The Wolverine

January 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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JANUARY 2019 THE WOLVERINE 65 W ith its 89‑78 win against South Carolina Dec. 8, Michigan has sprinted out to a 10‑0 record, which is the fourth‑best start in program history. Only the 1985‑86 (16‑0), 2012‑13 (16‑0) and 1988‑89 (11‑0) editions of Michigan basketball have had better openings. And it wouldn't be much of a surprise if this year's team bests all three of them. It would have been a surprise, though, if that had been foretold prior to the opener for two key reasons. First, John Beilein's teams in Ann Arbor have tended to start slow and then become more cohesive as the season rolls into January and Febru‑ ary. This was expected again because U‑M had to replace NBA Draft first‑ round pick Moritz Wagner and valu‑ able seniors Muhammad‑Ali Abdur‑ Rahkman and Duncan Robinson, a trio that combined for 48.9 percent of U‑M's scoring last season. Second, Michigan had anything but an early cupcake schedule, with home bouts versus North Carolina and Purdue plus road tussles with Villanova and Northwestern before New Year's Day. Yet Michigan, thanks to a suffocat‑ ing defense and the instant impact of true freshman Ignas Brazdeikis, has screamed out of the gates as one of the nation's best teams. The Wolverines pummeled North Carolina (No. 7 on KenPom as of Dec. 10), Purdue (No. 15) and Vil‑ lanova (No. 16) each by at least 17 points. They also survived their trip to Evanston with a two‑point win over Northwestern, which should be a sneaky‑good victory because the Wildcats are 47th on KenPom. As a result, Michigan is fourth on KenPom and would be higher if not anchored by preseason projections. The Wolverines have a perfect re‑ cord, are considered by most, if not all, metrics to be one of the sport's best squads and have the heavy lift‑ ing of their early season slate behind them. Suddenly, anticipating when Michigan will lose its first game has become a more difficult task than trying to convert a contested layup over the outstretched arms of junior center Jon Teske. The Wolverines are substantial favorites in each of their next seven contests. As of Dec. 10, KenPom gives them about a 99 percent chance to win in each of their next three games (versus Western Michigan, Air Force and Binghamton) and at least an 80 percent chance in each of their four conference games thereafter (versus Penn State, versus Indiana, at Illinois and versus Northwestern). Accordingly, KenPom calculates Michigan has a 46.9‑percent chance to win all seven tilts, and if the Wolverines avoid all the traps of this stretch, they will possess a 17‑0 record by Jan. 19. That would be the best start in school history. On the surface, 46.9 percent may not seem like much. Technically, it's more likely not to happen than to happen. However, when put into context, it can be seen how favor‑ able this stretch is. There are eight other schools that are undefeated: Kansas, Virginia, Nevada, Texas Tech, Buffalo, Hous‑ ton, St. John's and Furman. KenPom only gives three of them better than a 6 percent chance to get to Jan. 19 with an unbeaten record (Kansas, Virginia and Nevada). Further, KenPom only gives Ne‑ vada (39.2 percent) better than a 19 percent chance to get to Jan. 19 with a perfect record still intact, and the Wolfpack benefit from being in a mid‑major conference. Michigan's 46.9 percent, which is the best of the nine unbeatens, starts to look pretty promising. Additionally, each of the eight re‑ maining unbeatens has at least one game where KenPom projects them to be worse than an 80 percent fa‑ vorite before Jan. 19, whereas Michi‑ gan has no such games. In fact, Nevada has just one such game (76 percent at Fresno State Jan. 12), and every other team has at least three. The odds of those teams slipping up seem to be fairly high. If Michigan can reach 17‑0, the team most likely to hand U‑M its first loss is Wisconsin Jan. 19. The game will be played at the Kohl Center, a venue that has trolled the Wolverines with some heartbreak‑ ing, dispiriting losses. At the moment, it's one of just two games in which the Wolverines are projected to be the underdog. The other is the regular‑season finale at Michigan State. If they can weasel their way past Wisconsin, their win‑ ning streak should continue to grow. However, even if they do lose, they will have still made their state‑ ment that this is one of the best U‑M teams ever and that few schools will be a better contender for a champi‑ onship than them. Just look at the prior three U‑M teams that started at least 10‑0. The 1985‑86 team won a Big Ten champi‑ onship. The 2012‑13 team played for a national championship. The 1988‑89 team won the national championship. The 2018‑19 team? With a similar start, expect a similar finish. ❏ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Michigan Headed For Historic Start The Wolverines' 10-0 start is the second best of John Beilein's career at Michigan. His 2012-13 squad started 16-0 and ended up play- ing for the national championship. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett.

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