Winning next 5 games would solidify Michigan basketball as one of best teams in country

No. 4 Michigan suffers first loss of season on road against No. 1 Louisville

Juwan Howard the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines gives instructions to his team against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on December 03, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Juwan Howard suffered his first loss as a head coach Tuesday, as No. 4 Michigan fell to No. 1 Louisville in its first true road test.

Michigan rose from unranked to the top five in the AP poll after a 7-0 start that included back-to-back wins over No. 7 North Carolina and No. 9 Gonazaga (current ranks). The Wolverines are the only team in the country with two top 10 wins and also knocked off solid opponents in Creighton and Iowa State.

Zavier Simpson #3 of the Michigan Wolverines shoots the ball against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on December 03, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky.

But Louisville was too much for Michigan, holding a previously hot offense to just 43 points. Despite suffering their first setback of the season, the Wolverines have a chance to prove that Battle 4 Atlantis tournament title wasn’t a fluke.

Early Big Ten play

For the third year in a row, Big Ten teams will play two conference opponents -- one home and one away -- in the middle of December. The arrangement was made when the conference went to 20 games in response to expansion to 14 teams.

Michigan will face two tough tests, starting with a home game against Iowa.

The Hawkeyes are 6-2 on the season with losses to DePaul and San Diego State -- both of which are 8-0. Iowa owns two incredibly impressive victories: An 11-point neutral court win over then-No. 12 Texas Tech and a 14-point win at Syracuse.

Iowa is led by rising center Luka Garza’s 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. His supporting cast is deep, with the likes of Joe Wieskamp, Jordan Bohannon and C.J. Fredrick leading the way.

The Wolverines will then face their second road test of the season against Illinois -- also 6-2.

Illinois lost on the road against then-No. 21 Arizona and at home to Miami in the B1G/ACC Challenge. While the Fighting Illini haven’t earned a signature win yet, they’re a tough team at home and will likely be desperate after a second consecutive loss at Maryland.

Oregon comes to town

Michigan’s best nonconference home game will follow those Big Ten contests as No. 13 Oregon comes to the Crisler Center.

Oregon already has neutral court wins over Memphis and Seton Hall -- both ranked No. 13 at the times -- and took Gonzaga to overtime before losing by a point. The Ducks lost to North Carolina by four points the following day.

Payton Pritchard #3 of the Oregon Ducks brings the ball up the court during the second half of the game at Moda Center on November 12, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. Oregon won the game 82-74.

Like Michigan, Oregon is fresh off an appearance in the Sweet 16 and returns a strong core of players, especially point guard Payton Pritchard. His match-up with Zavier Simpson on the perimeter will be the one to watch.

Letdown games

If Michigan can survive those three tough tests, it will need to avoid a letdown in back-to-back games before Big Ten play gets into full swing.

Presbyterian is 2-6 and UMass Lowell is 4-5. Neither has been particularly competitive against major conference teams, though Presbyterian lost to Notre Dame by 10 points in November.

Michigan has so far survived cupcake games against Appalachian State, Elon and Houston Baptist. As long as it doesn’t fall to Presbyterian or UMass Lowell, it will avoid having a major blemish on its final resume.

Michigan State kicks off conference play

The first game of the rest of Big Ten play will be Michigan’s toughest of the season: at Michigan State.

Though the Spartans have lost three games early this season, Tom Izzo will assuredly have them ready to go by Jan. 5, especially with Michigan coming to town. If Michigan is 12-1 at this point, this will be a battle of top 10 teams.

Despite being ranked No. 4, Michigan showed Tuesday it probably isn’t one of the five best teams in the country. Howard’s job is to make sure his team bounces back and continues to improve.

Michigan still has one of the strongest resumes in the nation, but that can change quickly in college basketball. With a tough upcoming schedule, the Wolverines can’t afford to let one loss linger.

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