clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Who has the best chance of beating Michigan in January?

Since Northwestern, the Wolverines haven’t had to play their best basketball to remain unbeaten.

Grambling v Wisconsin Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

In 1976, Bobby Knight led Indiana to a 32-0 record and the national championship. No program has finished unbeaten since then.

42 years later, John Beilein has Michigan at 12-0 with one game left before non-conference play. It’s his second-best start after the 2013 NCAA Finalists jumped to a 16-0 record.

That team — one with six eventual NBA Draft picks — absorbed its first blemish with a 56-53 defeat at Ohio State, an eventual Elite 8 participant.

It begs the question: When’s the shoe going to drop this season? Which team will catch the Wolverines with the right combination of matchup, venue and timing?

Here are some candidates:

WISCONSIN (10-2), No. 12 per Ken Pomeroy

Michigan travels to the Kohl Center on Jan. 19. Before breaking through in 2014, the Wolverines hadn’t left Madison with a win since 1999.

An 83-72 triumph last year, albeit against the worst Wisconsin team in years, shows Michigan no longer fears the Badger State.

With that said, Greg Gard possesses a team well-equipped to pull the upset.

Wisconsin trots out a top-20 efficiency offense, as well as the No. 11 defense in America. Recent struggles have pushed the Michigan offense outside the top-25, as well as the nation’s top spot on defense.

Center Ethan Happ leads the nation’s No. 14 effective field goal percentage offense. Jon Teske and Michigan counter with the No. 8 field goal defense, allowing just 43 percent overall.

Michigan will look to continue its hot streak from behind the arc in Madison. Including the 2014 win, the Wolverines have connected on 31-of-67 threes in the last four trips to Kohl Center.

The Badgers are outside the top-100 in preventing three-point attempts, so expect Jordan Poole, Ignas Brazdeikis and company to test from deep.

Living and dying by the three is a dangerous strategy on the road, though. Buyer beware.

INDIANA (11-2), No. 22 per Kenpom

Another traditional house of horrors for Michigan is Assembly Hall, as it sports just a 12-60 mark all-time in Bloomington.

Much like Wisconsin, though, the Wolverines recently bucked the trend with a 75-63 road victory in 2017.

Some of the numbers look impressive. The Hoosiers boats a top-five shooting offense, fueled by the nation’s seventh-best two-point shooter in senior forward Juwan Morgan. Teske counters again, but road play in the Big Ten sometimes leads to foul trouble.

Even though Indiana is only middle-of-the-road at drawing fouls (No. 130 in free throw attempts), the threat of the whistle with Teske in a hostile environment looms large. Morgan versus Austin Davis or Brandon Johns could be disastrous.

The defense ranks No. 18 overall nationally, which has anchored five top-50 wins per Ken Pomeroy. Those results include a three-point overtime escape over Butler, a one-point decision over Louisville and a pair of two-point triumphs over Northwestern and Penn State.

At home Jan. 6, this looks like a comfortable Michigan win. On the road, enough elements could come together to preserve 1976 Indiana place in unbeaten history.

OHIO STATE (11-1), No. 23 per Kenpom

John Beilein teams only have four losses in the last two and a half seasons in Crisler Center. One of those losses came in Feb. 2017 to the Buckeyes, who return to Ann Arbor Jan. 29.

This one figures to be a defensive slugfest. Chris Holtman has built a stingy group in Columbus this season, ranking No. 10 nationally in field goal percentage allowed. They don’t take too many risks, either, only forcing turnovers 19 percent of the time (No. 172).

That just means good ol’ fashioned man-to-man defense. Ohio State’s offense, meanwhile, is No. 38 nationally and has failed to shoot over 50 percent in six straight outings.

Last year, Luke Yaklich’s defense stifled everyone but Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop in a 74-62 Michigan victory.

Without Bates-Diop, the defense workload should be a little lighter.

After Ohio State, road trips to Iowa, Maryland and Michigan State are on the docket. We’ll talk again if the Wolverines remain undefeated at that point.

For now, these three games are the most likely opportunities for the undefeated streak to end in January.