Last season, the Wolverines were a bubble team most of the year. Until their strong play down the stretch, and their inspiring charge to the Big Ten title, the NCAA tournament wasn’t a sure thing. Their lackluster nonconference play last year took a toll. They took care of the usual cupcakes, but they lost at home to Virginia Tech. They captured the 2K Classic crown with wins over Marquette and SMU, but they had no true road wins.
The NCAA committee has stated that starting this season, road wins will count for more when evaluating a team’s resume. Michigan has a few chances to add great road wins to their belts early this season, and a couple of quality neutral court wins as well. With the departures of Derrick Walton Jr, Zak Irvin, and DJ Wilson, outsiders don’t have high expectations for this team. How they perform against quality competition at the outset of the season could set the tone for how this year might play out. Here are the top five early season matchups:
5) Wichita State/VCU/Marquette/California
In their third game of the season Michigan plays at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational serves as an early test. Wichita State is obviously a marquee team, but they will be without Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie early due to injury. VCU and Marquette will be teams that flirt with the bubble, but they will likely be a few steps behind this season due to roster turnover. Cal is by far the weakest of the group, having lost their coach and quite a few players. If Michigan gets Wichita State in the title game, they will have a huge opportunity to start the year.
Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford, and Isaac Hamilton are all gone, but UCLA should still be ranked all season long. Aaron Holiday and freshman Jaylen Hands will continue to run the high-powered Bruins attack that has reloaded with a plethora of new freshman. Thomas Welsh will be the steady hand to add scoring and experience. The Wolverines put up a fight on the road last season against UCLA and will play host this year.
Another team Michigan played a season ago. The Wolverines came away with the win, but what they thought was a star on their resume ended up as nothing special after Texas went on to underperform all season long. Coach Shaka Smart should lead his team back to the NCAA tournament this season, thanks to the addition of five-star recruit Mohamed Bamba, who should go near the top of the NBA draft next season. This is definitely a quality road win for the taking.
2) Notre Dame
This match-up hinges on Michigan getting past LSU and Notre Dame taking care of Chaminade in their first-round games at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. I think both happen. The Irish have been a steady tournament team at the top of the ACC under Mike Brey. A strong offensive team, Notre Dame will rely on Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell to pour in points. The Wolverines have some familiarity here after facing the Irish in the NCAA tournament two seasons ago.
1) North Carolina
The defending champs. On the road. It doesn’t get much bigger than this. Yes, Roy Williams lost Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley. They also may be without Joel Berry (out for a few weeks with a broken hand). However, the Tar Heels still have Theo Pinson, Luke Maye, Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson and Pitt transfer Cameron Johnson. A win in Chapel Hill would be an enormous early season boost.
If you would like to receive an email each time a new Michigan Basketball article is published, fill out our email notification form