the longest streak since the 1985-86 team started 16-0. If the Wolverines come out of Columbus unbeaten, they then head to Minneapolis four days later for another tough matchup. Survive that and Michigan hosts Purdue and then visits currently unbeaten and 10th-ranked Illinois.

Trey Burke's 18ppg and 7-2 assist-to-turnover average have Michigan flying high (Tony Ding, AP)

Duke still hasn’t played a true road game this season, having played Kentucky, Minnesota, Louisville, and Temple on neutral sites. The Blue Devils won’t play their first road game until Jan. 12 at N.C. State and may not face a realistic threat until Feb. 13 against North Carolina. In fact, Duke, N.C. State, and North Carolina are the only ranked teams in the ACC, so the Blue Devils certainly have an easier remaining road to retaining the No.1 spot than Michigan does.

Syracuse is right on Michigan’s heels in the rankings, but hasn’t beaten a ranked team yet this season. Last night, the Orange nearly lost to Detroit. An 8-1 Temple squad could present an interesting matchup on Saturday, but after that Syracuse should cruise into a Jan. 19 matchup at fifth-ranked Louisville undefeated. If they can survive that one, they host currently unbeaten Cincinnati two days later.

Arizona got by No.5 Florida on Saturday and now doesn’t have a currently ranked team left on its schedule. The 9-1 Oregon Ducks could be the team to trip up the Wildcats on Jan. 10 in Eugene. If not, it’s hard to see Arizona losing before Michigan, given the comparative schedules.

Of course, going undefeated is nearly impossible in today’s college basketball, and losing some games and facing adversity may even be preferable before the NCAA Tournament beings. No one expects Michigan to go unbeaten, but it would be fun to see the Wolverines grab the top spot. But even if it doesn’t happen, Michigan has proven over the first few weeks of the season that they’re a force to be reckoned with and can match up with anyone.

Michigan should make it at least three more weeks at No.2, but likely won’t pass Duke unless the Blue Devils stumble big time. Once Jan. 13 hits, Michigan will face big-time opponents pretty much every other game the rest of the season. It will be tough to earn a No.1 seed in the Big Dance, but even with a few Big Ten losses, Michigan should be good enough to earn a 2-seed. But there’s still a lot of basketball left to play.