Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wolverines Lose to Chippewas; Closer Look at the Big Ten

The Central Michigan Chippewas accomplished what fellow Michigan state school Oakland couldn't do as they went into Crisler Arena and beat the host Michigan Wolverines 78-67 yesterday. CMU guard Giordan Watson scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the second half and the Chippewas were able to hold off a furious late Michigan rally to improve to 4-5 on the season.

Michigan, on the other hand, dropped to 4-7 with the loss and will host current #8 UCLA next Saturday (2:00 PM, CBS). The Wolverines have bitten off more than they can chew with the tough schedule they've played so far this season and it doesn't get any easier. A team as young as they are should be playing the Radfords and the Browns of the world like they did at the beginning of the year, not UCLA, Duke, and Georgetown. Michigan has also played Butler and Boston College but those games were predetermined by someone else; those opponents weren't selected by whomever schedules the Wolverines' games.

The Wolverines got 17 points from sophomore forward DeShawn Sims and 11 points and eight assists from freshman guard Kelvin Grady, but once again bench points proved to be a huge difference in the game. CMU's bench chipped in 32 points while Michigan's subs only mustered 13. John Beilein's squad is taking some lumps this season as they continue to grow and mature; they did everything right today but they simply were outplayed by CMU and the Chippewas deserved to win. They were the more physical team and knocked down their free throws at the end of the game to seal the deal.

We know that Michigan at 4-7 is going to be one of the teams that bring up the rear this year in the Big Ten Conference, but for those of you who don't really follow that league, I'm here to fill you in on some of the other goings-on so far. Indiana is led by their stud freshman guard and national scoring leader Eric Gordon and are 9-1 this season, as are Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans. Gordon will likely be a one-and-done player and head to the NBA after this season, and Michigan State has a veteran squad that rebounds extremely well and likes to run in transition. Ambidextrous point guard Drew Neitzel is one of the four or five best at his position in the country and will lead that team into contention for the Big Ten title with Indiana.

The Spartans and Hoosiers are head and shoulders above the rest in the Big Ten, and there is an upper tier middle group of Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue, and Ohio State, and then a lower tier middle group of Iowa, Minnesota, and Penn State. Minnesota is 7-1 so far this season under new head coach Tubby Smith and have some nice players on the roster, but they haven't played anyone of consequence up to this point; their record is a bit inflated and they won't be able to stay in 3rd place all year like they are now. Northwestern and Michigan are at the bottom of the conference but Michigan clearly has the more talent of the two. Both of these two teams will struggle this season but both also have the ability to come up with a couple upsets against better teams this season, particularly if those games at home.

The Big Ten will employ an 18-game schedule this year instead of the traditional 16-game schedule that we've seen in recent years. This ensures that the cream of the crop will truly stand out and earn the #1 seed in the conference tournament this year, which will return to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis this year after it was held in Chicago last year. Indiana and Michigan State will likely fight it out all winter for that honor and could likely end up with somewhere between 13 and 15 wins in the conference. That middle group, which Michigan could play their way into if their young kids really mature in a hurry and the team grasps Beilein's complicated offense, will have somewhere between 8 and 12 wins and it'll really be a battle for higher seeding in the conference tournament. Whoever ends up at the bottom will likely be the conference doormat and finish nowhere near that middle group, and all signs point to that being Northwestern.

1 comment:

Kartik said...

interesting..........the big ten dropped from 18 to 16 when they added the league tournament in 1998 and are now back up to 18! That limits the ability of member schools to aggressively schedule non league opponents because as Michigan learned this year you don't want to be too cute with scheduling. The Wolverines despite having a top flight coach in John Beileihn are unlikely to even sniff the NIT this year.