1. The non-conference home slate is disappointing, but there’s a reasonable explanation.
Home games against Ferris State, Towson, Western Illinois, Iowa State, Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Alabama A&M and Bradley won’t necessarily have people lining up in droves to buy tickets. However, the Michigan staff has been very aggressive scheduling home-and-homes in recent seasons with series against Duke, Georgetown, Kansas and Connecticut. How did the home schedule end up so weak? There are a couple reasons. First off, Michigan was in line for a home game in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in a game that should have been against a top half ACC team, but conference realignment gave the Wolverines a road game at Virginia. Second, the Maui Invitational is extremely difficult to schedule around. The field is loaded and Michigan could hypothetically play Memphis, Duke and Kansas – three preseason top 15 teams on a neutral court – in three days time. Of course Michigan could also play Memphis, Tennessee and Chaminade if things go poorly.
2. Michigan should get off to a hot start in Big Ten play
Michigan plays four of its first six conference games at home, hosting Penn State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Northwestern, with road trips to Indiana and Iowa. Assembly Hall has been a house of horrors for Michigan fans, and Indiana should be improved with Cody Zeller in the mix, but this stretch is great opportunity for the Wolverines to prove that they are conference championship contenders. If Michigan doesn’t get off to a hot start, things could get ugly quickly because the next stretch is tough…
3. The four games between January 17th and 29th are the toughest stretch of the schedule
After an easy start to conference play Michigan will host Michigan State before three consecutive road games at Arkansas, Purdue and Ohio State. The Michigan State game is obviously huge and three straight road games are always tough, especially with a trip all the way to Arkansas, even if the Razorbacks are starting a rebuilding project. Capping that stretch off with the toughest game on the schedule, a road trip to Columbus, makes the other games in this stretch that much more important.
4. Michigan fared relatively well in regards to single plays
Preseason projections show that the Big Ten championship race is more than likely going to come down to two teams, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Michigan misses out on a second game versus the Badgers and it’s tough to complain with missing out on a trip to the Kohl Center, arguably the toughest place to play in the Big Ten. Minnesota (home), Iowa (away) and Nebraska (away) somewhat outweigh that benefit because they likely to be bottom half schools. With two teams that stand a level above the rest of the league, missing one of the top teams appears to have more benefit than playing all of the lower tier teams.
If you’re looking for a Big Ten sleeper based on single plays then look no further than Purdue. The Boilermakers play just one game against both Ohio State and Wisconsin and even face the Badgers at home.
5. Examining the schedule from an RPI point of view
Scheduling for the RPI is an inexact art form. You can only gain so much from studying 2011 RPI numbers and attempting to project how teams will not only improve, but schedule in the upcoming season. A great RPI/SOS schedule is one that has it’s fair share of top-50 games but also has its fair share of games versus 50-150 type teams and a minimum number of 200+ teams.
Here are the 2011 RPIs of Michigan’s non-conference opponents:
- Towson 292
- Western Illinois 333
- Maui: Memphis (n) 40
- Maui TBA: Duke 4 / Tennessee 41 (n)
- Maui TBA: Kansas 1, Georgetown 15, UCLA 38, Chaminade N/A
- at Virginia 138
- Iowa State 140
- Oakland (n) 57
- Arkansas Pine Bluff 327
- Alabama A&M 307
- Bradley 229
- at Arkansas 130
Playing three neutral court games versus RPI top-50 teams in Maui is a real possibility and that will go a long way toward boosting Michigan’s RPI and strength of schedule.
Iowa State should improve as the Cyclones add talented transfers Chris Allen (Michigan State) and Royce White (Minnesota, sort of) and should have the chance of being a top-100 team this season. Virginia and Arkansas aren’t picked near the top of their conferences but road games against high-major schools generally look pretty good and should boost Michigan’s road and neutral record.
Oakland loses a lot but Greg Kampe’s program is established as a powerhouse in the Summit League and the game will be played on a neutral court, adding a small RPI boost. The games against Towson, Western Illinois, Pine Bluff and Alabama A&M are troubling but guarantee games are becoming a fact of life in college basketball. The best case for Michigan is that one or two of these teams surprises and plays their way into a top-200 RPI season.
At this point, Michigan probably deserves a B for RPI scheduling. There are a bit too many underwhelming opponents on the slate but a handful of true road games, a neutral game and arguably the top preseason tournament of the 2011-12 season should do enough to offset those concerns.