The Home Stretch

Dylan Burkhardt

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Save the RPIs and bubble breakdowns for now. There’s still a lot of work to do if Michigan wants to celebrate on Selection Sunday. The ball is officially in Michigan’s court. This isn’t a scenario where Michigan can knock off a couple average teams to cement a bid, the Wolverines will have to earn it. Michigan will probably only be favored in one (maybe two) of its final five games and needs a handful of wins (at least 3) to even be considered for an at-large bid.

The good news is that the final five games provide just what Michigan needs: an opportunity to add more “quality” or RPI top 50 wins. Right now Michigan has two (barely) quality wins: a home win over Harvard (44) and a road win over Michigan State (47). The final stretch includes four games versus RPI top 50 opponents: at Illinois (39), Wisconsin (18), at Minnesota (35), and Michigan State (47). Wisconsin might be the most important, given the Badgers’ top 25 RPI ranking, and could be the statement win that truly puts Michigan into the conversation. Win a handful of these final games and the rest will take care of itself. Here’s a brief look at Michigan’s remaining schedule, team-by-team, and our best attempt to decipher Michigan’s chances.

Feb. 16: at Illinois (KenPom: 16%)

Illinois, 3-6 over its last nine games, is certainly going through a bit of a rough patch. Bruce Weber is calling out his team in the national media while complaining about runners and agents. That’s never a good sign. Despite all of the problems, Illinois still has one of the most talented rosters in the league. Even if Demetri McCamey might only play when he wants to, he’s still capable of taking just about any game over. Illinois also has size with Mike Tisdale (7-1), Mike Davis (6-9), Jereme Richmond (6-8), and Bill Cole (6-9). Despite the tall roster, the Illini are more of a jump shooting team and not great on the glass. Michigan’s problem is that it’s very difficult to contest jump shots when they are shot by such tall players. The game also happens to be on the road at Assembly Hall, where Michigan last won in 1995.

Feb. 19: at Iowa (KenPom: 48%)

Michigan’s last two games in Iowa City have been rollercoaster rides. Both games went to overtime and were neck and neck roughly the entire way. Last year Michigan tied the game with a late DeShawn Sims three and the year before Manny Harris was benched in overtime. Iowa has been rapidly improving with recent wins over Indiana (x2) and Michigan State and even an overtime home loss to Wisconsin. However, the Hawkeyes suffered through an emphatic home loss to Minnesota which silenced most of the resurgence talk.  Michigan opened a pretty big lead the first time these teams met but if the last two games didn’t make it obvious, the road is a whole different ball game. However, this is Michigan’s best chance to steal a road game and a game the Wolverines would win in the most likely scenarios to get to 9-9.

Feb. 23: vs. Wisconsin (KenPom: 26%)

Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team that John Beilein has never beaten. Beilein is 0-8 against Bo Ryan and the Wolverines have actually been more successful on the road than at home. The games at Crisler have never really been close: 62-44, 73-61, 79-54. Wisconsin has looked somewhat vulnerable on the road, with losses at Illinois, Michigan State, and Penn State and even an overtime win at Iowa. However, recent history tells us that this one won’t be easy. This might be Michigan’s most important game of the season because a home game against a top 25 team is the perfect opportunity for an upset.

Feb. 26: at Minnesota (KenPom: 28%)

Minnesota is another team that appears to be slowly falling apart. First, Devoe Joseph left the program and then Al Nolen got hurt. Now the Gophers are stuck without a true point guard option. Blake Hoffarber has done his best but is most effective when he’s shooting the ball, not distributing it. Still, Minnesota beat Michigan at Crisler Arena despite Nolen missing the second half. Minnesota has enough size and rebounding ability to take over any game with big guys like Trevor Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson III, and Colton Iverson. Michigan’s recent success against Minnesota (wins in four of the last five) provides at least some hope that Mcihigan could steal one on the road.

Mar. 5: Michigan State (KenPom: 61%)

As things look now, this game is setting up to be a huge game for both teams. Michigan will look for its first two-game-sweep of the Spartans since 1997 and the game will likely have postseason implications for both teams. Michigan State won a heartbreaker in Crisler Arena last year but Michigan shocked the Spartans in East Lansing this year. Michigan State finally won a “should win” game, at home over Penn State, and if they can win a few more they will be right in the thick of the NCAA bubble conversation.

