Before Michigan’s season began, it was easy to identify the toughest part of its schedule: the beginning.
The Wolverines’ first 12 games included matchups with No. 7 North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio State, UCLA and several tough games at the Maui Invitational. Tuesday, that stretch will conclude when Michigan (1-1 Big Ten, 8-3 overall) travels to face Texas (6-2).
It appears the Wolverines are catching somewhat of a break, as Longhorns guard Andrew Jones – the team’s leading scorer – will miss Tuesday’s game with a wrist injury. After finishing third on the team in scoring last year, Jones tested the waters of the NBA Draft this offseason before ultimately deciding to return to school. Through eight games, he was averaging 15.3 points per game and shooting 52.4 percent.
Without Jones, Texas will turn to one of the best frontcourts Michigan will face all season. Forwards Dylan Osetkowski and Mohamed Bamba average 14.0 and 10.7 points per game, respectively, while combining for 18 rebounds per game.
The Wolverines actively recruited Bamba, who was the No. 3 recruit in the class of 2017. In fact, the 7-footer took a visit to Ann Arbor in September of last year, before choosing to sign with the Longhorns. Osetkowski, on the other hand, played his first two years at Tulane, where he averaged 8.9 points per game before transferring to Texas.
“Mo Bamba’s a tremendous player, but the transfer they have from Tulane is the guy that’s really been tremendous for them this year,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “That’s the guy that, maybe, they were missing last year. A guy – an inside threat, outside threat. He’s really a good player.”
Another challenge that Michigan will have to overcome is its trouble playing on the road this season.
When the Wolverines traveled to Chapel Hill, N.C., they were run off the court. A week later, they blew a 20-point lead to Ohio State. In both games, Michigan was unable to effectively respond when its opponents went on runs.
Perhaps the Wolverines have exorcised those demons, though. Saturday, they overcame a 15-point deficit to beat UCLA. Now, they have to prove that they can do the same thing on the road.
Michigan experienced trouble in road games last season, but it’s a different team now, and the Wolverines have to prove once again that they can contend with good teams away from Crisler Center.
“It’s been tough in the past, too,” Wagner said. “Last year, I remember, we were 0-6 (up) to the Indiana game in the middle of the Big Ten season on the road. So, it’s obviously tough, whether that’s young or old and a (more) mature team. But we don’t have that in the back of our mind. We just play basketball and try not to focus on that.”
The Longhorns and Wolverines have an opponent in common this season. Both have played VCU, and both beat the Rams in close games. Those contests could act as a barometer for how close Tuesday’s game could be. Currently, Texas is listed as a six-point favorite. Beilein, for his part, believes that’s true.
“They’ve got enough good players,” Beilein said. “… And we’re going to have to play, probably, our best game of the year to get a win at Texas.”