While Big Ten play in college football is in full force, we figured it’s as good a time as any to talk about Big Ten play on the hardwood. With no clear-cut favorite behind Wisconsin and slew of good teams all vying for a top-four finish, this should make for one of the most exciting years in the Big Ten in recent memory. Michigan’s slate has some games they should definitely win, some they’ll most likely lose, and a whole bunch of toss-up games throughout the season. We help break down where they could win a few, drop a few and everything in between during Big Ten play.
To begin the conference season, Michigan travels to Iowa to play at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on New Year’s Day. It’s honestly bizarre to start Big Ten play on the most nationally hungover day of the year on a Sunday, and I expect both teams to come out sluggish. I mean, would you want to play your first game of the year in sub-zero temperatures in Iowa? Didn’t think so. The Hawkeyes lost a ton of talent, including stud forward Jarrod Uthoff, and I think Michigan has just enough firepower to overcome Iowa in this one.
It gets significantly easier from there, as Michigan has three winnable games at home against Penn State, Maryland and Nebraska, with a road test against Illinois sandwiched in between the Terrapins and Huskers. As you’ll see in a bit, Michigan’s schedule does them no favors going forward from this point, so hopefully the Wolverines are able to go 5-0 to this point. Nebraska should be pretty bad again, Penn State will be improved but still not great, and Maryland lost Jake Layman, Robert Carter, Rasheed Sulaimon and Diamond Stone. If Michigan can at least win four of the first five, it will provide serious momentum going forward.
Here’s where the schedule gets tricky. In their next eight games, Michigan gets Wisconsin twice, Michigan State twice, Indiana twice, and home games against Ohio State and Illinois. According to projections from Sporting News, Athlon, ESPN and Blue Ribbon, the Badgers, Spartans and Hoosiers should all finish in the top four, with Purdue coming in some combination of second or fourth according to these rankings.
The good and bad news: Michigan gets a home and home with all these teams, and get the Boilermakers at home later on in the year. These are games Michigan absolutely has to capitalize on, given how they were absolutely horrible in back-to-back home games against Indiana and Michigan State last season.
The Wolverines end their schedule with four of five road games against Minnesota, Rutgers, Northwestern and Nebraska, and the aforementioned Purdue game at home right in the middle. Again, it’s a weird scheduling job that Michigan has four extremely winnable games against potentially the very bottom of the Big Ten all on the road, especially given there’s a really good chance that at least three of these four teams will have nothing to play for except for pride at this point in the season. This has the potential to be an easier game if said team lets up, but also could be a point of pride to beat Michigan and try to derail their NCAA Tournament hopes.
Overall, the only way to look at this schedule is in three bite-sized chunks. Over the course of 18 games, it’s simply not fair to look at one stretch of games and come to a conclusion about this team, especially given how erratic Michigan’s play has been over the last two seasons. With that being said, the total imbalance in the schedule means this is true this season more than in recent years.
Looking at the first third, Michigan realistically should win all five of these games, especially given that both Maryland and Iowa are considerably down compared to recent years. In the second part, if Michigan can go 3-5 or 4-4, that would provide a major boost down the stretch, especially considering really difficult road tests in Madison, East Lansing and Bloomington played in less than one month. The final third will ultimately make or break Michigan’s season, with another five very winnable games, including four road tests that are must-wins so they don’t end up as killer blemishes on Michigan’s resume.
Given the overall fairness of Michigan’s schedule, it’s not unreasonable to think this team can win 12 or 13 Big Ten games not because they’re such a talented team, but simply because they can pick up wins against weaker teams that won’t be playing deep into March. Nebraska twice, Rutgers twice, Illinois twice, Northwestern, Minnesota and Penn State are games Michigan should absolutely win. That’s nine wins right there, and with a slew of good Big Ten teams coming to Crisler, this team will have ample chances for some great wins. Here’s to hoping it’s enough to impress the committee come March.