Update 3/20: We filled the initial pool so DraftStreet started a second pool of up to 1,000 people with $20k on the line. You can still use the links below and you'll be redirected to new pool. You will still be automatically entered in the MGoBlog tourney. If you entered the $40k one already you won't be moved or anything.
This is not a bracket game. This is better.
Money? MGofantasy partner DraftStreet is letting us enter/run a mini-game within their
$40,000 (40k one is filled; now entering the $20k one) March Madness fantasy contest. The top 250 125 finishers, i.e. those who make it to the 4th and final round (there are max 2,000 entries in a pool so one in eight entries wins) will split the $40k $20k in prize money, and those who enter through us also get a shot at designing the next MGoShirt or free MGoStore loot.
The Game Explained: For those of you who've rolled our games before you know the drill. For those who haven't, the way it works is you "draft" a team on a salary cap basis: every player has a pre-assigned value based on their production, and you get $100,000 to fit three forwards, three guards, and a pair of stretch players onto your roster. So for example if you start with Doug McDermott, Russ Smith, Jabari Parker and Casey Prather you'll have spent about $80k and will have to fill the rest of your team with scrubs to come in under the cap.
The Contest: Runs through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, i.e. Thursday 3/20 through Sunday 3/23. It's a four-day survival system: those who finish in the top half each day "survive" to the next, until final standings are determined by score on the last day.
The official name is the CBB $40,000 Blowout. Your team(s) will be competing among up to 2,000 entries. There's a $22 entry fee, OR each day before it begins, you can enter a side game for $2 or $5 and win your buy-in.
The MGoContest: Entries from MGoBlog get double-entered into our mini-pool, wherein the Top 5 finishers get to pick any shirt from the MGoStore. The champion gets to help us design the next MGoShirt (must keep to rules of propriety, licensed property, and NCAA rules, e.g. profiting from specific players). You come up with the concept and we'll turn in into a shirt, put it in the store, and send you three of them to give out to friends/family/enemies.
To be in our pool you don't have to do anything extra; just use the links from our site to get to the contest site and I'll track it.
Is there a button I should press or something?
Detail-like substances: You can't play if you're registering from from Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Vermont, or Puerto Rico, because of some anti-gambling internet laws in those places. Must be 18+. Amount of people advancing is predetermined so if <2,000 entries are in the league the top 1,000/500/250 still advance each day. DraftStreet is running the show under their rules.
YES DO MORE THINGS THAT MAKE PEOPLE STAND UP IN FRONT OF YOUUUUU
So you’ve turned your calendar to March and watched some snow melt (finally), and your mind has naturally turned to brackets and the anxiety that goes hand-in-hand with single elimination contests. If you’ve thought about single elimination games that involve ice and rubber spheres instead of hardwood and rubber spheres then we’re on the same page.
At 3pm on Thursday Michigan plays Penn State, the lowest seeded team in the Big Ten Tournament and the team that has given Michigan more problems than first-ranked (in the nation) Minnesota. If Michigan wins, there’s a 96% chance they make the NCAA Tournament. If they lose, that drops to 40-50%. Pretty straightforward and terrifying.
If this is the first hockey game you’ve watched or just the first one you’ve watched this season then this guide’s for you. Think of this as a time investment. If you read it and Michigan wins on Thursday then you’re all set for the NCAA Tournament! If you read it and they don’t win then you must be some sort of human jinx, please don’t watch the basketball team.
Who to watch on offense:
#17 JT Compher, C, FR/#18 Andrew Copp, C, SO
I couldn’t split these two up and put one in the category below because they jointly set the tempo for Michigan. Both are going to forecheck hard enough to create offense, though they can create off the cycle as well. Both of these guys have the mindset of a third-line center with the hands and hockey IQ of a first-liner.
And if those guys aren’t on the ice?
#27 Alex Guptill, LW, JR
Put the puck on his stick and he’s a potential NHLer. Take the puck away from him and, uh, results may vary. He was a healthy scratch once this year essentially because he was putting in zero effort on the defensive end, but he’s since rebounded. He’s not going to win any awards for “best defensive forward,” but he has an incredible ability to move with the puck in tight spaces and keep it away from defenders.
Who to watch on defense:
#37 Mac Bennett, D, SR
This isn’t supposed to be a slight to the other defensemen but actually yeah, it’s kind of a slight to the other defensemen; Bennett is the only one that doesn’t make me nervous when he’s on the ice. He’s a senior, but more important is that he’s made strides in terms of playing a simpler, more balanced game. He’s a calming influence on a very, very young d-corps who knows when to rush the puck and how not to turn it over in the defensive zone as much as the other defensemen.
