Wolverines' non-conference schedule released
The Michigan basketball team released its 2017 non-conference schedule Monday, a 13-game slate which features a trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational as well as a showdown with defending national champion North Carolina.
Just as they did last season, the Wolverines will play only one exhibition game, on Nov. 3, against Division II opponent Grand Valley State. Michigan took on Armstrong State in an exhibition matchup in 2016.
The Wolverines normally begin the regular season with less challenging competition: They took on mid-major opponents Howard and IUPUI last season, and faced Northern Michigan and Elon two years ago. Michigan will continue that trend this season, as it opens regular-season play against North Florida (Nov. 11), Central Michigan (Nov. 16) and Southern Mississippi (Nov. 19) — teams that combined to go 40-57 last season.
Up next for the Wolverines is the Maui Invitational. The eight-team tournament, which includes Michigan, California, Louisiana State, Marquette, Notre Dame, Virginia Commonwealth and Wichita State, as well as hosts Chaminade, will take place Nov. 20-22 at the Lahaina Civic Center. Michigan will play three games at the invitational, starting with a matchup against LSU.
The Wolverines last competed in the Maui Invitational in 2011, placing third. Michigan has made the trip to Hawaii five previous times, and won the tournament in 1985 and 1988.
This year’s Maui Invitational field includes five teams — Michigan, Marquette, Notre Dame, Virginia Commonwealth and Wichita State — that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season.
"The Maui Invitational is going to give us an early season challenge," said Michigan coach John Beilein in a statement. "The trip will not only serve as a great bonding experience, but three games in three days against quality opponents will only serve us well preparing for the Big Ten and postseason."
Perhaps the biggest test for the Wolverines will be the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 29. Michigan will travel to Chapel Hill, N.C. to take on defending national champion North Carolina. The Wolverines have a 2-3 all-time record against the Tar Heels.
On Dec. 9, Michigan will play host to UCLA, who defeated the Wolverines in Los Angeles last December in the first game of the home-and-home series. The Bruins, who went 31-5 last season and bring in the No. 4 recruiting class in the country according to ESPN, should be another formidable test.
Michigan’s toughest remaining non-conference game will likely come at Texas on Dec. 12, which is also the second half of a home-and-home series. The Longhorns struggled last season and finished just 11-22. However, their recruiting class — which includes five-star power forward Mo Bamba, who chose Texas over Michigan, Kentucky and Duke — is ranked fifth in the nation by ESPN.
The Wolverines’ other non-conference games are against UC Riverside (Nov. 26), Detroit Mercy (Dec. 16), Alabama A&M (Dec. 21) and Jacksonville (Dec. 30). The neutral-site showdown with the Titans might be the most meaningful: The Titans are led by former Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander, who is going into his second season as head coach, and the game will be the first college basketball game ever played at Little Caesar’s Arena, the newly built home of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings.
Overall, the Wolverines’ non-conference schedule strength stacks up favorably to its 2016 slate. Including potential opponents in the Maui Invitational, Michigan’s opponents had an average KenPom rating — an advanced metric that measures a team’s strength — of 155, compared to 171 last season. The Wolverines are also likely to face at least three Top 25 teams in non-conference play, compared to just one such team last season.
"We have always tried to schedule and play a competitive non-conference schedule," Beilein said in a statement. "This season continues to live up to those expectations. We are really looking forward to the challenge."
The 2017-2018 schedule comes with a few other changes compared to last season. The Big Ten Tournament will be held from Feb. 28-March 4 at Madison Square Garden in New York City — a week earlier than last season. As a result, Michigan will have a home and an away Big Ten game sometime between Dec. 1-Dec. 5. The Big Ten basketball schedules have not yet been released.
These changes mean that the Wolverines will have played 15 games before New Year’s Day, a date by which they have usually played just 13 in years past. However, should Michigan qualify for the NCAA Tournament, it will have an extra week of rest, as the tournament does not begin until March 13.
While the Wolverines’ schedule features its share of “cupcake” opponents, perennial powers such as North Carolina, Texas and UCLA and the Maui Invitational should bolster their strength-of-schedule and give them crucial experience against tough competition leading up to Big Ten play.