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Previewing Michigan basketball’s nonconference schedule

The season unofficially begins on Friday with an exhibition game against Wayne State.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 nonconference basketball schedule for the Michigan Wolverines is very manageable, especially after Kentucky pulled out of a December 4 matchup due to “scheduling uncertainties” (people don’t forget). With the Wildcats’ tails tucked firmly between their legs, let’s look at the rest of the schedule.

North Carolina and San Diego State are the two that jump off the schedule first; UNC is preseason No. 19 and SDSU is receiving votes. Arizona is also receiving votes, but it is yet to be seen if the Wolverines will face them or Wichita State in the second round of the Roman Main Event Tournament.

The Michigan and UNC rivalry will forever be linked to Chris Webber’s attempted timeout call in the 1993 NCAA Tournament title game. 2021 represents a tie-breaking game with the overall series deadlocked 4-4. New Tar Heels head coach Hubert Davis will look to avenge the 73-64 Michigan victory from 2019, which was Juwan Howard’s first significant win as a head coach.

Defending Mountain West champions (regular season and conference) San Diego State rose to the occasion and replaced the Kentucky Wildcats on December 4. The Aztecs are veteran-laden and poised to make another NCAA Tournament with guard Trey Pulliam and Cal transfer Matt Bradley leading the way.

SDSU is a great defensive team, but undersized in the post. Despite only having one player 6’10 or taller, expect them to be a tougher test than North Carolina because of their proven ability to defend. The Aztecs were No. 12 in the country in field goal percentage defense last season — the Wolverines were No. 13.

Besides those two games and the potential second game at the Roman Main Event, the other nonconference games feature teams mostly short on high-end talent, but loaded with experience.

  • Buffalo will be a frisky season-opener behind the triumvirate of Jeenathan Williams, Josh Mballa, and Ronaldo Segu, but their lack of bench depth will be their Achilles heel all season.
  • Prairie View A&M should have been an NCAA Tournament team last season before being upset by future Michigan opponent, Texas Southern, in the SWAC Championship Game. The three-time consecutive SWAC regular season champions return six of their eight leading scorers and should win their conference for a fourth-straight time. However, losing point guard Cam Mack will not be an easy fix.
  • Seton Hall loses leading scorer and rebounder Sandro Mamukelashvili, but should still be able to make a return to the NCAA Tournament. The Pirates are coming off their worst season since 2014-2015 (by win percentage) and are expected to contend for the Big East title.
  • UNLV returns only three rotational pieces from a 17-15 season. Second year head coach T.J. Otzelberger will have his hands full developing team chemistry before conference play.
  • Tarleton State is in only their second year of Division 1 basketball, but are led by former Texas A&M and Kentucky head coach Billy Gillespie.
  • Southern Utah features four returning scorers who all averaged double digits last season. The Thunderbirds were the third highest scoring offense in the country last season (84.2 points-per-game) and are looking to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001.
  • Purdue-Fort Wayne struggled in their first year as a part of the Horizon League Conference finishing 8-15, including losing 10 of their last 12. With experienced guard play they are expected to improve in 2021, but by how much is anyone’s guess.
  • Central Florida, whom Michigan defeated 80-58 last year in Ann Arbor, closes out the nonconference schedule. Head Coach Johnny Dawkins should have his team back over .500 this season with guards Darius Perry, Brandon Mahan and Darin Green Jr, all returning.

In order, the entire nonconference schedule:

November 5 — at Wayne State (exhibition)

November 10 — vs. Buffalo

November 13 — vs. Prairie View A&M (Coaches vs. Racism)

November 16 — vs. Seton Hall (Gavitt Tip-Off Games)

November 19 — vs. UNLV (Roman Main Event)

November 21 — vs. winner of Arizona/ Wichita State (Roman Main Event)

November 24 — vs. Tarleton State

December 1 — vs. UNC (Big Ten/ ACC Challenge)

December 4 — vs. San Diego State

December 18 — vs. Southern Utah

December 21 — vs. Purdue Fort Wayne

December 30 — at Central Florida