The Michigan basketball team has yet to beat a good Big Ten team
on the road. It will have to do that soon in order to give itself a
chance for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Laura Wong

Don’t give up hope just yet.

Michigan sits at 3-4 in the conference and will have a hard time
catching 5-1 Wisconsin atop the Big Ten. But the Wolverines are
entering a stretch of the season with a home stand and some
apparently easier road contests that may help spring them up in the
standings.

A second- or third-place finish in the Big Ten — still
very much within reach — would mean an almost-automatic NCAA
Tournament bid, something Michigan hasn’t earned since 1997.
Something which would make this season a success.

Now, it’s up to the team to capitalize on that opportunity
by winning away from Crisler. Michigan’s four remaining road
games will come against opponents (Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana and
Northwestern) which are a combined five games over .500.
That’s a much easier stretch than Michigan just endured,
featuring games at Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State and
Illinois — teams that are a combined 21 games over .500.

Michigan will probably need to win on the road at Minnesota and
Northwestern (11th and ninth in the conference, respectively) and
then at either Iowa or Indiana to have a good shot at the
tournament.

Last year, the Wolverines proved that they could handle a good
team in its own building when they knocked off then-No. 24 Purdue
78-67 on Feb. 19. That win was one of four Big Ten road wins last
season.

And looking at the conference road games that this year’s
squad has played so far, how many of those games should Michigan
really have won?

One — just as many as they did win.

It’s tough to say that a young Michigan team should have
beaten Michigan State on the road. The Spartans were ranked as high
as No. 3 in the preseason polls. It’s true that Michigan
State lost tough games early, but playing six of your first 12
games against teams ranked in the top 20 is going to put a dent
into any team’s record, regardless of how talented that team
is.

To make matters worse, Michigan had to travel to East Lansing
and the Breslin Center to take on their in-state rivals. This is
the same Breslin Center that has been regarded as one of the
toughest places to play in college basketball by Sports
Illustrated, and the same place where only one Michigan player
(Bernard Robinson) had seen significant action before the game
three weeks ago.

The Kohl Center in Wisconsin is just as intimidating. Since Bo
Ryan took the reins as coach of the Badgers more than two years
ago, Wisconsin is 23-0 in Big Ten home games.

Playing Illinois, a team that lost two of its first three Big
Ten games, may have been Michigan’s best chance to steal a
big win away from Crisler thus far. But playing in Champaign is no
cakewalk, either. The Illini have gone 47-2 in home games in the
past three-and-a-half years.

While the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State isn’t exactly
the toughest place to play a road game, the fans weren’t
rooting for Michigan, either. The fact that the Wolverines won in
State College shows that they aren’t completely lifeless
every time they’re on the road.

But winning some road games isn’t money in the bank just
yet. Michigan needs to learn some lessons from its early Big Ten
losses in order to make a run at the top of the conference.

One thing is clear: The Wolverines can’t go six, eight or
ten minutes without putting any points on the board and expect to
win.

In their loss to Michigan State on Jan. 17, the Wolverines led
the Spartans 19-15 midway through the first half and looked like
they could steal a win. But Michigan went nine minutes without a
field goal en route to its 71-54 loss.

A week and a half later, Michigan once again failed to play a
consistent 40 minutes. The Wolverines hung with Wisconsin on the
road for the entire first half, but allowed the Badgers to go on a
20-5 second-half run.

On Wednesday, Michigan shot the lights out for most of the night
against Iowa — but the Wolverines couldn’t hit a shot
during a six-and-a-half-minute stretch in the first half, when they
allowed the Hawkeyes to run off 15 unanswered points.

These are the types of lapses that the Wolverines can’t
afford as the Big Ten season winds down and they prepare for the
gauntlet of “must-win” games that may emerge.

But it’s not time for the Wolverines to panic, nor is it
time to sit back, look at the schedule and chalk up some easy road
wins, either.

To make this a successful season and achieve the oft-discussed
goal of an NCAA berth, Michigan will need to focus on playing more
consistent basketball and allow its talent to shine through.

No matter where the team is playing.

New Jersey native Daniel Bremmer can be reached at
“mailto:bremmerd@umich.edu”>bremmerd@umich.edu.

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