All of our eyes may be focused solely on Michigan football's opener against Utah next week, but Michigan basketball needs our attention, too. On Thursday, the Big Ten released the men's basketball conference schedule for the 2015-16 season, which means we need to spend some time overreacting to Michigan's schedule:
|1||Wednesday, Dec. 30||Illinois||Away|
|2||Saturday, Jan. 2||Penn State||Home|
|3||Thursday, Jan. 7||Purdue||Away|
|4||Tuesday, Jan. 12||Maryland||Home|
|5||Sunday, Jan. 17||Iowa||Away|
|6||Wednesday, Jan. 20||Minnesota||Home|
|7||Saturday, Jan. 23||Nebraska||Away|
|8||Wednesday, Jan. 27||Rutgers||Home|
|9||Saturday, Jan. 30||Penn State||Neutral (MSG)|
|10||Tuesday, Feb. 2||Indiana||Home|
|11||Saturday, Feb. 6||Michigan State||Home|
|12||Wednesday, Feb. 10||Minnesota||Away|
|13||Saturday, Feb. 13||Purdue||Home|
|14||Tuesday, Feb. 16||Ohio State||Away|
|15||Sunday, Feb. 21||Maryland||Away|
|16||Wednesday, Feb. 24||Northwestern||Home|
|17||Sunday, Feb. 28||Wisconsin||Away|
|18||Saturday, Mar. 5||Iowa||Home|
Here are my initial takeaways:
- Michigan opens Big Ten play against the same school and on the same date it did last season: Illinois on December 30th. If you recall, that was the same day that Michigan announced the hire of Jim Harbaugh, and the electric Crisler Center crowd sparked the Wolverines to a roaring second-half comeback that resulted in a 73-65 overtime win. However, this time around, Michigan will be in Champaign, not Ann Arbor, and Harbaugh won't be in attendance.
- Michigan has a tough back-to-back sequence against Maryland and at Purdue in the opening weeks of the conference slate, but, otherwise, the first half is very manageable for the Wolverines. In Michigan's first nine Big Ten games, it faces Penn State twice (once at home and once at Madison Square Garden), Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Rutgers. That's seven games against teams that are not expected to contend for a Big Ten championship and five against teams that should be cellar-dwellers. Michigan should win no worse than six games during the first half of the Big Ten schedule, and seven wins should be the expectation.
- However, a softer first half of the Big Ten slate leads into a difficult February for the Wolverines. Michigan has a six-game stretch from February 2nd to February 21st during which it plays Indiana (home), Michigan State (home), Minnesota (away), Purdue (home), Ohio State (away), and Maryland (away). Yikes. Why does it seem like Michigan always has these tough sequences in February? Nonetheless, the outcome of this stretch will determine if Michigan fancies itself a legitimate contender for the Big Ten championship. If Michigan can go at least .500 during this stretch, Michigan could put itself in striking distance. But four wins probably is required.
- Michigan should close out the final three games with at least two wins -- home contests against Northwestern and Iowa. The Wolverines could pick up a third against a Wisconsin team trending down -- though, never doubt Bo Ryan -- but we know the Trohl, er, Kohl Center can be a house of horrors. Nik, notwithstanding.
- Michigan has a bye between the trip to Madison and the regular-season finale against Iowa. The Wolverines should be well-rested for the Big Ten Tournament and, hopefully, ensuing postseason tournament.
- Oh, single-plays against Michigan State and Ohio State suck, especially 10 days apart.