1. This is a good but not great schedule
Michigan isn’t going to hurt itself with this schedule but the Wolverines aren’t going to win any awards for gaudy scheduling either. There are high-major opponents, including a potential Final Four team, on the docket but a truly marquee school like Duke or Kentucky is noticeably absent.
Michigan is likely to play five high-major schools, two at home and three on neutral courts, which seems like a fair number and is coincidentally equal to last year’s total (including Memphis).
Michigan earns a few points for creativity with two trips to the east coast the NIT Season Tip Off and a game at the Barclays Center but the only road non-conference game is at Bradley, who finished last in the Missouri Valley last year. Three games at neutral sites and another on the road should still help prepare Michigan for conference play, and more importantly tournament play in March.
A loaded schedule can be dangerous with too much travel and difficult games snowballing. A couple losses string together and suddenly you have major problems. Michigan’s schedule looks like one that will provide a challenge but isn’t likely to decimate a team with early season losses. Michigan is still a fairly young team despite a pair of high profile returning players in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
2. RPI musings
Scheduling around the RPI is an art form and requires some smart planning combined with a bit of luck. The bottom line is that playing more teams in the 50-200 RPI range and avoiding teams well below 200 and above will pay dividends by year’s end. Michigan played four games versus teams with an RPI over 200 last season, five the year before and seven in 2010.
To examine the potential RPI makeup of Michigan’s 2012-13 slate, we took a look at each team with last season’s RPI in parenthesis. (Slippery Rock is Division II and won’t adversely effect Michigan’s RPI):
- The NIT Tip Off group games include two of Cleveland State (89), Bowling Green (165) and IUPUI (212). Cleveland State is a quality program and should provide a quality early season challenge, the others are respectable. In New York City, Michigan could meet Kansas State (44), Pittsburgh (88) or get a rematch with Virginia (59).
- North Carolina State (36) is a preseason top 10 team and would be more than enough for a signature home win come March.
- Arkansas (116) is a revenge game for Michigan and the Razorbacks should be much improved as they were one of the youngest teams in the country a year ago and return projected first round draft pick BJ Young.
- West Virginia (61) on a neutral court is certain to be a boost for the RPI and provide plenty of storylines given Beilein’s past.
- The game at Bradley (268) is somewhat mystifying but the Braves are a building program and playing the game on the road should provide quality road experience and a resume boost at year’s end.
- Western Michigan (208), Eastern Michigan (243) and Central Michigan (280) were nothing to write home about a year ago but it’s tough to complain with scheduling in-state mid-majors. With potentially MAC foes on the schedule, Michigan will get a heavy dose of the league after only playing Ohio in last year’s NCAA tournament upset.
- Binghamton (344) had the worst RPI in the country a year ago and is likely to be the worst team on Michigan’s 2012-13 slate.
Doing a bit of estimating and projecting, Michigan’s RPI by opponent breakdown could look something like this at year’s end:
|Guestimated 2012-13 RPI Breakdown|
|Top 50||4||NCSU, 1 NIT, Arkansas, WVU|
|50-100||2||1 NIT, 1 NIT Opening|
|100-200||3||1 NIT Opening, 2 WMU/CMU/EMU|
|200+||3||1 WMU/CMU/EMU, Binghamton, Bradley|
The Towsons, Arkansas Pine Bluffs and Alabama A&Ms of the world (300+ RPI teams) have been almost entirely eliminated, with Binghamton the only school that falls into that category. The key for Michigan will be having a couple of those mid-major foes on this year’s schedule showing improvement in 2012-13 over their 2011-12 iterations.
3. Big Ten single plays: Iowa, Nebraska, at Minnesota, at Wisconsin
The single plays are the same as last season’s only flipped for home and away and that’s a mixed bag for Michigan.
Nebraska is likely going to be scrapping around in the league’s bottom third so missing them once on the schedule hurts – especially at Nebraska which could boost Michigan’s road record. Iowa is going to be improved this year with a strong freshman class and plenty of returning talent. Iowa City has been a bit of a house of horrors for John Beilein in recent seasons, so missing that trip is a perk that many can live with. Minnesota is probably grouped with Iowa somewhere in a category that’s tough to predict near the conference’s middle.
Avoiding a game at Wisconsin, as Michigan did last year, is always a big boost. Having to play in Madison and missing the Badgers at home? That’s the worst of both worlds. Wisconsin at home would be a tough but winnable game instead Michigan’s only chance of a win is at a Kohl Center, where the Badgers are dominant.
At the end of the day Michigan’s single plays should rate fairly average across the league. A likely top third team, two mid-level teams (split home and away), and a bottom third team.
4. Worst stretch: at Indiana, Ohio State, at Wisconsin, at Michigan State
Michigan will play four of the league’s best teams in ten days to start the month of February. With three of the four games on the road at arguably the conference’s toughest venues, this is as tough of a stretch as you could draw up.
Michigan will already have eight conference games in the bag by February so there will be a good sense of what John Beilein is working with. If the season goes as many expect, this could be the two week stretch where Michigan proves whether or not it is a real contender to defend its shared Big Ten crown.
Looking down the schedule for the more beneficial breaks in conference play. The Wolverines gets two byes thanks to skipping on the in-conference non-conference game we’ve seen in year’s past. The timing is solid as well, Michigan misses a weekend game in mid-January and mid-February, hopefully allowing some rest before important stretches of play.
Michigan’s first eight games are probably the easiest. Home games against Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue and Northwestern and road games at Northwestern, Ohio State, Minnesota and Illinois.
5. Spring Break Blues
Holidays, exams and Spring Break always seem to get in the way of marquee home games when the schedule is released. Because the Big Ten controls all of the conference games, schools have no control over whether home games will include students or not.
Students will wrap up finals on December 20th this year and return to school on January 9th while Spring Break will run from March 2nd through March 11th.
There are limited student casualties from the winter break with likely just Central Michigan being blacked out for students. However, Spring Break is another story. Michigan’s final two home games, perhaps the most important of the year, against Michigan State (Mar. 2/3) and Indiana (Mar. 10) both overlap with Spring Break.