Michigan Basketball: Mismatches Wolverines Are Dreading in 2014
As much as Michigan basketball fans hate to admit it, the Wolverines do not match up well with every team on its 2013-14 schedule. In fact, there are five opponents the Maize and Blue faithful should be very concerned about.
A few of these teams gave the Wolverines problems during the 2012-13 campaign. Three of the squads you will read about boasted a 4-2 overall record against Michigan a season ago. The other two are newcomers to the schedule, but will most likely be highly-ranked when the preseason polls are unveiled.
Whether or not the Wolverines win a second Big Ten Conference title in three years will be determined by the outcome of these mismatches.
Michigan's NCAA tournament seeding could either be bolstered or hindered based on the results of the following fives games as well.
Although the Wisconsin Badgers are usually overmatched when it comes to breaking down matchups on paper, they have shown us time and time again why the game is played. Last season, Bo Ryan's group took down the highly-ranked Michigan Wolverines not once, but twice.
Sure, one of those wins came courtesy of Ben Brust's miraculous half-court heave. The rematch in the Big Ten Conference Tournament, though, was completely one-sided.
A closer look at both games reveals some even more disturbing facts. Michigan shot just 39.8 percent from the field in the two contests. Much of this had to do with the Badgers eliminating transition opportunities and forced the Wolverines to operate out of the half-court.
The Maize and Blue also gave up 18 three-pointers due to their inability to handle Wisconsin's inside-outside action.
Much of last year's team remains intact as well. Sharp-shooters Brust and Sam Dekker will cause Michigan problems on the perimeter. Returning point guard Traevon Jackson is going to be one of the Big Ten's best at his position, too.
Until Michigan proves it can score consistently in the half-court, its pair of league games against the Badgers are mismatches.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Another defensive-minded team sure to give the Michigan Wolverines problems this season are the Ohio State Buckeyes. Luckily, Michigan will only have to face its arch-rival once in 2014. Unfortunately, the lone matchup will take place in Columbus, where the Wolverines have not won in 10 years.
The hostile environment, combined with Aaron Craft's hellacious defense, spells major trouble for the Wolverines' young point guards. Spike Albrecht and Derrick Walton will likely be in for a rough outing.
Mitch McGary should have no trouble dominating the paint, but the perimeter is where Ohio State will hurt Michigan the most.
Shooting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. and small forward LaQuinton Ross should enjoy breakout seasons for the Buckeyes. Both shoot better than 37 percent from beyond the arc. The two also attack the lane well.
Much like Wisconsin, the Buckeyes will not allow Michigan to beat them in transition. Ohio State is going to keep the Wolverines in front of it and make them play out of the half-court. This formula led to a 56-53 win at home in 2012-13. Knocking down 14 three-pointers in the rematch is the only thing that allowed Michigan to avoid a sweep.
Without another barrage of treys or some transition offense, the Wolverines will come up short once again in Columbus.
Advantage Ohio State.
The Arizona Wildcats are one of the few teams in college basketball who are a bit more talented than the Michigan Wolverines. This is not a knock on the Maize and Blue. It is simply a testament to what head coach Sean Miller has built in Tucson.
Junior guard Nick Johnson averaged 11.5 points per game last season and will be a tough matchup for whomever Michigan starts at the 2. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell is a solid point guard and an efficient shooter from beyond the arc. Again, Derrick Walton and Spike Albrecht will have their hands full.
As good as Mitch McGary will be inside, Michigan is going to struggle with Arizona's trio of big men.
Rising sophomore Brandon Ashley and 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski are a formidable pair on their own. Adding 5-star power forward Aaron Gordon to the group gives the Wildcats on the of the best frontcourts in the country. McGary and Jordan Morgan will have a tough time defending and scoring in the paint when Arizona comes to the Crisler Center.
Remember the bludgeoning Michigan's interior defense took against Kansas in the Sweet 16? The Wolverines surrendered 60 points in the paint to the Jayhawks' much bigger lineup. A similar result could be on tap.
If Michigan can turn this game into a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair, it could pull off the upset. Do not be surprised to see the Wolverines go with a smaller, quicker rotation to counter the Wildcats' imposing bigs.
Still, Arizona will likely be the favorite in this one.
Michigan State Spartans
Another team able to outclass the Michigan Wolverines on paper are its in-state rival, the Michigan State Spartans. Almost all of the personnel from Tom Izzo's 2012-13 team is back, including potential lottery pick Gary Harris. Dynamic center Adreian Payne has returned to wreak havoc on opposing bigs as well.
This is essentially the same group that likely would have swept Michigan last season. Only Trey Burke's steal in the closing 30 seconds of Mar. 3 rematch prevented it.
Do not expect Keith Appling to make the same mistake twice. As long as the senior point guard limit turnovers and shooting woes, Michigan State is the runaway favorite to win the Big Ten. The veteran's experience will give him a leg up when going against his Wolverine counterparts as well.
Combo guard Denzel Valentine and sharp-shooter Travis Trice give the Spartans a strong bench. Michigan will have plenty of depth as well, but Michigan State's starting five holds a slight edge at every position except the 3 and 4.
Limiting transition scoring will be the Spartans' strategy. Izzo's teams are known for playing outstanding defense and the 2013-14 group is not going to be any different. As we already know, these matchups do not favor the Wolverines and their need to score on the run.
On a side note, this rivalry is stronger than ever, which is great for the Big Ten and all of college basketball. Both teams will be highly-ranked for much of the campaign, so expect a pair of marquee games.
ESPN's College GameDay will be on hand for the Jan. 25 meeting in East Lansing.
Duke Blue Devils
Out of anyone on this list, the Michigan Wolverines match up best with the Duke Blue Devils. The reason why this game is a mismatch, though, is because of where it will be played. Cameron Indoor Stadium.
There are not too many teams who have left the renowned Durham, N.C. venue victorious during head coach Mike Krzyzewski's tenure. The Blue Devils are an astounding 413-55 at home with Coach K on the bench. Visiting non-conference opponents are 11-244 against Krzyzewski. Duke's last home loss to a team outside the ACC came way back on Feb. 26, 2000.
It is clear the odds are not in the Wolverines' favor.
The battle between Mitch McGary and 5-star freshman Jabari Parker should be the highlight of the game. Sophomores Glenn Robinson III and Rasheed Sulaimon were both double-digit scorers last season for their respective teams. Look for both to show off a wider arsenal of skills.
The only silver lining to this matchup is that the younger Wolverines will have already been tossed into a hostile environment by the time Dec. 3 rolls around.
Michigan travels to Iowa State on Nov. 18, which is the first road game on its schedule right now. This should provide a much needed trial-by-fire for freshmen Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin.
Make no mistake, the Wolverines have the personnel to end Duke's non-conference streak. Just do not expect the Maize and Blue to come away victorious. The Cameron Crazies swing this matchup in the Blue Devils' favor.