Michigan Needs Big Wins in Big Ten Play

Mark RudiCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 21:  Manny Harris #3, C.J. Lee #2 and Zack Novak #0 of the Michigan Wolverines look on from the bench area en route to a 73-63 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners during the second round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Sprint Center on March 21, 2009 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Sooners defeated the Wolverines 73-63.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It's pretty obvious Michigan doesn't have a single key win to put on its NCAA Tournament resume right now.

The Wolverines (6-5) will need to get some huge victories when Big Ten Conference play starts next week with Michigan hosting Indiana on New Year's Eve.

Last year at this time, Michigan had wins over UCLA and Duke, which probably helped the Wolverines get into the 2009 NCAA Tournament, but this year it's a different story. Michigan has had many chances to get a key win on its resume with games against Marquette, Alabama, Boston College, Utah, and No. 1 Kansas. Michigan's best win as of right now is an 83-76 overtime victory against Creighton on Thanksgiving. 

But the Blue Jays aren't as powerful as they have been in the past, as they sit at 5-6 with wins over Houston Baptist, Detroit, Coppin State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Division II Northern Michigan, which will not impress the Selection Committee.

The Wolverines also struggled with Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Detroit. Don't forget that this team was ranked No. 15 to start the season but dropped out after losses to Marquette and Alabama in the Old Spice Classic.

So what happened?

One factor has been the shooting. In head coach John Beilein's offense, Michigan lives and dies by its outside and three-point shooting. The Wolverines are only shooting 42.2 percent from the floor for the season and only 29.0 percent from the arc. They rank dead last in the Big Ten in shooting percentage and three-point field goal percentage. 

Michigan is also ninth in the conference in points scored per game, with 70.9, ahead of only Penn State and Iowa. 

The offensive numbers must improve if Michigan hopes to keep up with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State, and Purdue. This should be fixed soon, as Beilein has been cracking down on shooting mistakes in practice and said on his radio show on Dec. 16 that he was going to be more demanding. 

As Big Ten play starts now, the Wolverines need to knock off some of the top teams in the conference to help out their resume. Their first chance will be against No. 17 Ohio State at Crisler Arena on Jan. 3. Michigan will already have a Big Ten game under its belt after facing Indiana on Dec. 31.

The Ohio State game is a big matchup for Michigan. The Wolverines need to get a big win to get the momentum rolling. What better time and place to do it than against your archrival, against a ranked team, and in your house? The Buckeyes also have big wins over Cal and Florida State. 

Michigan will need to slow Ohio State's offense, as the Buckeyes lead the Big Ten by averaging 81.6 points per game. The Buckeyes also lead in the conference in shooting percentage, at 52.4 percent from the floor. Also, Michigan's defense isn't something to brag about, giving up a 43.7 percent opponent shooting percentage, which ranks 10th in the conference. 

A game the Wolverines really need, however, is against No. 4 Purdue on Jan. 23. This one is going to be a little tougher as Michigan has to go into West Lafayette to face the Boilermakers. Michigan really needed a final gasp to get into the "Big Dance" last year and knocked off Purdue in late February to get another quality win. 

Michigan will also see its in-state rivals, No. 9 Michigan State, twice this season, and two wins against the NCAA runner-up aren't too bad for the resume. Not to mention in-state bragging rights. The Wolverines can also get another win over a ranked foe when No. 11 Connecticut invades Ann Arbor on Jan. 17

Facing six games against current ranked teams is something of which Michigan needs to take advantage. The Wolverines haven't shown much in November and December and will need to get some key wins to get some momentum going; otherwise, they'll be aiming for the NIT.