And if he isn’t on the ice?
#22 Andrew Sinelli, D, JR
He used to be a forward but the transition may be the best thing that’s ever happened to him during his time at Michigan. Sinelli will need to continue to work on little things like gap control, but he’s got the skating ability to hang with most anyone. He’s been really impressive since switching positions mid-season.
What about that guy who lets people use composite materials to throw pieces of rubber at him?
#35 Zach Nagelvoort, G, FR
Since Compher came in with considerable hype I’d say Nagelvoort is the real surprise contributor this season. He wasn’t supposed to be playing this season, but an injury to starter Steve Racine pushed him into the lineup and he hasn’t relinquished that spot since. Nagelvoort likes to handle the puck near his net and has a very good glove hand. His positioning is very good and he stays square to shooters. Hard to ask for more than that from a freshman.
What about the team, the team, the team?
Coin flip. Averaging 3.12 goals/game is good enough for 20th in the nation, but which offense shows up is anyone’s guess. They can hang six on anyone in the nation or they can score one, and they’ve done both against great and terrible competition respectively.
Coin flip. They’re giving up 2.56 goals/game, which again places them 20th in the nation. Some nights they look unstoppable (see last Saturday’s game against Minnesota) and some nights they look beyond confused (see the entire Great Lakes Invitational).
Michigan has scored on 26 of their 129 opportunities (20.16%). This places them 17th in the nation, with the caveat being that every team ahead of them has had more power play chances. They’ve looked better in recent weeks as Luke Moffat has emerged as a legitimate special teams scoring threat. Eight of his 13 goals have come on the power play, so watch for #9 when Michigan has the man advantage.
While it’s not the worst in the nation, it’s the team’s weak spot when considering that they’re ranked somewhere around 20th in the nation in all other team scoring categories. Michigan has killed 105 of 129 penalties (81.4%), which ties them for 35th nationally with American International, which is a school that I did not know existed until I just wrote it down.
Tl;dr. What do I really need to know?
Michigan has to beat Penn State if they want to make the NCAA Tournament and start The Streak™ over. We don’t know which version of Michigan will show up; it will either be the team that can beat anyone in the nation or it will be the team that gifted Penn State two of its three B1G wins.
Initinal note: I don't know what the problem is with the line spacing below. Apologies. Also, posting this is a reverse jinx, so relax.
The dawn of time through 1984: There are no 15 seeds. The field is 53 teams in 1984. Play-in games made this number work.
1991: Richmond defeats Syracuse 73-69
The Richmond Spiders, presumably named by Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie fans, announced their existence to the basketball world in 1984, when they defeated 5th-seeded Auburn as a 12 seed. The Spiders repeated the trick in 1988 as a 13 seed, beating 4th-seeded defending champ (and future NIT non-qualifier) Indiana, whose coach no doubt berated his players for their pathetic and shameful failure, because tough love was the only kind of love a man could show at the time. In 1991, the Spiders outdid their past upsets, becoming the first 15 seed to win an NCAA tournament game by overcoming Big East Champ Syracuse and Big East Player of the Year Billy Owens. The world was stunned. Queen Elizabeth reportedly remarked, “Great, my fucking bracket is busted.”
Richmond started the game hot, making 16 of its first 26 shots from the field, and they outshot Syracuse 49% to 45.5% for the game. The Spiders also made 18 of 22 free throws, besting the Orangepersons’ (as they were still called) 14 of 19. Richmond more-or-less held even on the boards, losing the rebounding battle by only five. I cannot find the turnover numbers for the game, but the Baltimore Sun reported that the Spiders looked “well coached” while Syracuse was “undisciplined.”
Richmond’s coach, Dick Tarrant, reported after the game that he compensated for the talent discrepancy between the two teams by frequently switching defenses, which he believed caused Syracuse to be off balance. Tarrant was informed by Verne Lundquist that 25 million people were watching the game by the end, which caused Tarrant to think, “My God, if my guys knew that, they might have run off to the john with diarrhea.” (This quote is real.)
1993: Santa Clara defeats Arizona 64-61
Pac-12 champion Arizona began the 1993 tournament ranked No. 5 in the country. They were the 2nd seed in the West Regional behind Michigan. They would none-the-less lose to West Coast Conference Champion Santa Clara and a young Canadian guard named Steve Nash (who had ten points and four assists).
