Michigan Basketball: Potential Trap Games for Wolverines in 2013-14
Through nine games we have learned plenty about this year's Michigan basketball team. One thing we have discovered is that this group is susceptible to an unexpected upset. See the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off against Charlotte for evidence of this.
As conference play approaches, there are three games on the schedule that could also be unexpected pitfalls for the Wolverines. All of them have one thing in common: Each is played away from the Crisler Center.
Contests away from the friendly confines are challenging for any college basketball team. Younger groups, like the one Michigan has this season, are tougher to take on the road and return victorious.
Let's take a look at a trio of trap games the Wolverines should be wary of.
January 2 at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Although Michigan dispatched of the Minnesota Golden Gophers last season without much of a struggle, things will not be so easy this time around. New head coach Richard Pitino will make sure of that.
The Golden Gophers topped Florida State by 10 earlier this season and only fell to Syracuse by eight points in the Maui Invitational. There is no reason they cannot stand up to the Wolverines.
The guard tandem of Andre and Austin Hollins is more potent than ever. The two have combined to average 29.8 points per game, grab 10.2 rebounds and dish out 5.4 assists. Add junior point guard Deandre Mathieu, who is distributing 5.2 helpers per game, to the mix and you have one of the most lethal backcourts in college basketball.
Minnesota does not have a large front line, but Michigan was unable to expose a Duke team with a similar flaw. Translation: Guards will determine this game.
This is not to say the Wolverines could not keep up with the Golden Gophers in a shootout. In fact, it would be the best way for them to come away with a victory. Getting Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Mitch McGary loose for transition points is the most important part of Michigan's offense.
It will be important for the Maize and Blue to open Big Ten Conference play on a high note. Minnesota is not going to make it easy, though.
February 26 at Purdue Boilermakers
Without a monumental effort from Trey Burke down the stretch, Michigan would have fallen in West Lafayette last season. The Wolverines were dominated on the glass (38-25) by Purdue in the second meeting between the two in 2012-13, which nearly led to a mystifying upset. With many of the same Boilermakers back for another go-round, this has all the makings of a trap game.
Headlining the group of returnees is none other than Terone Johnson. The Indianapolis, Ind. native scored 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting in the narrow loss back on March 6. Ronnie Johnson and freshman Bryson Scott are also averaging double digits for head coach Matt Painter's club through 10 games.
Purdue's 8-2 start is a little bit of smoke and mirrors. Beating Northern Kentucky by one point, Rider by four and Siena by five is not overly impressive. A 15-point loss at the hands of a Washington State team battling to stay at .500 is not going to win the Boilermakers much confidence either.
The timing of this game, however, is what makes it so scary. Michigan will be coming off four straight clashes with ranked opponents, three of which are ranked in the Top Five.
Gearing up for a hostile environment after facing that kind of gauntlet is a tall order. The Wolverines will have to rise to the occasion, though, in order to remain in the Big Ten title race.
March 4 at Illinois Fighting Illini
There is no question who holds the upper hand in this series right now. Michigan has beaten Illinois five straight times and have won the last three meetings by double digits. There is no reason the Wolverines should not extend those respective streaks this season.
The problem is, there is no telling what Michigan's mental state could be come early March. This matchup is just four days before the regular-season finale, which means the Big Ten title could be out of reach.
If the Purdue game goes poorly the week prior, this could be when the wheels come off for the Wolverines.
Even if the Maize and Blue manage to stay in contention for the league crown and manage to escape West Lafayette with a win, this still feels like a potential stumbling block.
Illinois will be looking to bolster its NCAA tournament resume by this time as well. When a team is desperate—and over the next two games we will begin to find out how the Fighting Illini could be flirting with the bubble come March—anything is possible. Even getting the chance to play the role of spoiler would suffice for head coach John Groce's crew.
High-scoring veterans Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand will not let Illinois go quietly into the night. Michigan has to be on top of its game to avoid a letdown in Champaign.
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