Starting the New Year on a Run?

Submitted by Tim on December 28th, 2009 at 4:35 PM

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Apologies for the lack of posts over the weekend. My internet situation was... non-existent. There should be a good number of posts this week, and Brian returns tomorrow.

The Michigan men's hoops team has struggled to start the 2009-10 season; that's no secret. Entering conference play at 6-5 is no way to ensure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. While some analysts, including ESPN's Jay Bilas, have said that the Wolverines still have a chance at the tourney, they have a long and tough road ahead of them. The Wolverines will have to have a good season in the Big Ten in order to land a second-straight bid to the Big Dance.

A strong start to 2010 would certainly help grease the wheels for a Wolverine run to the top half of the Big Ten Conference. Fortunately, it looks like such a run may be in the cards, as Michigan gets a relatively soft slate to start the new year.

Dec. 31 @Indiana

The first year of the Tom Crean era in Bloomington was a horrorshow for the Hoosiers, as they easily finished in last place in the Big Ten. Year 2 was supposed to go much better, as Crean picked up such novelties as "scholarship players" for his squad. However, after a decent start, the Hoosiers have struggled, dropping a game to Loyola Maryland last week. Michigan needs to steal a couple road games in the Big Ten, and heading on the road to play one of the worst teams in the conference can spark a run.

January 3 Ohio State

The Buckeyes started the year as one of the favorites to take home the Big Ten crown. They've still had some success in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but going may be a bit tougher in the league - especially since they'll be without their star player, Evan Turner, for the first few games. Michigan is lucky to get the Buckeyes before Turner returns from some fractured vertebrae. Stealing one from a team that should still make the NCAA tournament would be a huge resume-booster.

January 7 @Penn State

The Nittany Lions were a bubble team last year, and although they just missed out on the NCAA tournament, they still did the conference proud by winning the NIT (We are! Number sixty-five!). This year, they're struggling without the likes of Stanley Pringle and Jamele Cornley. Talor Battle is still capable of winning games all by himself, but if the Michigan defense is as improved as it looked against Kansas, Michigan may just be able to steal a second road game to start conference play.

January 10 Northwestern

Northwestern came into the season looking to clinch their first ever(!) NCAA tournament berth. Things looked grim when their best player, Kevin Coble, was ruled out for the season, along with fellow star Jeff Ryan. The Wildcats were not deterred, however, starting their season 10-1, determined to make the tournament despite the personnel losses. Although they've run out to one of the best starts in Northwestern hoops history, they haven't done it against the toughest of schedules, and Michigan should be able to slow down the Wildcats in Crisler.

January 14 Indiana

The Wolverines face off against Indiana for the second time in 15 days as Martin Luther King weekend kicks off. The game in Bloomington should tell us a lot about how this one will go. Without looking up the evidence, MIchigan seemed to play much better against teams when facing them for the second time last season, a testament to John Beilein's coaching ability. As long as the Wolverines come to play, this game should result in a 2-0 mark against the Hoosiers on the year.

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Non-conference Interlude: January 17 Connecticut

After the chance to (hopefully) build up some confidence, Michigan hosts the always-tough UConn Huskies. The Wolverines hung with Jim Calhoun's squad last year, and Hasheem Thabeet ain't walkin' through that door this time. This will be Michigan's final chance to make a statement in the non-conference schedule, so don't expect them to sleepwalk through the first 30 minutes like they did against Boston College. UConn will be a tough test, but a winnable game.

After UConn, the slate gets considerably tougher for Michigan. back-to-back road trips to Madison and West Lafayette will force Michigan to get right back into the mindset of winning tough non-conference games. These aren't impossible games, either, but they're much tougher than the start to conference play. Building up a 5-0 cushion will not only guarantee a better conference record, but hopefully also build the confidence necessary to pull a road upset.

