Michigan Basketball: Wolverines' Blueprint to Winning the B1G Title Race
The end of the 2012-13 regular season is only four games away for the Michigan Wolverines, and there is a specific blueprint the Maize and Blue have to follow during their closing stretch in order to win the Big Ten Conference title.
The defending co-champions are currently in a three-way tie for second place, just two games behind the Indiana Hoosiers.
Will the Wolverines' four losses in league play keep them from a second consecutive conference crown, or is there a way for Michigan to surpass Indiana by the time the final standings are unveiled?
Click ahead to find out!
Tim Hardaway Jr. Has to End His Shooting Funk
One thing that needs to turn around immediately in order for the Michigan Wolverines to win the Big Ten for a second year in a row is Tim Hardaway Jr.'s shooting.
After knocking down 47 percent or more of his field-goal attempts in all but three of Michigan's first 11 league games, Hardaway has failed to eclipse 36.4 percent in the Wolverines' most recent trio of contests.
Since converting eight of 17 shots in a heartbreaking 65-62 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers on Feb. 9, Hardaway is just 7-of-33 from the field.
Hardaway's numbers from three-point range are not any better. The 6'6", 205-pounder has only made two of 15 shots from beyond the arc during his most recent funk.
The Wolverines will not be sitting atop the Big Ten standings come Mar. 10, unless Hardaway starts filling up the cylinder.
Ride Trey Burke's Hot Hand
Sophomore point guard Trey Burke is shooting the lights out for the Michigan Wolverines at the moment. Burke has scored more than 15 points in all of the Maize and Blue's Big Ten games, and has 55 points in the last two contests.
Over the course of Michigan's last three games, Burke is knocking down 63 percent of his field-goal attempts. The Wooden Award candidate has also converted 75 percent of his shots from three-point range during this ongoing hot streak.
Michigan needs Burke to continue shooting the ball at his current clip, but Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas have to take some of the load off of his shoulders as well.
In the nine Big Ten games when Burke has taken 13 or more shots, the Columbus, Ohio native has only made more than 45 percent of those attempts once.
Hardaway and Stauskas need to increase their scoring statistics so that Burke does not need to take more than a dozen shots in any of Michigan's remaining games.
Jordan Morgan Should Re-Enter the Starting Lineup
For the first time since suffering an ankle injury on Jan. 27, redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan finally looked like he has made a full recovery. Now that the hindrance is behind him, Morgan should retake his rightful place in the Michigan Wolverines' starting five.
Freshman big man Mitch McGary has started two of the last three games, but Morgan is playing much better defense than his younger teammate.
Michigan's biggest concern entering its most critical stretch of the 2012-13 campaign is interior defense. A healthy Morgan may very well be the solution to the Wolverines' most obvious weakness.
Morgan does not need to produce a whole lot at the offensive end of the floor, which is what Michigan will look to McGary for.
The Wolverines simply need Morgan to be as active on defense as he was against the Illinois Fighting Illini on Sunday and pull down an offensive board every now and then.
Having Morgan on the floor for an extended period of time to start the game should help Michigan avoid falling behind early and make life difficult for opposing big men in the paint.
Take Care of Business on the Road
There are only four games remaining on the Michigan Wolverines' regular-season schedule, and two are away from home against opponents with sub-.500 records. The Maize and Blue can't afford to have a letdown in either one of those contests if they hope to win the Big Ten title.
The Penn State Nittany Lions will have the first crack at derailing Michigan's season on Feb. 27. Although the Nittany Lions are winless in Big Ten play, the Wolverines did not exactly run away with the first meeting between these two teams.
Michigan trailed Penn State for almost all of the first half before storming back in the second frame to pull away with a 79-71 victory in Ann Arbor.
Exactly one week later, the Wolverines will head to West Lafayette to take on the Purdue Boilermakers. Michigan dismantled Purdue, 68-53, the first time around, but this lightweight matchup could be more challenging than it looks on paper.
The tilt with Purdue is sandwiched between games against the Michigan State Spartans and Indiana Hoosiers.
The Wolverines should win both of these contests with relative ease. Michigan has to make sure it does not overlook either of them, though.
The Indiana Hoosiers Must Lose Once Before March 10th
Believe it or not, the Michigan Wolverines do not control their own destiny in the Big Ten title race. Unless the Indiana Hoosiers drop one of their next three games, Michigan will not be able to win the conference even if it were to top the nation's top-ranked team on Mar. 10.
An upcoming road tilt with the Minnesota Golden Gophers should not provide much of a challenge for the Hoosiers. The other two games will feature opponents with a puncher's chance of taking down Indiana, though.
The Iowa Hawkeyes had Indiana on the ropes before bowing 69-65 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena earlier this season. The defensive-minded and nationally ranked Ohio State Buckeyes should also push the Hoosiers to the limit at Assembly Hall on Mar. 5.
The Maize and Blue need one of these three teams to topple Indiana before the season-ending rematch if they want to hang another banner from the rafters of the Crisler Center.
Michigan Needs to Win All of Its Remaining Games
It will be next to impossible for the Michigan Wolverines to win the Big Ten crown if they lose any of their last four games.
The only way Michigan could survive a loss in the coming weeks would be if the Indiana Hoosiers lost two of their next three contests, which is highly unlikely.
The Wolverines' rematch with the Michigan State Spartans will be even more meaningful than the first time around. Whichever in-state rival loses will drop its fifth league game and will fall out of contention for the Big Ten title.
If Michigan is able to survive its next three games, and Indiana is upset within the next two weeks, the Wolverines will face the Hoosiers at the Crisler Center in what would be the de facto Big Ten title game.
None of the other factors mentioned in this slide show will matter one bit if Michigan is unable to emerge with victories in all of its remaining games.