Friday, October 5, 2012

The 5 Toughest Games For 2012 - 2013

Michigan basketball is being projected for one of its best seasons in years.  Not only are expectations sky high, but there are numerous games on the schedule that will pose significant challenges.  Earlier this year, I did a breakdown on the biggest trap games on the schedule.  Those will be important, especially if the team is vying for the Big Ten title, but doing well against the toughest competition could be even more important.  Not only for success in the Big Ten season, but also for the NCAA Tournament because of the impact these games have on seeding.

When I first began to evaluate this topic, I ended up with a list of almost ten games.  Some of these included OSU, Wisconsin, MSU, NC State, and of course, Indiana.  However, I wanted to spotlight the specific games that I thought would be the most difficult to win this year.  One note to make when you look through the list is that I decided to avoid listing teams more than once.  Not only would it make this list kind of boring, but it would be extremely repetitive   If I did decided to do repeats, Indiana would appear twice and MSU would probably appear twice as well.  So, keep that in mind.

#5 - Ohio State - Jan 13

Michigan's arch-rival has done nothing but win over the last few years.  Beilein has definitely closed the gap and Michigan split the regular season games last season, but the Wolverines have not beaten the Buckeyes in Columbus since the 2002-2003 season.  This is Michigan's best chance to end this streak in years, but doing so is going to be very difficult.  The Buckeyes lose two of their starters from last season, but they have a multitude of highly ranked recruits on their bench that coach Thad Matta is hoping will make an immediate impact next year.  Michigan should be the better team by a decent margin next year and many will likely expect them to win this game, but winning is a different thing.  Expect this one to be close, but Michigan to be right in it to the end.

#4 - Wisconsin - Feb 9
This is probably a pretty controversial spot to put this game.  Wisconsin has mixed expectations for this season and Michigan blew them out in their lone meeting last year.  Along with this, Michigan will likely be favored by a pretty good margin in this game.  Putting it above the game in Columbus is probably going to surprise some people.  However, I have predicted that Wisconsin is going to have a good team and will make some noise in Big Ten play.  Along with this, they are extremely good at home.  On an almost yearly basis, the Badgers are able to upset a very good team on their home court.  They did seem to be a little weaker at home last year than they normally have been under Bo Ryan, but they should still be solid next year and even though Michigan will have a lot of expectations and predictions on their side, the Badgers will be more than capable of beating them on one night, especially with a hostile Wisconsin crowd on their side.  Plus, don't underestimate the fact that this game comes in Michigan's most difficult stretch of the season that includes games at Indiana, Wisconsin, and MSU and home against Ohio State.

#3 - North Carolina State - Nov 27
This will undoubtedly be the biggest non-conference game of Michigan's regular season this year.  Not only because it is the "biggest" name on the schedule and in the Big Ten vs. ACC Challenge, but also because this could very likely be a Top 5 match-up that receives major national coverage.  I made the case when this game was originally announced and I'll make it again.  Michigan definitely got the short end of the stick as a Big Ten team in this year's challenge.  Yes, they get a quality opponent at home, but NC State is predicted to be the best team in the ACC, but doesn't have the same name caliber as a team like Duke or North Carolina.  This doesn't mean that Michigan won't be ready for this game, but it means that it's going to be extremely challenging without the usual flash.  If Michigan can win this game, the Wolverines will probably be aimed for a very good seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Some have even said it could be the difference between a #1 and a #2 seed in the tournament.  I'm not completely convinced because I think it will depend more on Michigan's performance against teams like Indiana and MSU, but that still sends a message.  This game will be very big for both sides and one that will be very important for the Wolverines.

#2 - Michigan State - Feb 12
Michigan has fared very well against MSU over the last two seasons.  Not only have they went 3-1 against the Spartans, but they even went on the road and beat MSU at the Breslin Center.  I do think Michigan has a decent shot at doing that again this season, but it's going to be very difficult.  MSU is returning a pretty solid squad and will be bringing in some of the best recruits in the Big Ten including Gary Harris, who many are predicting to have an outstanding season.  I'm not completely convinced yet that MSU and Harris will be as good as some project, but there is no doubt that they will be one of the better teams in the Big Ten and have one of the toughest venues in the Big Ten to win in for opponents.  I believe Michigan has a better team than MSU this year.  In fact, there are only two teams on this list that I think could be better than the Wolverines (NC State & Indiana).  However, that doesn't always translate to wins, especially on the road.  Along with this, the game against MSU on the road is during the toughest stretch of Michigan's season as I talked about earlier.  Add this factors and you have a game that will be a likely loss for Michigan this year.  I think Michigan will beat the Spartans by a decent margin at home (or at least that's the way I'm leaning now), but going on the road and beating what looks like the Big Ten's 3rd best team in the Breslin Center?  I'm not taking that bet.  If Michigan can win, it will do wonders for their chances in the Big Ten title race, but I just think this game will be a little too difficult.

#1 - Indiana - Feb 2
We've all heard the hype.  We all remember the last second shot to beat Kentucky last year.  Indiana is a very dangerous team and is predicted to be among the elite this season.  Along with this, they have one of the toughest places to play in the entire country.  Their fans are loud and teams get rattled.  Michigan, MSU, and OSU all lost on the road against the Hoosiers and it could be much of the same this year.  I have predicted that the Hoosiers will do very well in the Big Ten already and they could easily be a better team than Michigan.  I'm still not convinced they are the best team in the country or the Big Ten, but it's not hard to see why they are receiving so much hype with pretty much everybody returning and bringing some outstanding recruits coming to campus.  The tough venue and impressive team would be difficult enough, but this game will also be the location of College Gameday.  This means there is going to be extra excitement for the game for not only the fans, but also the team.  If Michigan is able to go into that kind of environmental and compete against a team like the Hoosiers for the entire game, it's going to be a great year.  When you have a very good team circling a game like this on the calendar months in advance, it's not going to bode well for your chances.  For these reasons, I'm selecting this game as the most difficult for the upcoming season.  I'll still hold out some hope, but it's going to be very hard to win this one.

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