Michigan Men’s Basketball’s 2019-20 Big Ten schedule of games was made official on Friday, meaning the full slate of games is now set in stone for the first season of the Juwan Howard era, where nobody quite knows what to expect.
The Wolverines are coming off the best extended stretch of basketball in the history of the school and now have a first-year head coach with no on-record philosophies or inkings as to how he could run his team. Whether we knew what Howard will bring or not may not matter, because this group will be tested early and often this season.
Here is how the schedule breaks down for them with takeaways on what the first season of the Howard era could bring.
The non-conference slate of games (plus B1G openers in December)
Michigan has a relatively difficult non-conference slate, even if it is not chalk full of blue blood programs. They open the season at home on Nov. 5 against Appalachian State (gulp) before having a week off and bringing in Creighton on Nov. 12. The Wolverines travel to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis and will play three games in three days starting on Nov. 27 against Iowa State. Win or lose, they will take on Alabama or North Carolina the next night. Other teams in the field include Gonzaga, Southern Miss, Seton Hall and Oregon, who coincidentally comes to Crisler on Dec. 14.
Four days removed from the tournament in the Bahamas, Michigan then has to travel to Louisville for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in an atmosphere that is always tough to play in. The following three games are the Big Ten opener on Dec. 6 against Iowa, a trip to Illinois on Dec. 11 and then the aforementioned game against Oregon.
So yeah, things could get a bit tricky early on and much like we saw from John Beilein teams in the past, you can probably expect some bumps along the way, especially with so many question marks.
Kicking off 2020 in a rough stretch
Michigan gets a bit of a reprieve to close out 2019 with home games against Presbyterian College and UMass Lowell, which should be a pair of wins that have them going into New Year’s on a high note.
Then, it might be time for some growing pains.
The Wolverines have a gauntlet of sorts to open the meat of the Big Ten schedule with a trip to East Lansing to take on Michigan State on Jan. 5 followed by a home game vs. Purdue and trips to Minnesota and Iowa, which are always extremely tough venues to play in. After what should be a testing non-conference stretch, we are going to learn a lot about this team right as the calendar flips over to a new year.
..and ending 2020 on one too
The schedule lightens up in the middle of Big Ten play, which could provide a chance for Michigan to get on a bit of a roll and start to find their groove heading into the stretch run. They have a five-game lineup of home games vs. Penn State and Illinois, a road game at Nebraska, a trip to Madison Square Garden to take on Rutgers and then a home game against Ohio State.
The Wolverines get a rematch with Michigan State at home on Feb. 8 and travel to Northwestern on Feb. 12, a venue in which one of Michigan’s biggest scares of the season came early last year. Michigan then finishes the year with a home game against Indiana, trips to Rutgers and Purdue, home game against Wisconsin, road trip to Ohio State and then close out the year with a home game at Nebraska and road tilt against Maryland.
How this affects the team outlook
This is hard to project because at least under Beilein, we sort of knew what the trajectory of his teams would be as the season went on. We do not know how Juwan Howard’s team will develop, let alone the sort of offense he will run or some of the things he will try to mold this program into.
Overall, it feels like the magic number is 20 for this team to make the tournament and there’s a chance they can get that before heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament. This is a talented group that will be led by Zavier Simpson, Isaiah Livers and Jon Teske and that alone still makes them a factor in the big picture, but their ceiling is to be determined.
This year will lay the foundation for the Howard era and it is going to be a lot different than what we are used to seeing. If they are able to show progress throughout the year and remain a factor in the conference race, it could be the start of another nice stretch for this program and pay dividends on the recruiting trail.
Gut feeling a few months out from the start? This is an 18-to-20 win basketball team heading into the BTT, where they may need a signature win or two to boost their resume in Indy.