Michigan Basketball: Ranking the 5 Biggest Roadblocks to the Big Ten Title

Zach Dirlam@Zach_DirlamSenior Analyst IIDecember 31, 2012

Michigan Basketball: Ranking the 5 Biggest Roadblocks to the Big Ten Title

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    The No. 2 Michigan Wolverines have exceeded the expectations most had for them entering the 2012-'13 campaign. The Wolverines are 13-0 and off to the best start since the 1985-'86 season, but a deep field of Big Ten Conference teams and five other potential roadblocks stand in the way of a second consecutive league crown.

    The potential obstacles in this slide show are ranked according to how much of a direct effect they have on Michigan's Big Ten title hopes.

    What is standing in the way of the Wolverines heading into their conference opener against the Northwestern Wildcats on Thursday night? Click ahead to find out.

5. Injuries

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    This is a roadblock that no one would see coming, but the injury bug has already proven it can strike the Michigan Wolverines at any given moment.

    Junior shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. had to sit out Michigan's recent victory over the Central Michigan Chippewas with an injured ankle, and sophomore center Jon Horford has missed the last two games with a dislocated kneecap.

    It is unclear at this time when either of those two will be suiting up once again for the Wolverines, though Hardaway's injury should not keep him out for more than another game. Michigan does not open Big Ten play until Thursday night.

    There also has to be a little bit of a concern that Hardaway's ankle could bother him for an extended period of time and hamper the Miami, Fla. native's explosiveness. Only time will tell how well Hardaway is able to bounce back, and the Wolverines Big Ten title hopes are riding on his return to the floor.

4. Aaron Craft's Defense

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    Two of the most important Big Ten games on the Michigan Wolverines schedule are against the Ohio State Buckeyes, and junior point guard Aaron Craft will be a tough matchup for sophomore counterpart Trey Burke.

    Every single game in league play is a must-win given the strength and depth of the conference this season. If the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year is able to neutralize Burke like he did in two of the three meetings last year, the Wolverines could be swept by the Buckeyes.

    In Michigan's two losses to Ohio State last season, Burke only knocked down 6-of-22 field goal attempts and averaged a mere nine points. 

    Burke did get the better of Craft in their Feb. 18 meeting at the Crisler Center, though, and scored 17 points to go along with five assists. His play helped the Wolverines pull out a 56-51 victory.

    Michigan cannot afford to give too many conference games away, even if they are against nationally-ranked foes. Although the Wolverines have much more depth than they did last season, Burke will have to play well for the Maize and Blue to top the Buckeyes on Jan. 13 and Feb. 5.

3. The Absence of a True Center

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    There is no question the Michigan Wolverines have one of, if not the most formidable backcourts in the country, but the Maize and Blue are slim on depth in the frontcourt. That lack of size is a major concern considering how much of a mismatch it will create in games against the Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan State Spartans.

    Junior power forward Jordan Morgan has made great strides to improve his presence in the post and freshman big man Mitch McGary is rounding into a more complete center every time the Wolverines take the floor.

    However, Morgan and McGary will have a tough time handling the likes of Cody Zeller, Adreain Payne, Derrick Nix and even Trevor Mbakwe of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

    Thankfully, the Wolverines get more than enough production from their guards to make up for the lack of an established post scorer. All Michigan needs from its bigs are rebounds and stout defense.

    The Wolverines have done a great job of winning the rebounding battle in their non conference games, but the Big Ten teams will provide the Wolverines with a much more challenging matchup on the glass.

2. A Rigorous Road Schedule

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    The Michigan Wolverines will play nine games away from the Crisler Center once Big Ten play kicks off on Thursday, and winning on the road is always difficult.

    Head coach John Beilein and the Wolverines are 3-0 in neutral site games this season, but their only road game was against the Bradley Braves. Michigan could be in for a rude awakening when it plays outside of friendly confines this season.

    Michigan's only tilts with the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Wisconsin Badgers are away from home. The Breslin Center in East Lansing, Value City Arena in Columbus and both Assembly Halls will be some of the rowdiest environments the Wolverines will be thrust in to.

    On the bright side, though, Michigan closes the season with four home contests and just two road games against the struggling Penn State Nittany Lions and Purdue Boilermakers.

    The Wolverines have more than enough talent to take at least five or six of these games, though, which is why it checks in at No. 2 on the list of roadblocks.

1. Indiana Hoosiers

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    The Indiana Hoosiers are the biggest obstacle in the way of a Michigan Wolverines run toward a Big Ten title for two reasons.

    First off, the Hoosiers match up with Michigan better than any team in the league. Secondly, Indiana is one of the nation's top teams and is not going to drop many games in Big Ten play this season. That means the conference could be decided by the two head-to-head games between the Maize and Blue and the Hoosiers.

    Cody Zeller will expose Michigan's lack of depth in the post, while Victor Oladipo locks down either Glenn Robinson III or Tim Hardaway Jr. and veteran guards Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford will be able to run with the Wolverines' backcourt.

    Whether or not Michigan is able to win its second straight Big Ten championship will depend on how its fares in two games against the Hoosiers, and if Indiana manages to navigate its schedule better than the Wolverines.

    Hence, why the Hoosiers are the biggest threat to Michigan this season.