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Michigan faces a challenging, yet winnable, end-of-year schedule

The Wolverines have some big games left to finish out the season.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan is finally back on the right side of the bubble in most projection brackets, but with six games remaining on the schedule, there is still a significant amount of work to be done. The Wolverines sit at 16-9 overall and 6-6 in conference play; most assume they need at least four more wins to punch their ticket to the tournament. The end of the schedule is difficult, with four of the six on the road and the two home games against high-quality opponents, but none of the games are out of reach. Below is a quick snapshot of what lies ahead.

Wisconsin (RPI: 24, Kenpom: 15)

The Wolverines dropped a close one in Madison almost a month ago, missing out on a key upset by just four points. Despite a success behind the arc (47.6 percent), a 30-percentage-point advantage at the free throw line, and a 20-point game from Zak Irvin, Michigan could not do enough to get the win. The X-factor for the rematch may be DJ Wilson, who had one of his worst outings of the year during the first meeting, fouling out without recording a point. With the way he has been playing lately, he could be the difference.

at Minnesota (RPI: 25, Kenpom: 38)

Minnesota had just one loss in non-conference play, but has been streaky since then, most notably losing five-straight before recovering during their last three games. Their biggest strength is their rebounding, where they rank second in the Big Ten with 39.8 boards per game. Meanwhile, Michigan ranks dead last in this statistic with under 30 rebounds a night. While the Gophers shoot just 34.4 percent from three, they hold their opponents to only 32.4 percent. For Michigan to overcome such a big rebounding gap, they will need to be successful beyond the arc despite stingy perimeter defense.

at Rutgers (RPI: 152, Kenpom: 135)

To put it bluntly, Rutgers is bad. They rank last in the league in 2-point, 3-point, and free throw shooting percentage and sit at the bottom with 59.8 points per game. Defensively they are not much better, although they do rank first in preventing 3-pointers. This is a game that Michigan cannot afford to lose, and there is no reason that they should. Rutgers can be beat in a variety of ways, and sound defense plus smart shooting should be enough for the Wolverines.

Purdue (RPI: 19, Kenpom: 10)

Wisconsin may have a better record, but Purdue looks like the scariest team left on Michigan’s schedule. They can light it up from downtown, hitting 42.4 percent of their threes in conference play, and have a huge advantage on the glass. They lead the Big Ten in points per game and have an all-around strong defense, with Caleb Swanigan playing a large role. For Michigan to win they are going to need to have one of their best shooting nights of the season. Even a decent performance will not be good enough; basically everyone is going to have to be on their game.

at Northwestern (RPI: 34, Kenpom: 31)

Northwestern may be the surprise team of the conference and looks to be headed to their first NCAA tournament. The Wildcats have gotten it done on the defensive end, ranking first in allowed field goal percentage and second in allowed points per game. Their offense has been mostly average and they rank second to last in field goal percentage in conference play. Michigan coming to town will be an interesting matchup of an efficient offense against a shutdown defense and a porous defense against a mediocre offense.

at Nebraska (RPI: 86, Kenpom: 91)

Michigan wraps up the regular season with a rematch against Nebraska, a team they narrowly beat toward the beginning of conference play. The two teams had very similar stat lines across the board with one exception: the Wolverines shot 25 more free three throws than the Huskers. Wilson, Derrick Walton, and Moe Wagner combined for 10 threes and 21 made free throws during the game. As impressively as these three played, for Michigan to win in Lincoln, they will need to put on a better defensive performance.