Santa Clara out-rebounded Arizona 50 to 36 and outshot them 37.7% to 31% from the field. Despite this, the Wildcats led 46-33 with 15:26 remaining in the game. At that moment, Arizona’s best player, Chris Mills, was whistled for his fourth foul. He sat for the next ten minutes. Santa Clara took advantage and managed to win despite missing several free throws that could have clinched the game (some of them missed by Nash).
Santa Clara gained the crowd as the game wore on. They were adopted by neutral fans and even Vanderbilt’s band. Said their coach: "Both teams had about 400 fans. The other 11, 000 became Santa Clara fans…It really began to build as our guys hung in there."
Wildcat coach Lute Olson said after the game, “My hair has gone white. I must answer to the name Lute. Yet still the gods torment me.” He would have to wait to 1997 to win a championship and proudly rename himself “Rodney.”
1997: Coppin State defeats South Carolina 78-65
I can find relatively little about this game, probably because the 2 seed in question was South Carolina. The Gamecocks were the regular season SEC champs and 30 point favorites. They’d defeated reigning national champ Kentucky twice. Coppin State, in turn, was the first MEAC member to make the Big Whatever (as it was dubbed in the ‘90s by Ethan Hawke). Coach Fang Mitchell none-the-less told his team that they could win. And they did win. And that’s so special! If you care about that sort of thing. I mean…it’s not important…do you have a cigarette?
CSU out-rebounded South Carolina by eleven (or ten depending on the source). They shot similar percentages from the field and from three, but CSU shot 34 free throws (making 26) to South Carolina’s 16 (of which they made 13). I can’t find the turnover numbers, so I’m chalking the victory up to the free throw difference. I hope you’re happy.
1998: Richmond defeats South Carolina 62-61
Okay, Richmond was a 14 seed that year. But its coach was John Beilein, so I snuck this in.
2001: Hampton defeats Iowa State 58-57
I didn’t find much on this game either. ISU won the Big 12 in 2001 and featured Big 12 Player of the Year Jamaal “guy who played for the Pacers” Tinsley. Hampton, meanwhile, represented a single island in an archipelago frequented during the summer by New Yorkers who own silk handkerchiefs.
It is tough to make much of the stats in this game, but the Cyclones seem to have lost the game at the line. The teams were close to even in turnovers. ISU shot 40% from the field to Hampton’s 39%. ISU won the rebounding contest by nine. But the Cyclones shot only 6-16 from the line, while Hampton was 13-22.
The fans in Boise, the site of the game, apparently cheered on Hampton throughout the contest. One of Hampton’s players (Marseilles Brown) knew this might happen, because he’d played for Richmond when it beat South Carolina in 1998. He spent the rest of his life transferring from school to school, trying to be part of bigger and bigger upsets, but nothing would ever compete with that day in 2001 when Gatsby himself met him after the game against Iowa State, gave him a manly handshake, and said – with a twinkle in his eye – “Fine match, old sport!”
2012: Norfolk State defeats Missouri 86-84
Missouri was the Big 12 Tournament champ and the 3rd-ranked team in the country at one point during the season. Norfolk State, a school of 5,000, was the champ of MEAC Tournament. Missouri featured a four-guard offense, and Norfolk State was the (presumably) rare 15 seed that was bigger than its 2nd-seeded opponent.
6’10” Norfolk State senior Kyle O’Quinn scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, leading the way to a 35-23 advantage on the boards. The teams were otherwise very similar: field goals made and attempted, turnovers, and free throws made and attempted were close for both sides. NSU did manage to outshoot Missouri 52.6% to 44.8% from three.
The game took place in Detroit, where Kansas was also set to play. The KU fans present supported NSU both before and during the game, giving them a larger than usual fanbase.
2012: Lehigh defeats Duke 75-70
Duke was neither the ACC regular season nor tournament champion. But they were still a 2 seed, because they are Duke. Lehigh is called the Mountain Hawks, which is pretty cool.
Lehigh won the game at the line, making 25-37 free throws to Duke’s 16-23. The teams shot fairly evenly from the field, though Duke was only 6-26 from three, and the teams also rebounded at a fairly even clip. Lehigh won the turnover battle 8 to 12.
Lehigh was led by two-time Patriot League Player of the Year C.J. McCollum, who had 30 points and 6 assists while reportedly making it into the lane at will. Mason Plumlee (not to be confused with Miles, Mastodon, Mouse, or Manchester Plumlee) and Austin Rivers led Duke with 19 points apiece.
