At his weekly meeting with the press, Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein had no answer when asked if he would have preferred to play an easier schedule this season.
He simply chuckled at the thought.
When you’ve been through a gauntlet of highly ranked teams like his Wolverines have, a sense of humor might be the only remedy to your problems.
The thought of a team with just one experienced senior challenging the number of quality opponents Michigan has played is laughable.
To be exact, the Wolverines have gone up against the Nos. 3, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12 and 13 teams in this week’s AP poll – and lost every time. According to the Sagarin ratings, which rate teams based partly on the strength of their opponents’ records, Michigan’s schedule is the third toughest in the nation.
“There’s times where you want to (have an easier schedule),” Beilein said. “A lot of times scheduling is done one or two years in advance, so you really don’t know. There’s certainly advantages to playing a tough schedule, but there are some times where you worry about stripping confidence.”
On the other end of the spectrum is Minnesota (2-4 Big Ten, 12-6 overall), which faces the Wolverines tonight at Crisler Arena.
Like Michigan (1-7, 5-15), the Golden Gophers have been working to adjust to a new system after hiring former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. But Minnesota got off to a 10-1 start, building confidence while beating unknowns like North Dakota State and Kennesaw State.
But since entering Big Ten play, the Gophers have had to play tougher competition and their record has suffered for it. Minnesota comes to Ann Arbor on a three-game losing skid.
Despite the adverse effect Michigan’s rugged schedule has had on its record, sophomore DeShawn Sims believes it will help the Wolverines in coming years.
“I like that we’ve played so many tough games because it just gives you experience,” Sims said. “If you never play tough games, you’ll never know what those games feel like to play in. And if you are always playing downgraded games, it doesn’t do anything for our team building.”
Right now, Michigan doesn’t have much to build on. After an encouraging three-point loss to No. 13 Wisconsin on Jan. 22, the Wolverines took a step back last weekend in their 77-62 loss at No. 8 Michigan State.
Sims’s play will be particularly important against Minnesota. The Detroit native struggled with the Badgers’ and Spartans’ defense, going 4-for-19 and 1-for-7 from the floor in the two games.
Without Sims’s scoring, opponents can swarm the team’s leading scorer freshman Manny Harris (16.2 points per game) and limit his effectiveness slashing to the basket.
On defense, the entire frontcourt must show the strength it has gained over the course of its brutal schedule. It must stop the two of the top-scoring Gophers, power forward Dan Coleman and center Spencer Tollackson.
Note: The Michigan Athletic Department will hold pregame and halftime festivities tonight to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Crisler Arena.
Former Michigan basketball greats Cazzie Russell and Rudy Tomjanovich will be attendance, as well as members of the 1967-68 team – the first to play in the arena.
Minnesota at Michigan
Matchup: Minnesota 12-6; Michigan 5-15
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Crisler Arena