Michigan Basketball: Will Brutal Big Ten Leave No. 1 Ranking Elusive?

Zach Dirlam@Zach_DirlamSenior Analyst IIDecember 18, 2012

After starting the 2012-13 season 11-0 with an NIT Season Tip-Off title and a marquee victory over then-No. 18 N.C. State, the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines are in the process of putting together a resume worthy of the top spot in the major polls.

But will a brutal Big Ten schedule leave the Maize and Blue looking up at other teams all year?

In a word, yes, but that does not mean the Wolverines will not be able to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament or make a run at a national championship.

In order to jump ahead of the Duke Blue Devils in the polls, Michigan will need to win all of its games during a rigorous opening month of Big Ten play, which features road games against the Ohio State Buckeyes (currently ranked No. 6), Minnesota Golden Gophers (No. 13) and Illinois Fighting Illini (No. 10).

Given the talent the Wolverines have on their roster with sophomore point guard Trey Burke, junior shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., along with rapidly improving freshmen Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, it is not impossible for Michigan to win all of those games.

However, winning three games against ranked opponents on the road is highly unlikely, even for a team with as many great players as the Wolverines have.

Another problem is the fact that Michigan's long and difficult road to a Big Ten title and potential No. 1 ranking will not end there. 

The Wolverines will face the Buckeyes and Fighting Illini again later in the season at the Crisler Center, in addition to home-and-homes with the No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan State Spartans (No. 20).

Oh, and that does not even include an early February trip to the Kohl's Center to take on the Wisconsin Badgers and a road contest with the Purdue Boilermakers on March 6. 

All of these games will be opportunities for Michigan to bolster its case for a high seed in the postseason, but it will also hurt the Wolverines' overall record, which will not help the Maize and Blue shoot up the polls.

Additionally, the currently undefeated Blue Devils only have four games against ranked teams this season, while the Wolverines will play nine. It appears Duke will be able to take its unblemished resume deep into the season.

Another team with a victory over a Top Five team to its name—and a schedule that features no ranked opponents for the remainder of the 2012-13 campaign—is the No. 4 Arizona Wildcats.

If either Duke or Arizona are able to take care of business week in and week out, the Wolverines will not be able to become the No. 1 team in the nation, even if any potential losses only come at the hands of the Big Ten's best.

Thankfully, the major polls do not play a role in determining who winds up playing for the national championship in Atlanta, so Michigan's ranking will be irrelevant. Still, it would make the Maize-and-Blue faithful quite happy to see the Wolverines take over the top spot in the polls for the first time since the 1992-93 season.

Unless Michigan fails to defend home court against the ranked teams in the Big Ten, or if it drops a couple games to conference opponents outside of the Top 25, the Wolverines should be, at worst, a Top 10 team almost all of this season.

But climbing to No. 1 in the AP or USA Today polls does not look to be in the cards for the Wolverines this season due to their extremely tough conference slate.

Michigan fans should not be concerned with where the Wolverines land in the national rankings, because as every Michigan State fan in the country will tell them, championships are won in March and have little to do with who is perched atop the Top 25.

 

Follow me on Twitter @ZachDirlam_SSN.   

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