Now that we have reached the halfway point of the Big Ten season (9 games done, 9 to go) I wanted to briefly reflect on what’s happened and then spend some time analyzing the remaining Big Ten schedule.
We have gone 7-2 over our first nine games, with home wins over Penn State, Maryland, Minnesota and Rutgers, road wins at Illinois and Nebraska, and a neutral site win over Penn State. We have two road losses at Purdue and Iowa.
Our remaining home games are Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Northwestern and Iowa. Our remaining road games are Minnesota, Ohio State, Maryland, and Wisconsin.
For the purposes of analysis, I split the Big Ten into three tiers (I didn’t place Michigan into one of these):
· Michigan State
Middle of the Road (not threats to win the conference, but have a reasonable chance to knock off some of the top tier teams on a random day or two, especially on their home courts. Unlike the true bottom dwellers, they have at least a few games where they have looked decent, despite some others where they looked bad):
· Ohio State
True Bottom Dwellers (teams that Michigan/any other top half team should beat with ease, home or away):
· Penn State
Our entire schedule has 8 games against the Top Tier, 5 games against the Middle Tier and 5 games against the Bottom Dwellers. At the halfway point we are 4-0 against the Bottom Dwellers, 2-0 against the Middle Tier, and 1-2 against the Top Tier. We are also 4-0 at home and 3-2 at away/neutral site games).
Overall, our schedule has a bimodal l distribution, if you will; the teams that we play twice are either in the Top Tier (Iowa, Purdue, Maryland) or the Bottom Dwellers (Penn State, Minnesota), so I think our schedule is on the hard side of average due to us having more Top Tier games than basically any other team, but not overwhelmingly so because we also get a few more bottom dweller games than most teams. (On the other hand, you have Michigan State on the absolutely easiest side of the schedule distribution; they also play two Bottom Dwellers twice but only play Indiana, Purdue, Michigan and Maryland once. MSU gets to play a lot of the middle tier schools twice and only one of the Top Tier teams.)
At this point, I consider Michigan having about an 80-85% chance of making the tournament. We have a few good wins (Maryland, Texas, at NC State) and our losses are all to top 30 ish teams. I don’t think we’re locks yet though. If we go 5-4 in our remaining BIG games or better, I’d think we’re in. 4-5 looks iffy/would probably depend on BIG Tourney performance and anything 3-6 or worse would likely disqualify us. While I don’t think this is likely, our February schedule is very difficult so it remains an unlikely possibility that Michigan could collapse.
· We have more home games remaining than road games (5 home, 4 away).
· We only have one ROAD game remaining against a team that would be favored against us on a neutral court (@Maryland). Playing in Madison and Columbus certainly are not easy tasks, but this year we are a better team than either the Badgers or Buckeyes, so it will not present the same challenge as past years (even though those are still losable games, especially Wisconsin, imo). This is one marked improvement over the first half of the schedule, where we had two road games against teams that would be favored against us on a neutral court and we lost both of them.
· Nearly all of our remaining games against the Top Tier teams are at Crisler Center (4 out of 5; basically a combination of the first two points).
THE BAD (not actually bad, just challenging)
· We must still play ALL FIVE Top Tier teams. Therefore, games against the upper echelon of the Big Ten constitute a majority of our remaining schedule. Overall, 8 of our 18 games are against the top tier, but only 3 were in the first half of the season and 5 are in the upcoming half.
· We only have one game remaining against the Bottom Dwellers, and it’s a road game so marginally harder (@Minnesota). This means that in between Top Tier teams we won’t be able to have “off games” as Middle Tier opponents are more than capable of taking down Michigan if we have a bad night (unlike how we were able to survive Minnesota and Rutgers when we shot horridly).
My personal take on the schedule:
I do not think there is a single more important week on the schedule than the one immediately upcoming and I don’t think this is due to some sort of myopic bias.
We have two home games against ranked teams in Indiana and Michigan State. Not only that, but of our 5 games against Top Tier BIG teams, I think these are the ones we have the best shot at. While you could argue MSU and/or IU is better than Purdue, Purdue is the worst matchup for Michigan style wise, a road game at Maryland is harder than either IU or MSU at home, and Iowa is the best team in the Big Ten.
Go 2-0 this week and we are in second place in the Big Ten and firmly in the title race. Go 1-1 and we hold serve and probably guarantee a tournament bid. Go 0-2 and we could start a complete collapse. There are only 2 games left that I feel very confident about (Minnesota and Northwestern) and if negative momentum starts to build who knows what could happen in the tossup games (at the moment I consider 7 of our remaining 9 games as relative tossups, with OSU being the most likely to win and Maryland the most likely to lose. I still deem Maryland as a relative tossup because, hey, we already beat them and I still deem Iowa as one because, hey, in Ann Arbor anything can happen and we fought them pretty hard the last time).
Anyone else have any schedule thoughts? Do you think we have a hard or easy schedule? Which games are you most concerned about? How do you feel about our tournament chances? Do we have a shot at the BIG Title?