Big Ten Basketball Preview: Michigan

Story posted November 6, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Jason Kohler

Coming off of a run to the NCAA Championship, the Michigan Wolverines may be poised to make another deep NCAA Tournament run.

It will not be easy though, as the preseason seventh ranked team may not even be the best team in its own conference, as the Michigan State Spartans will begin this season as the second ranked team in the AP Poll.

Key Losses

A big challenge for the Wolverines will be replacing their two leading scorers in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., as both are now representing the program at the NBA level. Burke and Hardaway Jr. also led the team in minutes per game.

Key Returners

In order to maintain the level of success that this team is now expecting and even potentially reach another title game, it is going to need production from other areas. Sophomore Mitch McGary showed his real potential in the NCAA Tournament and he will be a centerpiece to this year’s team.

On top of that, Sophomores Glenn Robinson III and Spike Albrecht will be key pieces to the success of the team. Robinson III is the only returning player on the team who even averaged over 20 minutes per game last year.

This team is a very young one as they have only one senior and one junior on the squad. Typically with a young team comes a bit of a learning curve or rough patch as they all figure things out and come together, but with such high expectations combined with the fact they play in a very tough conference, the Wolverines will not have a whole lot of leniency or time to figure things out. This team will be expected to win and win often.

All that being said, the Wolverines will be welcoming in two freshman in the ESPN top 100 who were ranked within the top 30. Small forward Zak Irvin and point guard Derrick Walton will be relied upon as important contributors on this young team, along with the third recruit in the top 100, power forward Mark Donnal.

Non-Conference Schedule

With a strength of schedule ranked 61st in the nation, Michigan should have even more reason to have high expectations. There are two games on the out of conference schedule that stand out and those are against Duke and Arizona respectively. If they can come out of those games with two victories or even one, then Michigan should be in a good position entering Big Ten play.

Aside from those two games, the Wolverines should be able to take care of the rest of their out of conference schedule with relative ease (of course nothing is guaranteed though, especially in college basketball).

Conference Schedule

As far as their schedule within the Big Ten, the Wolverines will face their true challenges here. Their biggest competition will come from in state rival Michigan State. However, Ohio State will be another team that could very likely take down the Wolverines.

Wisconsin, the third and last top 25 ranked team may also be poised to knock off Michigan. The one thing that Michigan has going for it is that five of its first six games in Big Ten play will be against very beatable teams. After that early stretch, things get a bit more difficult.

In February, Michigan will be pitted against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State, respectively, clearly the toughest three game stretch of the year. If they can win two of these three games it will be a good sign and Michigan will likely be in a great place then.

Prediction

The team finished 12-6 a year ago in the Big Ten and has the potential to improve upon that this year. The Wolverines could realistically go 14-4 in the Big Ten and if they are really clicking, then 15 wins could be achievable.

After Michigan’s season a year ago, expectations will be as high as ever for head coach John Bellein and his young squad, but expect them to live up to the expectations and be a dominant force in the Big Ten. I have Michigan finishing in the top three of the conference.

Jason Q. Kohler is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jdk5342@psu.edu.