Note: My plan was to post this yesterday when it was a little more timely, but life and computer problems got in the way. Sorry for the delay.
I thought we could use a break from disappointing recruiting news and the loss to Ohio State in basketball (I guess we were right to be worried about free throw margin)*. and take a step back to look at the basketball season overall. During the football season Heiko added a feature called Opponent Watch that focused on the performance of Michigan’s opponents. I thought I would adapt that idea to the basketball season since the strength of schedule matters so much during tournament selection. UMHoops has a feature that looks at the conference teams on a weekly basis, but they don’t recap the non-conference season.
So let's look at the basketball season as a whole in terms of our opponents and their current standing with the two most relevant rankings systems - Kenpom and RPI. But if we want to look at this information, we're going to need....a chart? Yes - a chart! (rankings updated for Sunday games)
There’s a lot of interesting information there, so let’s try to break it down....
BEST WIN: Michigan State
In this case our best emotional win is also our best resume win. Michigan State is ranked in the top five by both KenPom and RPI. With another chance to beat them and three-in-a-row under our belt there’s another chance this weekend to boost our resume with a win.
GOOD WINS: Memphis, Iowa State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Purdue
Memphis wasn’t the marquee win we expected at the time when they were ranked #8, but they’ve pulled things together enough to move to top-30 in both rankings. Iowa State after their upset of Kansas this past weekend has moved to a top-50 team in both rankings, including all the way to top-35 with KenPom. Minnesota and Wisconsin have both been up and down in conference play, but both are trending upward. The Gophers have cracked the top-50 in both rankings and we are aware of KenPom’s love affair with the Badgers. Purdue is on the fringe of the top-50 and ekes their way into this category.
GOOD LOSSES: Duke, Virginia, Indiana, Ohio
There is no such thing as a “good loss”, but in the eyes of the committee some are better than others. Duke and Ohio are top-tier teams and losing to them doesn’t hurt the resume. Despite already having five losses in conference Indiana remains a darling in the eyes of the rankings thanks in no small part to their own marquee wins. The surprising entrant on this list is Virginia, who is ranked very high in KenPom and top-40 in RPI.
BAD LOSSES: Iowa
This one still stings as the Hawkeyes are out of the top-100 rankings, even though road games are tough in the Big Ten. That lackluster performance, Burke’s foul trouble, and Beilein keeping him on the bench for 13 minutes resulted in this game being the worst loss of the season by far. On the bright side, this is the only game in this category.
LOOKING AHEAD: Upcoming schedule & rooting interests
There are no nights off in the Big Ten and there are some tough games ahead. MSU and Ohio are as tough as any game on the schedule all season. There are four other games against top-50 teams also on the schedule. In theory there are three winnable games against teams with lower rankings, but all three of them (Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State) are on the road – making them a far bigger challenge than the rankings would indicate.
As far as rooting interests, the season is a lost cost for some of the non-conference teams on the schedule with lousy rankings, but there are plenty of teams we can root for the rest of the way. Duke and Ohio should take care of business and remain final four contenders. You should be rooting for Memphis, Iowa State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin whenever possible since those are Michigan’s best wins. Having Virginia continue to play well to make that loss look good to the committee would also be helpful. Perhaps more importantly would be to have UCLA and Arkansas go on a run and crack the top-75, which would be a boost to the resume.
CONCLUSION: Michigan's resume so far.
As UMHoops points out in their first bracket watch post, Michigan has a very solid resume and finds itself with solid rankings in both services. The schedule doesn't get any easier, but holding serve probably means an above average seed to the tournament.
* A couple of quick Ohio State thoughts while I have your attention. If you don't care to rehash that game, feel free to stop reading here and surf over to Touchthebanner to see if he's posted any interesting recruiting information....or another one of his famous pictures.
First the good news – looking ahead to the 2013 match-up. I concur with Brian when he says it felt like they threw a continuous stream of 6’7” athletes on the floor and due to foul trouble and Horford’s injury we were forced to play McLimans extended minutes and Colton Christian more meaningful minutes than he’s played in months as the 9thman in the rotation. But next year that won’t be the case. We replace Stu (6’2”) and Novak (6’4”) with a healthy Horford (6’10”), Stauskas (6’6”), Robinson (6’7”), McGary (6’10”), and Beilfeldt (6’8”). If Christian plays in the game next year it will be as the 12thor 13thman and we’ll be winning by 20 points…..let’s look forward to that!
Now the negative part. Unlike Brian, I felt that the way the game was officiated had a direct impact on the outcome. I had no delusions that the fouls would be even given the styles of play, the home court advantage, and Ted “TV” Valentine calling the game, but I think it was still excessively skewed toward OSU. The refs allowed them to play a very physical style of defense without calling any fouls and yet many of Michigan’s fouls had little impact on the shooters’ ability to get the ball off. Having Morgan, Novak, and Smotrycz all on the bench with foul trouble is among the biggest reasons Michigan lost (along with OR% and missed shots at the rim). I knew we were doomed during a sequence in the first half – Burke drove baseline and used his forearm to clear space and then draw contact…..he was called for an offensive foul. On the NEXT POSSESSION Jared Sullinger got the ball at the high post, put his forearm into Smotrycz’s chest, shoved him out of the way, crashed into him to draw contact, and got both the basket AND the foul. I wasn’t shocked by either call taken individually…..but the fact that they both went in OSU’s favor is an indication of how they let the game play out – and the resulting 18-4 free throw attempts coincide nicely with the margin of victory. Let's hope for some friendlier whistles in the rematch.