By: Jeff Riger
With all the reaction to the Michigan-Ohio (State) football game on Saturday, Michigan fans might have failed to realize that the Wolverine basketball team is off to one of the better starts in school history. Michigan is 5-0 and gets ready to play their toughest test to date tonight at the Crisler Center in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. The matchup is against #14th ranked North Carolina State, Michigan’s ONLY top 25 opponent all nonconference long.
So far Michigan has lived up to the hype by beating their competition by an average of over 20 points a game and even won the preseason NIT tournament that concluded at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Friday night. Early on the Wolverines look to be a fun team to watch as Tim Hardaway Jr. is averaging 18 a game while Sophomore Trey Burke throws in 16 and facilitates a very explosive offense. The Wolverines also have a lot of young talent joining them this season as Freshman Glen Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas all have made major contributions in the early going.
But is this team for real?
That’s the problem, we have no idea!
Michigan has gone undefeated against the likes of Slippery Rock, IUPUI, Cleveland State, Pittsburgh (their toughest game so far) and Kansas State. Of the 5 teams, none are ranked and none are thought to have a chance to do anything this season. After NC State, Michigan continues the cake walk playing teams like Bradley, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Binghamton and Arkansas before the Big Ten season finally starts and we get to see some real competition. Oh, I almost forgot, there is a game against West Virginia in there as well, John Beilein’s former school. The Mountaineers are 1-3 this season.
Don’t get me wrong, as a lifelong Michigan hoops fan I’m elated to see the Wolverines ranked 3rd in the nation, but I would much rather see them play tougher teams in their nonconference slate instead. If Michigan were to have scheduled Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky and lost them all, I would be Ok with that. Tough nonconference basketball games don’t hurt a program, they only help. There is a reason that Tom Izzo brings on impossible November and December games! It helps! MSU seems to lose the majority of those contests, and yes, fans get frustrated but at the end they are always in the mix and are better for having played tough teams on ships, air force bases and on the moon.
Sure Michigan State’s talent and coaching has something to do with consistent deep runs in the NCAA tournament but the tough nonconference games help too. If they didn’t, Izzo wouldn’t do it. Plus there are so many games in the nonconference schedule that teams can schedule tough while still playing their fair share of cupcakes.
Michigan has already climbed in the rankings from fifth to fourth to now thirdthis season and if they beat NC State later today they could climb even higher depending on what Indiana and Duke do during the week. Hell, they can potentially be ranked #1 in the land when the Big Ten season starts. But it doesn’t matter if Michigan just folds when the real meaningful games start. Who cares if a team is highly ranked in November and December? It means nothing. It’s what happens in February and March that is the most important!
Play tougher games! It will do wonders for the team and fan base alike!