What Will It Take for Michigan to Pass an Unbeaten Duke for No. 1 Ranking?
In order for Michigan to overtake Duke as the No. 1 team in the country, all the Wolverines have to do is quote the late Al Davis.
Just win, baby.
Specifically, win this weekend.
After Michigan plays against Nebraska on Wednesday night, both the Wolverines and Blue Devils face arguably their toughest task of the season.
Duke travels to No. 20 North Carolina State on Saturday while Michigan travels to rival No. 15 Ohio State on Sunday.
While I believe this is the first game Duke will lose, Michigan must take care of business against the Buckeyes in order to be No. 1 and not Arizona.
Michigan's continued success will rely on its ability to continue to shoot well, stay balanced scoring and have stars Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. continue to play smart.
Currently, Michigan is shooting over 52 percent from the field and over 42 percent from behind the arc. The field-goal percentage is good for second in the country behind only North Carolina State, while their three-point percentage is good for fifth best in the country as a team.
If the Wolverines continue to shoot at this level, they will be nearly impossible to beat—coupled with their defense, where they are allowing under 60 points per game through 15 contests.
Who is the best team in the country?
Michigan is also one of the deepest teams in the county as it has 11 players who play over six minutes per game—whereas Duke plays seven players over that time frame, with six of the players playing the majority of the Blue Devil's minutes.
With conference play starting, the depth of the Wolverines will be too much for opposing teams to handle, especially the second time around. Teams will have a much harder time preparing for Michigan as opposed to Duke, making it easier to scout Duke as well as providing a better chance for an upset.
This is also key when it comes to injury. Currently, Duke senior, forward Ryan Kelly is having his foot evaluated. It is the same foot he injured during the December break that caused him to miss last year's ACC tournament and NCAA tournament.
Duke would be forced to either play a six-man rotation or have Alex Murphy play more minutes if Kelly is forced to miss any amount of time. Murphy is currently playing five minutes per game for the Blue Devils. Michigan, on the other hand, wouldn't miss a beat having to plug another player in for a starter sans point guard Burke.
Michigan's guards, Burke and Hardaway, have provided the offensive leadership the Wolverines have needed. Burke is currently averaging 18 points per game, 7.5 assists and under two turnovers per game while Hardaway is averaging 16 points per game, five rebounds, three assists and two turnovers per game.
The last thing that could help or hurt Michigan is the upcoming schedule of both teams. The Big 10 is the strongest basketball conference this season while the ACC is down this year with only two teams ranked in the Top 25.
If both teams win their next five games to get to 20-0, here is the breakdown of who they play.
Duke: at No. 20 North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, at Miami, Maryland and at Wake Forest
Michigan: Nebraska, at No. 15 Ohio State, at No. 8 Minnesota, Purdue and at No. 12 Illinois
While Michigan very well could lose any of those games on the road, if both teams get to 20-0 it will be hard to pass up Michigan getting votes for winning games against better teams. Voters will start to look more at recent games as opposed to the pre-conference schedule where Duke's best wins are.
What it comes down to, though, is Michigan taking care of its own business. If the Wolverines continue to play the way they have been, there's not a better team in the country than them and the No. 1 ranking will happen.
After this weekend, though, it could come sooner than expected.
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