Comments

dahblue

December 28th, 2009 at 5:11 PM ^

Maybe it's my homerism speaking, but I think this team can get it together. If the shooting doesn't click, hopefully we pound it into Sims long enough for the shooters to regain their touch. While we're lucky that Turner will be out when we play OSU, it doesn't help a ton that this major(ish) game to go down during a student break.

jamiemac

December 28th, 2009 at 5:16 PM ^

nice breakdown

on northwestern. I dont know if you can call Jeff Ryan a star. As ofr Coble, there was a school of thought that without him, they are better defensively and rebounding the basketball. I tend to agree after watching them so far this season.

Really cant wait to see that Illinois/Northwestern game Wednesday night to open leage season. As cool as its been to see NW set themselves up to be in this spot, I still doubt them somewhat. It'll be interesting to see how this one plays out.

jamiemac

December 28th, 2009 at 5:19 PM ^

Of course, I have a comment on the IU games.

We'll see about 2-0

Lemme ask the board this: Would you change rosters with IU right now if you could.

This anwser is much closer than you think. I'll leave it at that.

A2MIKE

December 28th, 2009 at 7:47 PM ^

are watford and creek. Rivers is overrated because of his dad. Nobody else on that team worries me at all. This isn't even close. Don't get me wrong Indiana is going to be tough in 2 years, but right now they are similar to michigan 2007-2008. Young players with promise.

bronxblue

December 28th, 2009 at 5:21 PM ^

Good post.

While 5-0 would be a nice start, I think 4-1 with a respectable loss to OSU (or even NW) would be fine. This team cannot have a letdown, though, against the IUs and PSUs of the world - that margin disappeared with losses to Alabama and Boston College.

A2MIKE

December 28th, 2009 at 7:57 PM ^

Michigan was 17-2 with 3 days or more of rest and 4-12 with less than 3 days rest last year. They play O$U and NW on short rest. I wouldn't be surprised if this team starts 4-1. I think the run comes in the middle of the year, when they get in order: v. Iowa, @ NW, v. Wiscy, @ Minny, @ Iowa, v. PSU, v. Illinois. Michigan matches up well with Minnesota, Iowa and Northwestern who all lack an interior presence. Getting Wisconsin and Illinois at home should help in those games, and if they pull them out and go 6-1 or 7-0 in that stretch they will make the tourney. As long as they avoid the 7 losses in 9 game stretch they had last year, I think this team can make a run.

SysMark

December 28th, 2009 at 11:28 PM ^

I guess the thinking at this point is we have to do something like 11-7 in the Big Ten plus beat UCONN to get us in the mix for the NCAA. That would put us at 18-12 with a strong BT record and one strong non-conference win.

Does that sound right? If so I think it can be done and it is a fair target.

funkywolve

December 29th, 2009 at 1:17 AM ^

As well all know, any chance UM has getting into the tourney is based upon them doing well in conference play. Thus, what appears on paper to be a favorable line-up early on in conference play is huge. To have a decent conference record, UM is probably going to have do excel against the weaker teams, and they're going to have to take care of business at home. At least last year, this was not a very good road team. So far this year they haven't really shown much away Ann Arbor - neutral floor losses to Marquette and Alabama, away losses to Kansas and Utah. With the victory against Creighton, I think they are 1-4 away from Crisler Arena.

On top of that, UM probably can't have to many more 'bad' losses. Utah, BC and Alabama all have a real good to decent chance of being slated as a bad loss (depending on which team you're looking at) when the committee starts looking at resume's. I'm not sure UM can afford to have to many more 'bad' losses added to their resume.

4-1 probably wouldn't be bad, but who's the loss coming to? You probably don't want it to be at the hands of NU, IU or PSU cause come early March that very well could be another bad loss. OSU?? That's one of those games UM needs to take. At home against an opponent who is without their best player.

jbgreen

December 29th, 2009 at 4:45 PM ^

you guys (I am a Spartan) can definitely still make the tournament. I would be surprised if the same players who shot so well from the perimeter last year (novak, douglass, etc.) kept shooting so poorly this year. This is the x-factor. Now clearly you're in a funk, but this is college bball and things can change dramatically, especially if a team is well-coached (which you are).....it is, however, getting down to crunch time for you. This five game stretch could not come at a better time.