Source: KenPom

Michigan sits at 16-10 (6-7) right now with five games to play. Pomeroy’s recent predictions say that there is about a 25% chance that Michigan will push its conference record to .500 or better. Looking at the schedule, it’s clear that no game will be easy.

On this date two years ago, Michigan actually held an identical record: 16-10 (6-7). The Wolverines finished 3-2 with home wins over Minnesota and Purdue as well as an improbable road upset at Minnesota. There are certainly more enviable situations to be in but now it’s time to play the games and see if Michigan can play its way into the tournament.

How many more regular season games do you see Michigan winning?

View Results

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  • sven

    All I see is Wisconsin and a bunch of cupcakes ready to be devoured.

  • Mattski

    Dylan: there’s some over-tan dude trying to sell me some wedding planning ideas for SEARS that keeps popping up over to my left. . .

    I see us going two and three down the stretch, MAYBE shocking Wisconsin (team and school that I have come to hate). But don’t two and a win or two in the tourney do it for us? Huh? Huh?

    • Mith

      There is no, no way we make it at 8-10 unless we win the B10 tournament. Come on, we aren’t even in the Bubble Watch at ESPN. Going 2-3 isn’t going to help that, even with a few B10 tourney wins.

      • ESPN has never been wrong before and is the most accurate source for any sporting news.

        • Mith

          No need to be silly. I just can’t believe anyone truly believes we have any shot at all with a 8-10 record. If you guys do, that’s fine, but I think you’ve got your rose colored glasses on.

      • Dylan Burkhardt

        Agree. 8-10 won’t get Michigan in without a substantial run in the Big Ten tournament. That means at least a Sunday appearance.

        • Mattski

          Chee. You’d think that twenty wins in a banner year for the B10 would get us in. . .

          • JimC

            Yeah, the B10 teams are getting hosed by beating each other up.

  • Alex

    This just about sums it up. Iowa and Michigan State are the two likeliest games. Michigan will have to try to take at least one of the other three. I’m wondering if the situation is any combination of wins to get to three out of the next five?

  • Chris

    Coming into the year nobody expected us anywhere near the tournament, so the fact that we’re actually this close to making it is GREAT.

    That being said, and I’ve said this ever since we lost those games: UTEP, @Indiana, and @Northwestern are going to be the backbreakers for if we don’t make the tourney.

    • Mith

      I wish we could have the home game against Minnesota back. That’d push them below us, especially if we swept them. Now we’re looking at the possibility of tying them at 9-9 and them having swept us.

    • ATLblue

      I agree that these games are probably what will keep us out of the tournament, but these loses do not upset me one bit. They just showed the growing pains of a young team playing on the road.

    • Nick

      Completely agreed. It is tough to complain about the “what-if”s with a team that is so young, but they definitely did not do themselves any favors with a couple of those losses.

      To reiterate your point, though, the simple fact that this team is in the position they are is a testiment to the coaching staff and current leadership in place.

      Go Blue!

  • KAB

    Dylan,this is a really good post like always.I almost feel like we have to win at IL.We have been playing well as late and need to keep the blood pumping.Not to mention they seem to be a mess right now.I have watched a few of the games they have played and it was ugly…We will find out soon though!!!

    • JimC

      Not to be Debbie downer, but I think we’ll lose at IL. They were a mess on the weekend because Purdue is pretty good on the road (except @OSU, where everyone loses).

      • MarcO

        I agree with both of you. UM must win tonight but I don’t expect UM to win.

        They must win because late surges put teams into the bracket. I doubt a win based on how this team has generally played on the road (mich st excluded).

        @3-2 over the next five, UM will need a lot of luck to get into the tourney. 4-1 and they definitely go. That’s a tall order.

  • Azad

    It’s amazing how far we have come without really having put together 2 truly good halves of basketball. Do we have one really overachieving game in us? If we do, I think that could be good enough to take one of these games vs Illinois/Minnesota/Wisconsin (my money’s on Minnesota).

    I worry about the Michigan State game, they are still a talented team who may be putting it back together again and will be motivated for revenge against us at Crisler. Let’s just find a way to go 2-2 and have ourselves a must win vs MSU at home to get to .500 in conference. It’d sure be fun, let’s find a way to stay in this conversation as long as possible.

