What games will the Michigan Wolverines' coaching staff have to worry about the most in Big Ten Conference play?
Now that the Big Ten Conference has announced the single plays for the 2013-14 season, the Michigan basketball program knows exactly how many times it will play each league team. The Wolverines drew one-time matchups with Ohio State, Illinois, Northwestern and Penn State for their upcoming campaign.
The former half of that quartet will be road games, while the latter two are going to be at the Crisler Center.
No dates have been announced for the Big Ten schedule, but with the unveiling of the single plays, it is time to rank Michigan's toughest league contests.
Expectations will be high in Ann Arbor once again with Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary back for their sophomore seasons. Michigan will be looking to take home a second Big Ten title in three seasons. These five games could prevent the Wolverines from hanging another banner from the rafters.
Michigan will not blow the doors off of the Iowa Hawkeyes on the road in 2014.
Unlike last season, the Michigan Wolverines will have to square off with the Iowa Hawkeyes outside of the friendly confines. The Wolverines routed Iowa, 95-67, at the Crisler Center. Defeating the Hawkeyes on the road will be nowhere near as easy.
Michigan's recent struggles in Iowa City are one reason why this will be one of its toughest league games.
In their last four trips to Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the Wolverines are just 2-2. Three of those contests went to overtime. Only one of the four Iowa teams Michigan faced were above .500 entering the game, so being the better team on paper does not mean much.
The latest game between to two in the Hawkeye State supports this statement. A 10-8 Iowa squad handily took down the No. 13 Wolverines (14-3), 75-59, on its home floor.
Some of the Big Ten's best teams found out how difficult it is to win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena during the 2012-13 campaign, too.
Both Michigan State and Indiana saw road tilts with the Hawkeyes go down to the wire. Iowa failed to steal a game from the league heavyweights; however, losing by an average of 3.5 points is nothing to scoff at. A 70-66 win over Wisconsin should not be overlooked either.
The top five scorers from last year's Iowa team will be back in uniform for the 2013-14 season. None of them will allow Michigan to walk out of Carver-Hawyeke victorious without a fight.
Another difficult game against Wisconsin is in store for the 2013-14 season.
The Kohl Center has been a house of horrors for the Michigan Wolverines over the past several years. Until the Maize and Blue find a way to bring their lengthy losing skid in Madison to an end, this will continue to be one of the toughest games on their schedule.
It has been a long time, to say the least, since the Wolverines beat the Wisconsin Badgers on the road. Michigan's most recent victory at the Kohl Center came at the end of the 1998-99 season. Those Wolverines were coached by Brian Ellerbe and featured former disassociated guard Louis Bullock.
Ben Brust's game-tying half-court heave last season only added to Michigan's struggles in Madison. The Wolverines were deflated after the miraculous shot fell. Wisconsin took advantage and toppled Michigan, 65-62, in overtime. The drought continued once again.
In the last 20 games of this series, Michigan has posted a dismal 4-16 record. Only one of those wins has come since Jan. 28, 2006.
More frightening than anything, though, is Bo Ryan's record at the Kohl Center. Since the venue opened in 1998, Ryan's teams are 184-19 at home.
Rising junior point guard Traevon Jackson and second-year small forward Sam Dekker will both be tough tests for their Michigan counterparts. The same goes for Brust.
Wisconsin will once again take away the Wolverines' transition offense and make this game a half-court battle. Those kinds of matchups have not favored Michigan in the past. Expect another close game in Madison next season.
Traveling to Columbus will be a daunting task yet again.
The fact Michigan and Ohio State will only meet once this season has the Big Ten considering protected rivalries for future seasons. A lone game in Columbus will determine who has bragging rights in this rivalry for an entire year. There is no chance for redemption, unless the two meet up in the postseason.
Traveling to Buckeyes territory will once again test the Wolverines' mettle.
Michigan entered last year's game at Value City Arena with a 16-0 record. Perfection could not endure the trip to Ohio State. A 76-74 overtime-victory in Ann Arbor allowed the Wolverines to get even, but they will not have the luxury of a home-court advantage in the 2013-14 rivalry clash.
Wins in Columbus have been hard to come by for Michigan. Ten years have passed since the Wolverines last defeated the Buckeyes on the road.
Aaron Craft's lockdown defense will frustrate young point guards Spike Albrecht and Derrick Walton. LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. both appear to be primed for breakout seasons. Those three will give the Wolverines plenty of problems.
Michigan should have an advantage inside with Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan. Still, this game is going to come down to whether or not the Wolverines can get out and score in transition. If the Buckeyes make Michigan play solely out of the half court once again, it will be a long bus ride back from Ohio.
Michigan State is the best team in the Big Ten heading into the 2013-14 season.
No team in the Big Ten is returning more talent than the Michigan State Spartans. Shooting guard Gary Harris and big man Adreian Payne both turned down the NBA draft to return to East Lansing. Veteran point guard Keith Appling and small forward Branden Dawson are back as well.
Put all of those guys together, along with young contributors like Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice, and the sum is a loaded lineup. There is no doubt the Spartans are the early favorites to win the 2014 Big Ten title.
All that being said, the in-state rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State is going to reach new heights. The two met as top-10 opponents for the first time last season. In fact, they managed to do it twice in one year. If both perform as expected, fans may get to see a third and fourth top-10 clash very soon.
Finally, the state's top programs will be heavyweights at the same time for the foreseeable future.
Home court proved to be the deciding factor in 2012-13. Michigan stole one from the Spartans at the Crisler Center. Michigan State rose up and played one of its greatest games during Tom Izzo's tenure to throttle the Wolverines, 75-52, in East Lansing.
Another trip to the Breslin Center will be a tall order for Michigan, who have dropped nine of its last 10 games there. Playing in Ann Arbor may not give the Wolverines the edge they need this season either.
Look for two great games between the two. Whether or not Michigan can earn a split in this series will likely determine its Big Ten title fate.