Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Michigan's Most Important Game In 2012 - 2013

As I've talked about extensively, this will be one of the most anticipated seasons in recent Michigan basketball history.  Michigan has been ranked in the Top 5 in both the Preseason Coaches' and AP polls and will be bringing in a Preseason All-American for the first time in years.  Along with this, Michigan will be bringing in a very highly touted recruiting class to help matters.  With these type of rankings and projections, there are going to be a lot of big games for the Wolverines this season.

But which game will be the most important for the 2012-2013 season?  Rivalry games are always huge, but so will match-ups with preseason #1 Indiana and the Big Ten vs. ACC game against #6 North Carolina State.  It's difficult to pick just one game, but I'm going to be attempting to do that today.  I will admit that I "coped out" so to speak and selected two games as the most important to this season, but I did make some notes about what each of these games will impact.  Some games are incredibly important to a single season, but others are more important to a program's long-term success.

Just take a look at Michigan football's 2011 season.  Yes, beating Ohio State for the first time in years was huge, but for that specific season, the win against Nebraska was actually much more significant.  It was a major factor in the Wolverines being selected to the Sugar Bowl and having the chance to beat Virginia Tech.  This year could be very similar.  There are a few games that could have some major benefits for the program, but might not be quite as significant for this given season.  So here's my list:

Most Important Game For The Season: NC State
I debated this one for quite some time, but I ultimately had to select NC State as the most important game for the upcoming season.  I will probably get a lot of disagreement from fans for this pick, but let me explain myself.  Despite NC State not being the highest ranked team Michigan plays, an early season matchup, and  no factor in the Big Ten race, I still think the effects of this game could be very significant.  

Just take a look at the game's situation.  There is a very good chance that both teams will be ranked in the Top 10 and a pretty good chance that both will be ranked in the top 5 when the game occurs.  I have a lot of confidence in Michigan, but will there be another game in Ann Arbor this season where Michigan and its opponent will both be ranked in the Top 5?  I'm not so sure.  Rankings typically depend on timing and media's perception of teams.  Michigan has some very challenging games before almost all of its remaining marquee games, meaning that there's a decent chance Michigan could fall a bit before those games.

There's just no guarantee that this big of a match-up happens in Ann Arbor later in the season than this game, especially since some people have been ranking Michigan in the teens in their preseason rankings.  Another thing to consider is the national attention a win would give Michigan.  This game could be the difference between a 1 and a 2 seed come tourney time, which could be the difference between a Final Four run and a Sweet 16.  To me, this is the game that can really determine whether this is a good or a great season.

Most Important Game For The Program – Indiana
Some would put this game as the most important this year.  Indiana has been ranked #1 and are the clear-cut favorites for the Big Ten Championship this year.  There will obviously be a lot of excitement for both of Michigan's match-ups with Indiana during the regular season, but I think the importance of the these 2 (and potentially more) games will be on the future of Michigan's program.  I give one word for my reasoning and that's recruiting.

A lot is made of recruiting and just about every college basketball or football fan knows that there is a pretty strong trend between success on the court or field and performance on the recruiting trail.  There are also certain areas of the country and region that are fertile grounds for basketball recruiting and one of the main locations is Indiana.  There really isn't a major reason to explain why, but the area just seems to turn out a lot of good basketball players.  I would guess it's the culture, but the bottom-line is that you can pick up a lot of good recruits in a small area.

Michigan does not base all of its recruiting in Indiana, but the Wolverines are deeply pursuing many recruits from Indiana and some of their biggest contributors recently have been from Indiana.  If Michigan hopes to continue its recent recruiting success and attempt to keep up with the big name Big Ten programs, having success in the Hoosiers' home state will be key.  However, if they see Michigan struggling or being swept by the Hoosiers on a consistent basis, Michigan's image could take a hit.  One or two losses alone won't do this, but these games are definitely going to be circled by a lot of people including recruits.

Michigan's recruiting is not solely depend on these games by any means, but I think they will be an important factor in recruiting for the 2014 and 2015 classes.  Just take a look at several big recruits like 2015 PG Hyron Edwards, who will likely be picking between Michigan and Indiana.  Winning these games isn't essential for this year or Michigan's season goals, but they will be important for both success now, but especially for the future.

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