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A guide to the non-conference basketball season's top opponents

Michigan has a few big hitters to play in the non-con season, so let's take a quick look.

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Monday November 24th vs. Oregon (neutral court at NYC)

Last season: 24-10, lost to Wisconsin in 2nd round of NCAA Tournament
Key Losses: Mike Moser, Jason Calliste, Damyean Dotson, Johnathan Loyd
Returning Contributors: Joseph Young, Elgin Cook

Oregon took a big hit to its roster this off season due to a sexual assault investigation that led to three players being dismissed as well as the transfer of two more.  This leaves the Ducks very light on experience, although SBN's Oregon site does explain that there is still quite a bit of talent on the roster.

Kenpom has the Ducks rated 35th, and last year's team was an impressive offensive outfit that was 11th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency thanks to a fast pace (68.7 poss/game, 66th), an ability to finish shots (51.1 2pt%), and do damage from the line (43.8 FTA/FGA, 80th; 77.3 FT%, 6th).  It might be too tall an order for Oregon to match this kind of offensive efficiency after such a tumultuous offseason, but it gives insight into the type of game the Ducks want to play.

Tuesday November 25th vs. VCU or Villamova

The next stage of the Legend's classic is also the last, and will be a matchup against VCU or Villanova in the Legend's Championship Game, or the less prestigious Not The Championship Game.

VCU last played Michigan in the 2013 Final Four run.  Michigan tore apart VCU's vaunted press defense like a lion at a gazelle carcass on a hot day.  This year Kenpom has VCU rated two spots below Michigan in his overall ratings.  Michigan matches up well against VCU thanks to bringing back most of its backcourt, but the Rams return a couple seniors which include Briante Weber and Treveon Graham, both starters, and junior starter Melvin Johnson.  VCU also has four freshman back that got game experience a year ago, including JeQuan Lewis, who had a usage rate in the 20s when he was on the floor.

Villanova is a top-10 Kenpom team after going 29-5 a year ago.  JayVaughn Pinkston will once again lead the offense.  His game is about scoring inside the arc, and he his 55% of his 276 two point attempts last year while sporting a FT rate of 60.1 (compared to just 25% on 31 3PA).  He is also a solid offensive rebounder and has a solid assist rate for such a high usage player.  James Bell, Darrun Hilliard, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Kris Jenkins are all capable outside shooters that are back again.  This will likely be the team Michigan faces if it wins against Oregon.

Tuesday December 2nd vs. Syracuse

Last Season: 28-6, lost to Dayton in 2nd round of NCAA Tournament
Key Losses: CJ Fair, Tyler Ennis, Jerami Grant
Returning Players: Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney, DaJaun Coleman, Tyler Roberson

Syracuse once again moves a few players into the NBA and has another group waiting in the wings to take over.  The core of the Orange rotation a year ago has moved along, including one-and-done PG Tyler Ennis, who hands the reins of the offense off to Kaleb Joseph, a top-50 four-star recruit with a lot of upside but probably not ready to be Michael Carter-Williams or Tyler Ennis right away.

That is fine because DaJuan Coleman and Tyler Roberson return and look to play a bigger role in the front court, but both could be passed quickly by five-star recruit Chris McCullough.  Whoever emerges up front will likely be joined by sharpshooter Trevor Cooney on the wing and rebounding/defense force Rakeem Christmas in the middle.

Syracuse once again has enough length and talent to prove difficult on defense with the 2-3 zone, but this team will have some questions to answer on offense after losing Fair, Ennis, and Grant.

Saturday December 13th at Arizona

Last Season: 33-5, lost to Wisconsin in Elite Eight
Key Losses: Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson
Returning Players: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, TJ McConnell, Gabe York

The Wildcats lost a lot at the top of the rotation with Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson declaring early for the NBA Draft.  Even with those losses, Arizona looks to be well set up to stay near the top of the national rankings thanks to a slew of returning experience.  Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is back after an impressive freshman year, and he is joined by point guard TJ McConnell and center Kaleb Tarczewski.  Arizona also gets Brandon Ashley back from an injury that sidelined him for half the season.

This experienced, talented group will be joined by five star forward Stanley Johnson, and four four-star freshmen.  This looks to be Michigan's biggest non-conference test, as the game is away from Crisler and against one of the most talented squads in the nation.

Saturday December 20th vs. SMU

Last Season: 27-10, lost to Minnesota in the NIT Finals 
Key Losses: Nick Russell, Shawn Williams
Returning Players: Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy, Ben Moore, Sterling Brown

Larry Brown's latest reclamation project saw a 12-win improvement last season from his first year, and suddenly SMU looks like a tough team to match up against.  The Mustangs barely missed the NCAA Tournament a year ago and almost won the NIT.

Three starters return from last year including Markus Kennedy, the high-usage forward at the center of last year's offense.  He will be joined up front by Ben Moore, a freshman a year ago that posted some ridiculous numbers including a FTRate of 70.8 and an eFG% of 61.3.  He also flashed a lot of potential as a rebounder and assist generator, and another year in college should be positive for his physical development.  Sterling Brown and Nic Moore return on the wings where they provide solid outside shooting.  SMU does miss out on a year of 2nd overall PG Emmanuel Mudiay, who decided to play pro ball in China over playing a year for SMU.

Non-con Outlook

Michigan shouldn't deal with too many issues against the rest of its non-con schedule.  Bucknell, Detroit, and Eastern Michigan are the only Kenpom top-150-ish teams Michigan will face outside of this group of tough teams.

Michigan absolutely needs to beat Oregon.  The Ducks are one of the few teams dealing with more attrition that Michigan.  Similarly, Michigan needs to beat SMU.  Going 2-1 in the other two games against VCU/Villanova, Syracuse and Arizona would also be a plus.  That will be three games against Kenpom top-20 teams, and the common thread between all those top teams is returning experience.  Michigan doesn't have that luxury, and will be using these games as a proving ground for a big class of first year players.  Given what is on the line and the young state of Michigan's roster, anything better than 2-3 against these non-conference opponents would have to be considered a solid start to the season.