When the basketball team at the University of Michigan beat Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten tournament last season, it was the Wolverines' 10th victory. I recognized this as a milestone win, not because it kept the team alive in postseason play (it lost its next game anyway), but because it was one more game than the Michigan football team had won.
A 10-22 record is nothing to be proud of, but it would've been a lot more embarrassing had it not surpassed the nine-win season on the gridiron.
This year should be no contest. The football team is 3-8 with one game remaining (at Ohio State). The basketball team, on the other hand, is much improved. Even so, given the Wolverines' brutal schedule, an NCAA Tournament berth is asking for a bit much.
After advancing to the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic by beating Michigan Tech and Northeastern, Michigan will face preseason No. 4 UCLA at Madison Square Garden. Depending on the outcome of that game, the Wolverines will play either Missouri Valley force Southern Illinois or No. 5 Duke.
Regardless of Michigan's fate in Coaches vs. Cancer, it will have to deal with the Blue Devils on Dec. 5, when Duke comes to Ann Arbor. This comes two days after Michigan travels to College Park for a matchup against Maryland in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Once conference play begins, Michigan faces No. 10 Purdue and No. 21 Wisconsin twice each, and No. 7 Michigan State. In the middle of all this, the Wolverines visit No. 2 Connecticut.
So even with an improved squad, just achieving the .500 record required for postseason play will be a challenge. Michigan will certainly have to do much better against the weaker Big Ten teams—it went only 5-7 against Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Penn State last year.
If the Wolverines are going to be a serious contender in the Big Ten, though, they are going to need solid play from sophomore guard Manny Harris on a nightly basis. Harris, an All-Big Ten Second Team performer as a freshman, led the Wolverines with 16.1 ppg. Expectations are even greater for Harris this season, as he was named to the conference's preseason First Team.
The transfer of shot-blocking specialist Ekpe Udoh will hurt, but 7' freshman Ben Cronin will help fill the void inside. Other newcomers to keep an eye on are guards Stu Douglass, a sharpshooter from Carmel, In., and Arizona transfer Laval Lucas-Perry, who former teammate and NBA lottery pick Jerryd Bayless described as the hardest player to defend in practice.
Lucas-Perry will be eligible to play by the time Michigan begins Big Ten competition.
Second-year coach John Beilein still doesn't have enough offensive weapons at his disposal to best execute his offense, but an increase in scoring is expected. The continued development of Zack Gibson and, more importantly, DeShawn Sims (second-leading scorer and top rebounder last year) will go a long way in determining Michigan's success.
Even with a disappointing season though, Michigan should still eclipse the football team's win total, likely before December.
G Manny Harris
F DeShawn Sims
Dec. 20: UCLA (in New York City)
Dec. 6: Duke
Feb. 7: @ Connecticut
Feb. 10: Michigan State
Feb. 26: Purdue
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