It’s officially November, which means the Michigan Wolverines’ men’s basketball team returns this month. With all the buzz around the Wolverines, especially with their talented roster and coaching staff, the Maize and Blue have all the makings of being successful this season. Before the first game, let’s take a deeper look at Michigan’s schedule and make monthly predictions of their toughest opponents and possible records.
The Wolverines are guaranteed five games this month, with a potential for six depending on their performance while competing in the Roman Main Event tournament in Las Vegas. They begin their season in Ann Arbor against Buffalo, Prairie View and Seton Hall during their first week. They then travel to Las Vegas for a mini tournament challenge with Arizona, UNLV and Wichita State. Michigan’s first round matchup is UNLV, with the potential to play the winner between Arizona-Wichita State. They return home to host Tarleton State for their final game of the month.
Michigan should be able to win all those games. None of the scheduled opponents are ranked in the preseason top 25, and the highest KenPom ranking among them is Seton Hall at 50th (potential opponent Arizona is 47th). Michigan, on the other hand, sits comfortably at No. 6 in the preseason rankings and No. 2 on KenPom. We should expect Juwan Howard to experiment with many different lineups during these games to figure out how this team gels while playing during live games.
Some growing pains are to be expected during the first month of the season, but the roster is too talented to let any of these teams trip them up this early in the season. The Wolverines should enter December undefeated.
With the turn from November to December, Michigan will see its first preseason ranked opponent. The Wolverines travel to Chapel Hill to take on UNC as a part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. This will likely be the toughest game for the Wolverines in December, as the Tar Heels are currently ranked No. 19 in the AP and No. 40 in KenPom. UNC will try to mimic Michigan’s success of former player turned head coach with former first round pick Hubert Davis taking over for Roy Williams. Despite the new coach, the Dean Smith Center is always a tough environment to play in, which should make for an excellent early-season test.
The month of December will also see the Wolverines host San Diego State, Minnesota, Southern Utah and Purdue Fort Wayne, while playing Nebraska and UCF on the road. On KenPom, San Diego State (No. 33) is the highest ranked team the Wolverines will face in December. The Aztecs have made appearances in seven of the last 10 NCAA Tournaments and have won their conference the last two seasons. They’ll play Michigan tough, which could make for a possible AP top 25 ranked game in Crisler for the Wolverines.
Both UNC and San Diego State are formidable foes, and the results of these games will serve as a good indication of where their ceiling is. Despite the difficult early season opponents, both games should fall firmly in the win column.
Michigan should enter 2022 13-0.
First up is Rutgers, as the Wolverines head to the RAC to kick off the New Year. Michigan will then enter a tough 10-day stretch of MSU, Purdue, Illinois and Maryland. Luckily, Illinois will be their only road game during this stretch. All four teams are within the top 25 teams on KenPom, while the AP has three of them ranked in the preseason. How the Wolverines fare after these four games will be an excellent indication of whether or not they can repeat as Big Ten regular season champs.
After Maryland, Michigan will round out January with road games against Indiana and MSU, while their final home game of the month will be Northwestern. The Wolverines face a tough schedule in January, with five matchups with the top teams of the Big Ten. While MSU is currently outside the AP rankings, they surely have the ability to be another ranked matchup for the Wolverines come January. Illinois will likely be the toughest game this month, given it’s an away game and the Illini have an ax to grind over Michigan being named Big Ten champs last year.
This month looks like it will be the toughest on Michigan’s schedule, with a lot of opponents that have the capability of playing a close game with the Wolverines. January will likely be where Michigan will drop their first losses of the season and it looks like they will fall just short of the record for best start.
Michigan will likely exit January with a 18-3 record with losses to MSU, Purdue and Illinois.
Michigan kicks off February with its second game against Nebraska, this one at Crisler. Other home games this month will be Ohio State, Rutgers and Illinois. They Wolverines face Purdue, Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin on the road. The competition won’t falter this month, as they play ranked Purdue in West Lafayette and host OSU and Illinois. At Purdue will be the toughest game of the month, with Purdue being sixth in the KenPom rankings. Luckily, this month doesn’t have a difficult stretch of play this time around as the toughest opponents are more spread out.
Of the eight games played in February, Michigan will have its hands full with Purdue, OSU and Illinois. All are in the preseason AP top 25 and in the top 10 on KenPom. With the exception of Purdue, Michigan should play OSU and Illinois well at home. These games will likely have the closest margins of victory, as the season gets closer to determining the Big Ten champs and tournament seeding.
This team should have no issue with Penn State, Wisconsin and Nebraska. At Iowa, however, will be more of a toss up, as they are unranked in the AP but are No. 23 in KenPom. Iowa has proven to be particularly difficult on the road, but Michigan should escape with a win.
Michigan should see some of its best wins this month and hopefully stave off the Big Ten competitors in Illinois, Purdue and OSU. February will be the final major push for postseason discussion, and the Wolverines are more than capable of staying in the Big Ten champs conversation. Based on the talent on the team and the timeframe these games are in, Michigan should head into March with a 25-4 record, losing only to Purdue.
The final two games of regular season play will see the Wolverines host the Iowa Hawkeyes and end their regular season at the Value City Arena in Columbus against the Buckeyes. At this point in the season, the seeding for the Big Ten should be pretty much set for the top teams. Between the two regular season games left, Ohio State will be a tough game for the Maize and Blue. Seeing as this final game of the season is a rivalry game, OSU will play Michigan exceptionally well, especially depending on how their previous game played out in February. For Iowa, Michigan is more than capable of winning this matchup, especially with it being the final home game of the regular season and senior night.
Michigan should end the regular season with a 26-5 record and within the AP Top 25. They will be in an excellent position for the start of the tournament season and should perform well in both the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis and the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolverines have an exceptional team this season and their record should reflect that. They’ll have tough competition all season, which will only bode well for them come tournament time. Michigan has what it takes to be one of the best teams in the country and the road to the Final Four officially starts now. The Maize and Blue host the Buffalo Bulls on Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 6:30 p.m.