Big Ten Teams Must Tread Carefully Around Wildcard Michigan Wolverines

By Paul Kilgas
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s collection of loop-d-loops, barrel rolls, figure eights and such from the No. 21 Michigan Wolverines showed just why the Big Ten Conference should be wary of the boys in Ann Arbor once conference play begins at the end of the month. At its best, the Wolverines’ offense is an impressive collection of athleticism, shooting and selfless play. Indeed, games like this make you wonder how Michigan can lose games at all when it has this much acrobatic aerial skill. However, after the first week of December the Wolverines sit at 6-3 with games against the No.2 Arizona Wildcats, Stanford Cardinal, and Holy Cross Crusaders coming up before Big Ten play starts.

For reasons known only to the Houston Baptist Huskies, Michigan faced a zone defense for a majority of the first half in Ann Arbor today. After a few early stumbles, the Wolverine guards were able to penetrate the lane with the greatest of ease. Aces Nik Stauskas (6-for-9), Derrick Walton, Jr. (3-for-3) and Zak Irvin (3-for-5) were able to drop three-bombs with impunity as Michigan tied a school record with 16 three-pointers in the game. Houston Baptist simply ran out of anti-aircraft ammunition within the first ten minutes of the contest, but the Huskies shouldn’t feel bad. Many teams have felt, and will feel, the same bombardment this season.

The problem for Michigan is that the Wolverines simply choose not to bother enemy shooters on too many occasions. It seems as though they rely on their athleticism to cover up poor rotations, but perhaps they would rather sit back and let the other team put up a shot with the hopes that a long rebound will turn into a fast break opportunity.

The Wolverines’ shoddy defense has opened up sizable deficits in several games already this season, and their firepower hasn’t always been accurate enough to allow the Wolverines to escape unscathed. The defense simply hasn’t done enough to help the offense. The Charlotte 49ers to shoot 46 percent beyond the arc in a win over Michigan a few weeks ago, and the Florida State Seminoles hit 50 percent of their three-point shots against Michigan. Teams are hitting about 50 percent of their two-point shots against the Wolverines, as well.

As non-conference play winds down there is a rough idea where each Big Ten team lies in the conference pecking order, but the biggest mystery coming in may be Michigan. There is so much offensive talent present that the Wolverines could finish in the top two or three, but there are enough defensive breakdowns and rebounding questions that Michigan could see itself as far down as sixth place. Teams across the Big Ten will have to hope and pray that Michigan has a poor night shooting when they play the Wolverines because when their missiles are on target opponents will crumble.

One thing is for sure: the Wolverines will be involved in more entertaining games than anyone in the league, with the only exception potentially being the equally combustible Iowa Hawkeyes. A healthy, quality Michigan team is good for the Big Ten conference and for college basketball lovers, and the Wolverines should be entertaining – but unpredictable – in March.

Paul Kilgas is a Big 10 Conference writer for RantSports.comFollow him on Twitter @PaulKilgas, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network on Google.

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