In case you missed it, the Big Ten released its 2015-16 conference basketball schedule on Thursday.
Back when the Big Ten had, you know, ten teams, the release of the conference schedule was not a noteworthy event – each team played all others twice and the only question was when. This is no longer the case with the league in its current fourteen-team state; I suppose that’s the price of adding perennial juggernauts like Rutgers.
Obviously, an 18-game schedule with more than ten teams in the conference means that things will not shake out evenly. The collection of single plays some programs receive will be more advantageous than those given to others. Ideally, Michigan would avoid trips to raucous atmospheres and have single plays with the better teams in the conference. In a perfect world Michigan doesn’t get any brutal stretches with heavy travel, little rest, and difficult opponents either. But we can only play the hand we’re dealt and this time around Michigan got a seemingly fair draw.
John Beilein and co. will take on five different teams twice: Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Purdue, and Penn State. Minnesota, who recently extended Richard Pitino, struggled last season and Penn State is a moribund program, so we’ll happily take those two. The other three are a shakier proposition. Maryland should be excellent this coming season, with uber-prospect Diamond Stone joining Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke transfer) in College Park. Iowa under Fran McCaffery is a steadily-improving program (12-6 in conference play last season) and Matt Painter seems to have put the pieces back together since Purdue’s decline after the end of the Robbie Hummel era (12-6 last season, as well).
As for the single plays, Michigan travels to Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Wisconsin and gets Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Rutgers at Crisler Center. Bloomington has been a nightmare for Wolverine teams for as long as I can remember and East Lansing is no picnic either (though we cannot forget the "Stauskiss" from ‘14); avoiding those two venues is definitely a plus. Yet Michigan will have its work cut out for them in Columbus and Madison. I can’t really complain about the collection of single plays Michigan was given but the timing of them is a different story.
Michigan’s Big Ten title aspirations will likely be decided in February, as that’s when the team has been given quite a demanding stretch. They will play home games against Indiana, MSU and Purdue, take on the Buckeyes in Columbus followed by a trip to Maryland and finish out the month with a date with Wisconsin.
Those are six competitive teams without much of a break in between and a sizable amount of travel for good measure. Fortunately, the trade off is that Michigan gets a relatively soft start to conference play. Beilein’s teams are known for improving as the season goes on, so I’d prefer this to the alternative. Especially so considering that this may be his deepest team yet and there’s going to be a bit of an experimental period required to determine the proper minutes distribution for them.
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