The game was played only 55 miles from Duke’s campus, but it was also the site of the first round game for UNC. Tar Heel fans gladly joined in rooting for the Mountain Hawks.
Coach K said after the game that McCollum was the best player on the court. He also added that it was “a real treat for Lehigh to play against our kids because our kids are so classy and they work so hard and they believe in each other and kids at Duke learn to be men and not just basketball players and I’m so proud of our kids.”
It is considered acceptable to still laugh about this game.
2013: Florida Gulf Coast defeats Georgetown 78-68
They called them the Dynamite Kids. They called them the Florida State Seminoles. They called them delegates to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. But they were all wrong.
They were Dunk City, the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, a team of junior Kenny Powerses. Georgetown was merely the co-champion of the Big East during the regular season.
The Eagles outshot the Hoyas 42.9% to 37.5% from the field and 40% to 25.9% from three. They largely held even in turnovers and rebounds. But mostly they played with the sort of yet-unearned confidence found in popular middle schoolers, rappers who start feuds with more established rappers, and dickheads generally. Their brashness, recklessness, and bravado carried them to the Sweet Sixteen, where they lost to Florida because they weren’t that good. I would have hated them if they’d played Michigan.
Don’t play in an arena where your rivals fans happen to be. Don’t be smaller than your opponent. Don’t go extraordinarily cold from the line or the field. Don’t have your star player get into foul trouble. Don’t let your opponent shoot a third more free throws than you. Don’t let your opponent’s star player have the game of his life. And remember to let it all hang loose, like the Dynamite Kids did.
My excuse to post the Trey Burke GIF
Last season, as the Michigan basketball team entered the NCAA Tourney as a four seed, we took a look at historically how the fours have fared in tournaments past. The analysis produced this incredibly scientific chart (since adjusted to include 2013 tourney results).
|1 Seed||2 Seed||3 Seed||4 Seed||Other|
|Final Four Appearances||47||25||14||13||17|
* - this 14% represents all Seeds higher than 4 that have made it to the Final Four, so while this number appears high, it's coming out of a much larger pool of participants. When you factor in the total pool, only about 1% of Seeds higher than 5 make it to the final weekend, with only about 0.1% of those teams winning it all (1985 Villanova, 1988 Kansas)
Yes, the answer was discouraging and as it turned out, almost irrelevant as Michigan proceeded to go on an epic run that saw them become just the 3rd four seed ever to make it to the Finals and then came damn close to winning the whole shebang. Through that assessment though, we came across a strange statistical anomaly that this season proves presciently relevant.
|Final Four Appearances||25|
What’s up with that? While 2 seeds make the Final Four at about half the rate of the one seeds, they win titles at less than a quarter of the rate as the ones. If you like nice, statistical symmetry, you’re probably experiencing one of those involuntary facial tics right about now. Why have 2 seeds historically fallen flat in the Final Four? Let’s have a look.
Diving deeper into the numbers the winning percentage for the Top 4 Seeds in the past 29 tournaments since 1985 for the Semi-Finals and Finals break down like this.
So in the Semi-Finals, the 2 Seeds don’t do too poorly; batting around .500. Plus, of the thirteen 2 Seeds that didn’t advance to the Finals, 10 of them lost to a 3 seed or higher, so it’s not like there are upsets galore grinding them up. Still, when we look at their winning percentage in the Finals? Woof. 2 Seeds have not fared well in the title game of years past. The big reason for this seems obvious, 6 of those 8 losses came against a 1 Seed. The other two losses were delivered by a 3 Seed, which judging by the numbers we’re showing, the discrimination between 2 and 3 seems to be much finer than 1 and 2.
As for those lucky four winners, 3 of those wins all were earned by defeating a 3 Seed. Only one 2 Seed since 1985 has taken home the Championship by defeating a 1 Seed (1986 Louisville over Duke)
So the math here draws some pretty reasonable conclusions. First, the Final Four is averaging just under a 2 Seed per season, so that’s nice. Year-to-year, you can expect at least one 2 Seed to advance to the final weekend. Second, if you are a 2 Seed, hope that the tournament gods deliver you from the evil of the 1 Seed, because you just don’t beat them much. The good news for Michigan this year is that there seems to more parity amongst the Top 16, which means 1 Seeds could be ripe for falling. Of course, that parity affects the entire Top 16 equally, and Michigan’s path seems particularly difficult with Duke sitting out there at the 3 Seed.
Still, compared to last season, the data delivers better news. It’s much better to be a 2 Seed than a 4 Seed (LOLSparty), so here’s to hoping we get to enjoy another deep and entertaining tourney run.
