After a a somewhat disappointing 2015-16 season where Michigan sneaked into the NCAA Tournament field, the Wolverines are hoping for bigger things this time around. Their entire starting lineup is in tact, and will likely include three seniors and two juniors, a rarity in modern college basketball. While the bench will be a question mark throughout, early season games allow teams to figure out the rotation for the latter portion of the season. With that, we break down who Michigan will play in the non-conference.
The Wolverines begin their year against Armstrong State, a team that has Cazzie Russell on their bench as an assistant coach. John Beilein felt this was the perfect team to play in the exhibition, and will be sure to bring fans to the Crisler Center even for a meaningless game in November. Michigan has a week off before playing their first two games of the 2K Classic against Howard and IUPUI.
Michigan should take care of both of these teams before heading to New York to play Marquette, a solid team that lost lottery pick Henry Ellenson from last year's team. A game against either Pittsburgh or SMU is Michigan's next opponent the following day, two teams Michigan and Beilein know well. Pittsburgh was a constant opponent against West Virginia in the Big East when Beilein coached there, and SMU has had Michigan's number the last two seasons, both in games that Michigan played particularly poorly. Michigan has a chance to leave New York 2-0, but they'll really have to shoot the ball extremely well at Madison Square Garden.
After a quick trip to New York, the Wolverines head to South Carolina to take on Frank Martin and the Gamecocks. This is one of Michigan's two road tests in this part of the schedule, and heading to Columbia to play South Carolina should be another great game. Michigan then returns home for four winnable games at home, but Virginia Tech under Buzz Williams could be a tougher than usual opponent. The game that really catches my eye in this part of the slate though is Texas, with Shaka Smart and his "havoc" defense taking a trip to Ann Arbor. Michigan got the best of Texas the last two meetings on neutral courts, and Michigan will have the home-court advantage in Ann Arbor.
Four days after Texas, the Wolverines have their toughest game of the slate having to go to Los Angeles to play a very talented UCLA team. The Bruins had an extremely disappointing year last season, and brought in a stellar recruiting class to Westwood who look to get UCLA back to the NCAA Tournament. The final three games should be pretty straightforward, as Central Arkansas, Maryland Eastern Shore and Furman shouldn't give Michigan too much trouble. As we've seen in the past, no game should ever be considered a win before the final whistle, but Michigan can learn from the past to not let these slip ups happen again.
Overall, I think John Beilein did a fantastic job with this non-conference schedule. Beilein had been criticized in past years for scheduling particularly week teams, but this year Michigan gets games against teams from the ACC, Big East, Big 12, SEC, PAC-12, and either another ACC or American team. These won't be the best teams from their conference, but playing a team from a power conference does wonders for teams' resumes come March. I'm especially excited for the two road tests at UCLA and South Carolina, and bringing Texas to Ann Arbor should make for a fantastic early season matchup as well. Michigan should be pretty darn good on the gridiron, but there's plenty to watch on the court in 2016 for the Wolverines as well.