    • Mith

      Yeah, that’s be something else to play MSU in a game that would get one of us to 9-9 and the other 8-10. Very possibly an elimination game at that point. But I suppose we better see what happens this week on the road. We need a split at least.

  • I have been re-watching our past three momentum-creating wins, and not to be a debby downer, but I’d like to temper the enthusiasm a little.

    Please keep in mind: Penn State, NU and IU all have had their best (or second best) player injured. Also, we have not performed so well on the road this season. Not counting our wins @ MSU and @ PSU, our losses @ Wisconsin, @ Indiana, @ Ohio State, and @ Northwestern have an average margin of defeat of 15 points. Yuck.

    Granted, the Mo has to count for something, and I think we go 3-2. It all starts with beating a slumping Illinois team… a winnable game. Go blue!

    • Kenny

      The loss at Indiana and Northwestern were certainly bad. But I think we did play quite well at Columbus and Madison, pretty much stayed in the game all night long, and that’s two best teams of Big Ten. I don’t think that this is a bad road team.

    • Alex

      The team is 3-4 on the road this year with a semi decent chance of going 5-5 or better. Wisconsin is also 3-4 on the road to my knowledge. Agreed about Indiana and Northwestern road games but those are only two data points/

  • JBag

    Where’s Clemson in the RPI? I thought that might be another top-50 win.

    They’re 33 on kenpom, and I thought those numbers are usually pretty close to the RPI

    • Beast1530

      Clemson is #73 so they’re likely not RPI top 50 team by the selection committee which has different RPI rankings than the one you see from website.

      Clemson is not considered to be a quality win.

  • mgocanada

    What would be ill-arious would be if we swept MSU and then they made the tourney and we didn’t. That would be so uncool.

    I am expecting a Cornell-style win against Wisconsin because their karma has to run out sometime. Unfortunately I can see us beating them and choking away the four easier games for an infuriatingly surreal finish that we somehow will not be allowed to criticize.

    Hey did that Otto Porter guy commit to somewhere yet? I was thinking about him today after we lost that other guy — we shoulda got in on that, since the bigs ignored him for so long. Howland’ll probably swoop in or something.

    In Fab Five-era news, Steve Fisher just got in hot water for speaking out against the firing of Wyoming’s coach a few weeks before the end of the season. Say what you will, but I always thought Steve was a decent guy like that.

  • KAB

    The Espn bubble watch is a joke….That is why it is never close to being accurate!

  • michigan fan

    Would love to go the the NCAA’s. At begining of the season if you said, NIT, most of us would have said that’s a good season! I think one more win pretty much gives a lock for the NIT (winning record). I agree with above, that at Iowa or at home against Michigan State are the highest probabilities for remaining wins.

  • ScottGoBlue

    National perception about Michigan going to the dance seems to be “not yet”. The only way to change that is to win 3 or more of the games left on our schedule, then get to the round of 4 in the BTT. The “resume” question is fun to debate, but I think there’s a more important “identity” question for Michigan: just how good of a basketball team are we at this point?

    I think the team has recently taken a step forward. They emerged from a 6-game losing streak with a 5-1 streak. Sure, the wins weren’t against the strongest in the B1. But the more important thing is that Michigan is playing better basketball.

    The next 5 games will show just how far we’ve come. There is reason in each game that we could win. There is reason in each game that we could lose. If we win any 3 of the 5, we’re in great shape. None will be easy. @Iowa (11th in the B10) and MSU (a week to prepare) are the most likely. The other three are unlikely, but I like the home match-up against Wisconsin.

    Go Blue!

    Whatever the outcome, I’m encouraged by what I see on the court. We’ve got a bright future. Here’s hoping we grab hold of it the next couple weeks.

  • Section13Row15

    Right on, ScottGoBlue! I like the fact that we can still control our own destiny and play our way in. Hopefully our kids are looking at it that way. Either way, we’ll probably deserve whatever we get. 4-1 over the next 5 can punch the NCAA ticket for sure. 3-2 and you need a strong run in the BTT (unless maybe one of those 3 wins is Wisc?). 2-3 and it’s NIT time.