BIG TEN TOURANMENT STUFF: THOSE THREE GAMES
You can’t really get a whole lot out of three games in the conference tournament that you probably didn’t figure out during the course of the regular season, but for those interested, I thought at least a brief mention of the statistics from those games might be in order. I don’t think I will get terribly comprehensive because, well, Big Ten Tournament basically, but my hope is that you at least know some of the numbers from the tournament.
The four factors in those three games (I know, averages…..sample size…three games….season…grumble grumble):
Average eFG% - being a pretty good 3-point team saves you on this statistic typically, but we only bested our opponents by a slim margin. Michigan averaged 52.77% and those we played averaged 52.11%
OREB% - we’ve talked about this one a lot this year, and it didn’t improve much in the conference tournament. We don’t get a lot of offensive rebounds, it seems. Our offensive rebound percentage, as is typical for this team, lagged behind at 24.78%, compared to 35.62% for our opponents
Free Throw Rate – playing a typically clean game helps us keep this low whereas we enjoy more opportunities at the line on average, and that was the case in the Big Ten Tournament. Our free throw rate was 33.99%, whereas our opponents managed 24.57%
Turnover Rate – this battle was more or less a draw in those three games with the slight nod going to the teams we played actually. Our TOV% was 14.55% and our opponents averaged 14.22%. That’s despite having fewer total turnovers, but also one or two fewer possessions in a couple games.
We also averaged 1.13 for an assist / turnover ratio, which again – sample size – but it is significantly below the conference season average of 1.68, and indeed, our average points per possession, which typically sits around 1.20 or so, was 1.10 in the tournament.
In graphic form (we are the blue line, of course):
Romero continues to lead the way with her bat.
So I have grad school stuff to work on, but I don’t want to do that. Consequently, you all get more softball coverage! Hopefully that’s what you wanted…
In any case, with the postponement of today’s game against BGSU, the scheduled home opener, the bulk of the softball team’s non-conference schedule has come to an end. They still have a mid-week match-up against Western Michigan on April 8th as well as the make-up game for today, whenever that might be [update: this will be next Tuesday, March 25], but all the most serious opponents are behind us, and we can take a look at where things stand heading into Big Ten play. (All this comes with the caveat that I have yet to watch the team play, so I’m working off of stats & recaps. I’d love to hear some more comments from those who have gotten the chance to take in a game or two!)
Record, Postseason Outlook
As usual, the team put itself through the wringer, playing in six different tournaments/invitationals/etc., traveling to Florida, California, Louisiana, and Kentucky to take on many of the nation’s best teams. Michigan’s 19-6 record could have been a little better, but not much. The only bad loss was against an unranked and mediocre Houston outfit, and that came in the middle of the Judi Garman Classic where Michigan was facing a murderer’s row of top-ten teams. A little loss of focus is perhaps understandable. All the other losses came against ranked teams, and except for one loss to Louisiana-Lafayette at ULL’s home ballpark, they were all against top-ten teams. Two of those losses came in extra innings, including a heartbreaker in the season opener, when Michigan lost a 4-run lead in the 7th against Florida. When you play teams of this caliber, you’re going to take some losses, but it’s worth it for the wins you do manage and for the experience the players gain.
With the bad out of the way, let’s take a look at the positives from the non-conference slate. The Wolverines have accumulated five wins against ranked teams, including three against top-ten teams (Kentucky, UCLA, and Arizona). The UCLA win is definitely the crown jewel in Michigan’s resume right now, as the Bruins have torched their non-conference slate to the tune of a 26-1 record. After pushing the Bruins to extras before falling 4-1 on March 4th, the Wolverines came back the next day and torched UCLA to the tune of a 9-4 pounding which remains their only loss. Heading into Big Ten play, Michigan finds itself ranked #6 in the nation in the most recent poll. As long as the Maize & Blue stay in the top 16, we’ll have a regional in Ann Arbor, and if we stay in the top 8, we could end up hosting a super-regional as well, should we be fortunate enough to get that far. This is where Michigan wants to be at this point in the season.
From the start of last season, conversations about individual player performances on Michigan’s softball team have begun with one player: Sierra Romero. She has not disappointed this season, leading the team with an absolutely absurd .493 batting average, good for ninth in the nation, with only a couple other major-conference players ahead of her. She has done this despite being walked more than a quarter of the time (24 walks to 67 at-bats), showing great plate discipline, only striking out 9 times thus far. While her six home-runs are a little off last year’s record-setting pace, this is to be expected, as terrified pitchers do everything they can to stay out of her way. At the end of the day, Romero is following up her Big Ten Player of the Year campaign in grand style (she has also improved defensively, with a .015 improvement in fielding percentage over last season).
