Ranking the 5 most difficult games remaining for undefeated Michigan basketball
Wolverines face 16 more Big Ten games in regular season
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan basketball team is nearly midway through its regular season schedule, and at 15-0, it's one of only three unbeaten teams in the country.
Michigan is ranked No. 2 in the nation with 16 conference games to play. The Big Ten is expected to send around 10 of the 14 teams to the NCAA Tournament this year, so the next two months will be a grind.
John Beilein's team has already taken care of Villanova, North Carolina, Purdue and Indiana, but there are even tougher challenges between now and the Big Ten Tournament.
How long can the Wolverines stay undefeated? Here's a look at the five toughest games remaining on the schedule.
5. March 3 -- at Maryland
Michigan absolutely feasted on Maryland's home court last season, jumping out to a 30-point halftime lead and cruising the final 20 minutes for a 85-61 victory.
Maryland is a very good team this year, though, and will want to avenge that embarrassing loss.
The Terrapins have won four of five Big Ten games this season, including a home win against Nebraska and a 15-point blowout of Minnesota on the road.
Anthony Cowan Jr. is again the leader of this Maryland team, averaging 17.2 points, 4.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 43.2 percent from the field.
Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith are a difficult front court duo to handle. They're both 6-foot-10 and could present a problem for a Michigan team that likes to go small and sometimes falls into foul trouble in the front court.
Maryland has dropped two home games this season to Virginia and Seton Hall, but the Xfinity Center is still a difficult place for opposing teams.
4. Jan. 19 -- at Wisconsin
Madison is typically one of the most difficult places to play in the Big Ten, but it hasn't been quite as impenetrable this season.
Wisconsin has already dropped home games to Virginia and Minnesota, the second of which was a true shocker. The Badgers also have a road loss to Western Kentucky, but they're ranked No. 13 by KenPom.
Ethan Happ is leading the Badgers with 19.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 55.6 percent from the floor. His game is entirely dependent on scoring within 5 feet of the basket, though, so Jon Teske could make for a difficult matchup.
Happ can't shoot at all, missing his four 3-point attempts this season and shooting a terrible 49.2 percent from the free-throw line.
D'Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison are strong complementary players around Happ. They both average more than 10 points per game and shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.
It's always difficult to win at the Kohl Center, and if Michigan is the No. 2 team in the nation, the atmosphere will be chaotic.
3. Jan. 25 -- at Indiana
Fewer than 20 days will pass between Michigan's meetings with Indiana, and the second game will certainly be much tougher on the Wolverines.
Indiana is undefeated at home, including wins over Marquette and Louisville.
Juwan Morgan has burned Michigan the last two years, scoring 24 points on nine for 14 shooting last season and dropping 25 points Sunday in Ann Arbor.
Romeo Langford scored 17 points on five for 11 shooting, but he's capable of a much larger offensive explosion, especially at home.
All three games on the list so far have been road games because it's extremely hard to win on the road in the Big Ten. Indiana is on the way up as a program under Archie Miller, so there will be plenty of excitement for a top-10 Michigan team coming to town.
2. Feb. 24 -- vs. Michigan State
It's clear the two Michigan schools are the class of Big Ten basketball this year, and even though the Wolverines have the undefeated record, many think the Spartans are the better team.
Michigan State has won nine straight games since a road overtime loss to Louisville, including wins at Florida and Ohio State. The Spartans have no problem playing on the road, so this will be Michigan's toughest test at the Crisler Center in 2019.
It's been a calendar year since Michigan lost at the Crisler Center, a controversial one-point finish against No. 5 Purdue on Jan. 9, 2018.
Coincidentally, it was a matchup with Michigan State that kicked off a long stretch of home dominance for the Wolverines. After falling to 14-9 due to a disappointing home loss against Ohio State, Michigan smashed MSU by 29 points on Feb. 7, 2017.
Since that day, the Wolverines are 29-1 at home.
1. March 9 -- at Michigan State
If the home game against Michigan State will be tough, expect the return trip to East Lansing to be even tougher.
Less than two weeks after the teams meet in Ann Arbor, they'll face off again at the Breslin Center.
KenPom has Michigan State as the No. 3 team in the country, ahead of Michigan by a significant margin and only trailing Duke and Virginia. The Spartans lost lottery picks Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., but they appear to have a better team this year.
Michigan didn't have any trouble with the Big Ten regular season champs last year, winning by 10 in East Lansing and by 11 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
Michigan State will certainly want to avenge those losses, and the crowd in East Lansing will make the rest of Michigan's road games feel like a day at the spa.
Even though Michigan State has seemingly taken over as the popular pick in the Big Ten, Michigan has the talent to keep up and win the league. It will have to win at least one of the two head-to-head meetings to have a chance.
Other tough games
Michigan and MSU are the class of the Big Ten, but Ohio State isn't far behind. If Michigan had to travel to Columbus, that would be among the most difficult games of the season.
The Jan. 29 home date against OSU will be a critical conference matchup, especially if the two teams have to go to a tiebreaker. The Buckeyes have surged to the top of the Big Ten under Chris Holtmann, so that game won't be a cakewalk, even at home.
Road games at Iowa and Minnesota will also be tricky, and Michigan can't afford to sleepwalk through trips to Illinois, Rutgers and Penn State, especially with such a big target on its back.
Wisconsin, Maryland and Nebraska will take trips to Ann Arbor next month. All three are expected to be NCAA Tournament teams, so Michigan needs to take advantage of the home environment.
Beilein couldn't have gotten his team off to a better start, but the most difficult months are ahead.
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