Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Tough stretch awaits Michigan basketball
By Michael Rothstein
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- In some ways, few teams are as prepared to handle Michigan’s stretch of the next six games as well as the Wolverines.
That, for Michigan, is the good news.
“You just look at the schedule and you have Michigan State, Ohio State and Indiana, all top-ranked teams coming in and going out to play,” sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “It’s going to be a struggle but at the same time you can’t get mad, can’t get upset, you just have to go out there.
“We do see it as a long stretch of games that we can win and turn our season around still.”
Over the next six games, Michigan will face No. 9 Michigan State twice -- including in Ann Arbor on Tuesday -- along with going to No. 6 Ohio State, Purdue and Arkansas and a home game against No. 13 Indiana.
This next set of six games is reminiscent of what Michigan faced last season, when the Wolverines faced four teams ranked in the Top 25 in seven games (then-No. 3 Kansas, then-No. 2 Ohio State, then-No. 15 Minnesota and then-No. 25 Michigan State) along with trips to Wisconsin, Indiana and Northwestern. The Wolverines went 1-6 in that stretch.
“We’re kind of used to the schedule,” Hardaway Jr. said. “Last year was the same, losing those games like at Wisconsin, we know what it takes to win these types of games and how they are scheduled. So you have to go out there and take it one game at a time.”
Cliche? Yes. But right now for Michigan, which has struggled to find its offense over the past week, it is supremely important. The Wolverines saw how losses can build a season ago.
That said, here are Michigan’s next six games -- in order of most winnable to least.
1) Saturday at Arkansas: The Razorbacks are 13-4 but the record is skewed. Arkansas has one good win -- a 98-88 win over Mississippi State on Jan. 7 -- and are vulnerable. That said, Arkansas plays Kentucky tonight and could make a major statement if the Razorbacks pull off the upset. Freshman guard B.J. Young could be a problem, as he averages 15 points and three rebounds a game while shooting 43.8 percent from the 3-point line.
2) Feb. 1 vs. No. 13 Indiana: The Hoosiers are slowly returning to the pack after a strong start that included a 73-71 win over Michigan on Jan. 5. Consecutive losses to Minnesota (77-74) and Ohio State (80-63) are concerning. A light schedule by Big Ten standards awaits (at Nebraska and Wisconsin and home against Penn State and Iowa) before playing Michigan, however going to rival Purdue three days later could be a distraction. Plus, John Beilein is usually better against opponents the second game in a season.
3) Tonight vs. No. 9 Michigan State: The Wolverines swept this rivalry last season, lifting them to an NCAA tournament berth. Michigan State has played well on the road (wins at Gonzaga, Nebraska and Wisconsin) and is balanced as five players are averaging 6.8 points or better -- led by senior forward Draymond Green, who is averaging 15.8 points and 10.1 rebounds a game. Michigan has struggled with Green in the past, and he is playing some of the best basketball of his career.
4) Jan. 24 at Purdue: The Boilermakers aren’t as strong as past seasons, but Michigan hasn’t won at Mackey Arena since 2003. Purdue still has Robbie Hummel (16 ppg., 6 rpg) and plays tough, scrappy defense. If this game were at the Crisler Center, it’d be one or two on the list. But the road makes it much more difficult.
5) Jan. 29 at No. 6 Ohio State: Michigan hasn’t won at Ohio State since 2003, either. Expect Trey Burke to play well in his return to his hometown and playing against his best friend, Buckeyes star Jared Sullinger. But Michigan doesn’t have anyone who can guard the improved Sullinger as well as Deshaun Thomas. Also, Burke vs. Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft might be one of the best point guard matchups in the Big Ten. The Wolverines can compete in this game, but they have to figure out their road woes or this one will get ugly. Since 2003, Michigan hasn’t been within nine points of the Buckeyes in Columbus.
6) Feb. 5 at No. 9 Michigan State: This will be the third game in seven days against Top 25 teams. Never mind that this is a major rivalry and other than last season, Michigan hadn’t won in East Lansing since 1997. Green will be a major factor again here, as he won’t want to lose his last time playing at home against the Wolverines.