While the conversation starts with Romero, it certainly does not end there. Eight different Wolverine batters are hitting over .320 (two of those have under 30 at-bats, the other six all have more than 60). Colie Sappingfield has been doing great work in her usual lead-off spot [edit: batting second], betting on-base over 40% of the time and batting just shy of .400. She even managed a home run, which for a pure slap-hitter must have come as quite the surprise! The highest-impact freshman on offense has been Abby Ramirez, hitting .324 in 67 at bats. She could use a little more plate discipline, having struck out 9 times to only 6 walks, but that’s the sort of thing this coaching staff can easily handle. That kind of hitting right out of the gate as a freshman shows a lot of promise. Overall, Michigan boasts the #18 team batting average (.329) in the nation and the #46 scoring offense (5.56 runs per game). Both of these numbers may very well go up as the Wolverines head into a weak Big Ten slate (more on that in a moment).
Unfortunately, Lauren Sweet hasn’t quite been able to match her play from late in the season last year, batting only .224. However, last year she did much worse in the non-conference schedule, and then turned it on once Big Ten play hits. If she makes a similar leap in conference play this year, she could quickly find herself as one of the top offensive threats in the conference. The bigger disappointment has been the pitching of last year’s ace, Sara Driesenga, which has really tailed off from last season. Her ERA currently stands at .319 [edit: 3.19] and she has yet to find her first win on the season. I haven’t heard any injury news (others may know something I don’t), so I’m not sure how to explain it. She has been playing better of late, however, and has found some success in a relief role, notching 3 saves on the season. Hopefully she too will make some improvements in Big Ten play.
Driesenga’s struggles have been offset by the rest of the pitching staff, however. Freshman Megan Betsa has faced a true baptism by fire, having pitched against many of the nation’s elite teams. While she has struggled at times, she has managed a respectable 2.27 ERA with 63 Ks to 23 BBs. The 63 Ks are especially impressive, and she leads the team in that category, despite having pitched more than 25 innings fewer than Wagner. She will certainly be an important piece going forward.
The biggest factor defensively, however, has been the resurgence of southpaw Haylie Wagner. After struggling through injuries last season as losing her role as the ace of the staff, she has reclaimed that spot with a vengeance. There are currently only 20 D-I pitchers with ERAs under 1.00, and Wagner clocks in at #17 in this crowd, currently holding opponents to a stingy .93, more than 1.5 better than she managed last season. She currently boasts a 13-0 record with 8 complete games, and leads the team in almost every pitching category. If she keeps up anything like this level of play, she stands a great chance of reclaiming her Big Ten Pitcher of the Year crown.
Big Ten Outlook
As usual, the Wolverines come into the Big Ten as the favorites to win the conference. Competition may be stiffer this year than usual, however, with Nebraska and Minnesota both joining the Maize & Blue in the top-25. The Huskers & Gophers haven’t taken on as challenging of non-conference slates as Michigan has, but both have notched Ws against at least one ranked team and stand to give Michigan a run for their money in the Big Ten.
Despite these challengers, I expect Michigan to take the crown, if for no other reason than that the schedule sets up much more easily for Michigan than their challengers. A mid-April home series against the Golden Gophers is Michigan’s only test against the top third of the conference, and a road series against Illinois represents the only time Michigan will travel to face a team with a winning record in the non-conference schedule. The Fighting Illini have managed a 14-7 record, but have yet to beat a ranked team. Other than 12-10 Wisconsin, whom the Wolverines get at home to close out the season, the rest of Michigan’s schedule is comprised of teams with losing records, some of them truly dismal.
Without a doubt, the Minnesota series is the key point in the conference slate. If the Wolverines can take care of business against the teams they should beat and take at least 2 out of 3 from the Gophers, the road to a seventh straight Big Ten Championship should be fairly clear. I can’t predict a perfect conference record, because that has never been done in Michigan history, but I have a tough time picking out more than 2 or 3 potential losses.
If that can be managed, the Wolverines will be well-positioned to head into post-season play with plenty of momentum and experience. Weather-permitting, Big Ten play begins at the Wilpon Complex this Friday at 4 PM, as 8-17 Indiana comes to town. I wish I could be there; for those of you in Southeast Michigan, get out and support the team!