How well does Michigan match up with the rest of the Big Ten?
The deadline for underclassmen to enter the NBA draft has come and gone, which means the Michigan basketball program, as well as the rest of the Big Ten Conference, knows exactly who will be on its 2013-14 roster.
Let the preseason chatter begin! Up first, a breakdown of how the Wolverines match up against every team in the Big Ten heading into next season.
Count Michigan among the league teams that are trending upward following the NBA declarations. Despite losing All-American point guard Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the professional ranks, having Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary back for another year softens the blow for Michigan. Both could have left and likely been first-round draft picks, so getting them to return is a huge offseason victory.
Robinson and McGary are both primed for breakout seasons and will be the primary sources of offense for Michigan.
Other teams were not as fortunate, though. The Indiana Hoosiers will be without their top four scorers from the 2012-13 campaign. Scoring will be more difficult for the Ohio State Buckeyes as a result of Deshaun Thomas' decision to declare.
How well do the Wolverines match up with the aforementioned teams? What about the rest of the Big Ten?
In order to keep things simple, there will be three different categories opposing teams will be lumped into. A matchup will be considered favorable if Michigan appears to be the better squad on paper. Conversely, mismatches are teams the Wolverines could be beaten by, whether it be for a disparity in talent or style of play. An even matchup is one that could go either way.
Seven Big Ten foes do not appear to have the necessary traits to defeat Michigan next season. Nebraska, Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana will all have a tough time taking down the Wolverines.
Nebraska finished near the bottom of the conference standings last year. With Brandon Ubel, Andre Almeida and leading scorer Dylan Talley all graduating, the Cornhuskers simply do not stack up with Michigan. Do not expect to see a whole lot of differences from the Wolverines' 62-47 victory over Nebraska on Jan. 9.
A shocking loss to Penn State last season cost Michigan a second consecutive Big Ten title. Revenge will be on the mind of the Wolverines when they face the Nittany Lions this winter.
Coming away with wins against a scrappy Penn State group will not be easy, though. Rising junior guard D.J. Newbill has blossomed into an All-Big Ten caliber player. Add in Tim Frazier's extra year of eligibility, and the result is a dynamic backcourt.
Michigan's guards will have a hard time keeping the duo of Nittany Lions guards out of the lane, but McGary should be able to dominate the paint. The graduation of Sasa Borovnjak is a huge blow to Penn State's interior defense, which will lead to a field day for McGary.
As long as Derrick Walton and the rest of the Wolverines avoid carless turnovers, they will fend off Penn State.
Northwestern's inept offense renders it unable to keep up with Michigan in a head-to-head battle. Not only did the Wildcats rank worse than No. 300 in field goal percentage and points per game last season, they will lose two of their best offensive players. The departures of Jared Swopshire and Reggie Hearn will be too much for Northwestern to overcome.
Not even the return of Drew Crawford can bridge the gap between the Wildcats and Wolverines.
No one on Northwestern's roster will be able to stop Robinson and McGary, which will open things up on the perimeter for Nik Stauskas and Walton. These games will be tune-ups for Michigan next season.
Both Minnesota and Indiana have lost far too many playmakers to remain on the same level as the Wolverines.
McGary and Jordan Morgan should have no problem keeping the Golden Gophers off the glass, without Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams combining for 13.7 rebounds per game. High-scoring guards Andre and Austin Hollins will give Michigan fits, but there are not enough other pieces around them for Minnesota to pull out a win.
As for the Hoosiers, it is tough to envision them beating the Wolverines without Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. Incoming big man Noah Vonleh will have plenty of great performances, though McGary's experience should be too much for the 5-star prospect to handle.
Rising sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell is going to shine for Indiana, however. Walton and Spike Albrecht will have a tough time dealing with Ferrell's drives and passes along the baseline, which will give Indiana a chance to win.
In the end, though, Michigan's advantage inside should be enough to escape what is expected to be a pair of up-tempo games.
Staying in the state of Indiana, Purdue is also ill-equipped to contain the Wolverines. Seven-footer A.J. Hammons will make life difficult in the post for McGary. Meanwhile, Terone and Ronnie Johnson will carve up Michigan's defense at times.
Despite all of that, the Wolverines' ability to push the basketball and turn this game into a shootout is what will keep the Boilermakers from coming away victorious. Look for Stauskas' three-point shooting to play a vital role in this matchup.
Finally, Illinois will struggle to contain Michigan's guards without Brandon Paul or D.J. Richardson in the lineup. Keeping the Wolverines out of transition is also important. Being battered on the glass by McGary, Robinson and Jordan Morgan does not bode well for the Fighting Illini in this regard.
Unless incoming freshmen Malcom Hill and Kendrick Nunn play like savvy veterans in league play, Illinois will not have enough firepower to keep up with Michigan.
One of the most interesting teams heading into next season is the Iowa Hawkeyes. A deep NIT run after posting a 9-9 record in Big Ten play has given fans some belief Iowa can finish in the top half of the league once again.
In terms of overall talent, Michigan has the edge in this matchup. Two other factors should have the Wolverines wary, though. Experience and home-court advantage will have a hand in deciding the outcome of the meetings between Michigan and Iowa.
The Hawkeyes only dropped a pair of decisions at Carver-Hawkeye Arena last season. Those losses came against Indiana and Michigan State by an average of 3.5 points.
Since Michigan hosted Iowa during the 2012-13 campaign, it is assured a trip to Iowa City. Coming away with a win will not be an easy task.
Small forward Eric May is the only contributor departing from last year's bunch, which means Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White will have high expectations for this season. Most of the Wolverines' top players have a year of experience under their belts, but Iowa is by far the more veteran team.
This has the makings of a split series or one-game sweep if the only contest between the two is played at Carver-Hawkeye.
Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State all match up well with the Wolverines and are more than capable of beating them.
Replacing Deshaun Thomas will not be easy for the Buckeyes. However, their defense gives them an edge over Michigan. Both times these two met last season, Ohio State completely took away the Wolverines' transition offense. Operating out of the half court will likely be a weakness once again for Michigan.
Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are all excellent defenders. Ross and Robinson will go head-to-head on several occasions. Point guard play often determines games between top teams, though, and Craft has the ability to shut down both Walton and Albrecht.
This is one matchup the Wolverines will not be able to win solely based on their potent offense.
Another team with a similar approach is Wisconsin. Head coach Bo Ryan constantly loses key players and still finds a way to keep the Badgers in the Big Ten title hunt. Things will be no different this season.
Much like Ohio State, Wisconsin's primary goal is to eliminate Michigan's transition game. Traevon Jackson has come into his own as a point guard for the Badgers. Rising junior Ben Brust and small forward Sam Dekker are going to be tough matchups as well.
Who will give Michigan the most problems in the Big Ten this season?
The Wolverines may have more talent than Wisconsin, but as they learned twice last season, that does not guarantee victory. Expect Michigan to struggle against the Badgers.
The biggest mismatch of all, though, is Michigan State. Had it not been for a miraculous steal by Trey Burke, Michigan likely would have been swept by its in-state rival last season. There is no reason why the Spartans could not beat Michigan twice this year.
Adreian Payne can wreak havoc on the interior or on the perimeter. Guards Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine will all be better than their counterparts.
Keeping the Spartans off the glass will be crucial in order for the Wolverines to score a win in this series. This is far easier said than done, however, even with the improvements McGary has made in his game.
Clearly, Michigan has enough favorable matchups to contend for a Big Ten title once again. Stealing some of the games they do not have the advantage in will determine whether or not the Wolverines capture their second league championship in three seasons.
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