A Long December: The Next Month of Michigan Basketball

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan just lost the first of its five games in this month to Duke. What does the rest of the month have in store? Let's look ahead.

Obligatory.

So, that happened, and now Michigan is likely going to make an exit from the top-25, and barring a surprise wini against what could be the #1 team in the nation by the time the game rolls around, Michigan will probably enter January and Big Ten play with four losses and no number next to its name.

But the month of December isn't to be overlooked. Michigan will have an interesting road through the month, despite a lack of games — just four left over the next four weeks. For a young team looking to find itself (as well as get its two best players healthy) this is both a blessing and a curse. Michigan will have a lot of time to practice, but not a lot to get out on the court in real contests.

What are those contests, and what are they worth? Let's look at them at a glance.

Houston Baptist Huskies (3-5)

Saturday December 7th; Noon, Crisler Center

Kenpom Vitals:

#305 ORtg eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA
Off. 94.1 45.8 22.6 28.5 46.0
Def. 106.3 48.0 14.8 33.8 41.3

This is easily the most winnable game on Michigan's December schedule. Houston Baptist has five losses, and while one loss to Kenpom top-100 Southern Miss was by five points, the rest have been blowouts to varying degrees. Houston Baptist takes the majority of its shots from 2pt and hits them at a low rate (44.2%, 295th). The team doesn't protect the ball or force turnovers, and it loses on the glass. There is some length on the roster to make things tough on Michigan's still developing O, but for the most part this team is beatable — at least says Kenpom, who as Houston Baptist rated 305th.

Best guess: Win.

#2 Arizona Wildcats (8-0)

Saturday December 14th, Noon, Crisler Center

Kenpom Vitals:

#6 ORtg eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA
Off 113.8 57.1 18.2 41.0 50.3
Def 91.8 39.9 15.2 24.6 32.1

Arizona is Michigan's big chance to grab one more marquee non-conference win. The Wildcats currently sit at #2 overall (#6 team to Kenpom), and barring an upset, Arizona should enter the game against Michigan 10-0 and #1 overall (thanks in part to MSU's loss to UNC last night). Believe it or not, Kenpom currently has the Wolverines favored by one at home. While he hasn't watched Michigan play offense, his formulas are relevant for a reason: they are often right. Arizona is led by frosh phenom forward Aaron Gordon and guard Nick Johnson. Seven-footer Kaleb Tarczewski will be a handful for Mitch McGary inside. Arizona shoots the ball well and hits the boards. It doesn't force turnovers, so Michigan's advantage there should give it more chances to score. With this game a week and a half away, Michigan should have time to get Nik Stauskas back near 100%. It will need him, as Arizona is a dangerous team that presents a few tough matchups.

Best guess: Loss.

Stanford Cardinal (6-2)

Saturday December 21st; 8:30PM, Brooklyn, NY

Kenpom Vitals:

#50 ORtg eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA
Off. 112.3 55.3 17.3 32.1 43.2
Def. 99.9 47.9 16.1 28.1 37.4

Stanford isn't a team you build a tournament resume around, but it is looking like the Cardinal could be a positive in the non-conference win column on a tournament resume. Michigan won't have an easy time of it. Not only is this game away from Crisler on a neutral court, but Stanford has mostly taken care of its business so far this season. Stanford has a pretty good three point defense while not allowing a lot of shots from out there, and generally positive numbers everywhere except forcing turnovers (Michigan doesn't turn the ball over much, anyway). Michigan will have an opportunity to get out and run off missed shots, as Stanford is only slightly above average in OR% (154th). It will be an important win for Michigan, but one that should happen.

Best guess: Lean win.

Holy Cross Crusaders (5-3)

Saturday December 28th; 6:30PM, Crisler Center

Kenpom Vitals:

#109 ORtg eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA
Off. 104.7 49.2 19.2 29.3 50.1
Def. 99.7 49.5 20.6 26.1 38.0

Holy Cross is a team that is capable of beating Michigan on the right night, but will need things to fall into place to get there. The Crusaders don't really do any one thing great. The biggest strengths come on defense where Holy Cross has a good TO% and keeps opposing teams off the boards. Since Michigan is good at ball security, this shouldn't matter, especially if shots are falling as Michigan won't need many second chance opportunities. However, if the game gets ugly and Michigan is missing shots, Holy Cross does hit 36% of its shots from outside and that is always worrisome. The big name to know is Dave Dudzinski, a senior forward who is one of Holy Cross's most efficient offensive players as well as its most used. He is also a good rebounder and can play inside out.

Best guess: Win

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The odds are good that Michigan can snag three wins over the next month, and while that won't be enough to get Michigan to 10-wins and a top-25 ranking (barring a win against Arizona), these are three manageable teams, who of which present a solid test.

The Arizona game is hard to figure out. The Wildcats have looked really good this year, but the numbers say that Michigan can keep it close. I think Michigan looked different in that game against Duke, and that some of those deficiencies could come out against the Wildcats. If that happens, it won't be pretty.

Odds are good that Michigan makes it through December 3-1 in the month. Anything else would be just gravy.

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