Although much of the excitement and focus has been on the football team's dramatic victory over Ohio State (and rightfully so), many have forgotten that Michigan basketball will be tipping off against an exciting opponent Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
Michigan's opponent in the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge will be Virginia. Last year, Michigan faced Clemson in a rematch from its 2009 tournament trip. The game didn't receive the publicity of some other match-ups (such as Michigan State vs. Duke), but those who watched saw one of the first glimpses of a team that would sweep Michigan State, finish 19-12 in the regular season, and lose a close 2nd round game (technically the 3rd round) to Duke by two points.
In 2011-12, Michigan has already done some to prove themselves by defeating #8 (now #22) Memphis in the Maui Invitational by 12 pts, playing #6 (now #3) Duke tough for long segments of the game, and blowing out UCLA to have a Bright Finish In Maui. However, this is the first time Michigan will face a team in a true road game this season. There were many Memphis, Duke, and UCLA fans in Maui, but there were also plenty of Michigan fans (enough even to start a "Beat Ohio" chant at the end of the UCLA game).
This is important for Michigan because there are important players such as Trey Burke, Michigan's starting point guard who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week, who have not experienced a true collegiate road game. He played at a high level and in big games during high school, but making a trip to Virginia to play in front of a hostile crowd will be something new. Obviously Maui was pretty far, but every team had to face the adversity of the trip and a mix of opposing and friendly fans.
Virginia (5-1) may not be #6 Duke or #8 Memphis, but they certainly appear to be capable of making the NCAA tournament. They have faced pretty weak competition up to now, facing no ranked opponents, but they have only lost one game, falling to a 4-2 TCU team at a neutral location by two points. Virginia has even received several votes in the Coaches' Poll.
I fully anticipate the #14 Michigan Wolverines will take care of business on Tuesday and win by a comfortable margin, but this should give fans an inkling about what to expect when the team has to go on the road to places like East Lansing and Columbus. Being able to compete on the road is going to be one of the main things that determines whether Michigan can compete for the Big Ten championship and a high-seed into the NCAA Tournament this year or will end up as a "middle of the pack" team.
Michigan was able to finish at 5-5 on the road last season and this is largely what allowed them to pick up near the end of the season (Michigan started at 1-3 on the road). If Michigan proves it can play on the road this Saturday, they should have a great chance during Big Ten season, and it would be one more potential win to point when it comes time to pick teams for the NCAA tournament come March.
Photo Credit: AnnArbor.com