Michigan recently released its non-conference schedule for the 2014-15 season and it should be an intriguing one for the Wolverines.
Michigan's 2014-15 Non-Conference Schedule
|11/25/14||N||VCU or Villanova|
If Oregon doesn't lose three of it's more talented players to the summer sexual assault investigation, the Legend's Classic becomes arguably the most competitive early-season tournament. With Villanova returning four starters from its physical squad that was knocked out of last year's tournament by eventual champion Connecticut, the Wildcats are the early favorite to take home the crown in Brooklyn.
This year's VCU squad is widely considered to be Shaka Smart's most talented team during his tenure as the Rams' head man. The guard trio of Briante Weber, Treveon Graham and Melvin Johnson will lead Smart's havoc scheme on the hardwood this year, and carry the load offensively. If they live up to the hype, the could come out of the Barclay's Center hoisting some hardware, but they'll have to get by the Michigan Wolverines first.
The absence of Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary will plague Michigan if voids in scoring cannot be filled by Caris LeVert and second-year man Derrick Walton Jr. Look for the emergence of Zak Irvin, who is absolutely lights out from downtown, in Brooklyn. This will be LeVert's first opportunity to show he can shoulder the scoring load against quality opponents, look for him to shine in John Beilein's system.
Michigan's sub-regional shouldn't be too daunting. A Bucknell team that finished one game above .500 last year and was bounced from the Patriot League Tournament in the first round by Army shouldn't challenge the new-look Wolverines. Nearby Detroit Mercy also shouldn't challenge Michigan, though their high paced play could test Michigan defensively at times. Detroit finished 13-19 last year, and like Bucknell, lost in the first round of their conference tournament.
Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Last year it was Duke, this year it's the Tyler Ennis-less Syracuse Orangemen. If Caris LeVert and company can keep their shoes on, this one should be a shootout. In a rematch of the 2013 Final Four game, the Wolverines bring a little more offense to the table than the Orangemen do, let alone the Tyler Ennis departure. The Orange also lost Jerami Grant, but Kaleb Joseph will give the Orangemen a new 'score first' look at the point. Something Syracuse hasn't seen in a few years. Rakeem Christmas anchors the frontline for the Orange, and sharpshooter Trevor Cooney will more than likely play alongside Joseph in the backcourt.
Rest of the Slate
The marquee matchup on the entire schedule is the rematch against Arizona. This time the Wolverines don't get the comfort of the Crisler Center. Playing in the McKale Center Is never an easy task. The Arizona Wildcats are coming off of a 33-5 season but lost two of the best players in the Pac-12 in Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson. However, Sean Miller has one of the best front courts in the nation this year, with the return of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. Led by senior guard T.J. McConnell, the Wildcats will be physical, long and smart. It's not out of the realm of possibilities for this team to be better than last years.
NJIT, Eastern Michigan, SMU and Coppin State round out the slate. Eastern Michigan is coming off of it's best season in recent memory, finishing 22-15 and with a RPI of 87. Michigan leads the all-time series 24-2. The Eagles look to improve under the leadership of senior forward Karrington Ward.
NJIT is coming off of a sub-.500 season, along with Coppin State who finished the year 12-20. Both of these should be winnable games and help a young team develop together in game-time situations. Look for LeVert and Derrick Walton's guard play to overmatch the opponent in both of these contests.
To round out the schedule before Big Ten Conference Play, Larry Brown's surging SMU Mustangs come to Ann Arbor. This game got a lot less daunting with the announcement that Emmanuel Mudiay, ESPN.com's fifth ranked recruit and potential number one overall NBA Draft pick, would forgo his college career to play overseas this year. The Mustangs are coming off of a 27-10 year that was capped by an appearance in the NIT Championship game, and the squad returns all but two players from the 2013-14 roster.
In the grand scheme, this year's non-conference schedule isn't quite as daunting for the Wolverines, but there are plenty of challenges among some of the nations premiere talent. Look for John Beilein's squad to develop as the year goes on and make some more noise come March.