The Michigan Wolverines will play their first game of the Big Ten Conference Tournament Friday afternoon against the Illinois Fighting Illini. While the team has already put a regular season conference title on their 2013-14 resume, a good showing in the conference tournament could improve their draw for the NCAA Tournament immensely.
Most importantly, the focus for recently-crowned Big Ten Coach of the Year John Beilein is to sharpen some things up with the team and get this group ready for another deep run.
|Photo Credit: BTN.com|
Defensively, the Wolverines will look to lock things down from the perimeter and clamp down more on teams early to prevent hot starts, something we’ve seen a lot of lately. While Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas has been fantastic on the offensive end all year, he needs to improve on the other end and lead the charge for his team.
Offensively, there is not a whole lot to gripe about, but Beilein would probably like to get his freshmen guard duo, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin, a bit more involved in the offense. If those two can catch fire, they could have a similar impact on this team as Mitch McGary did in the NCAA Tournament last year to help the group take it to the next level.
As of now, many bracketologists have the Wolverines as a three-seed. With Villanova losing in the first round of the Big East Tournament, the door could possibly be open to slide into the NCAAs as a two-seed.
As the top overall seed in the conference, Michigan looks to have a draw that will have them playing on Saturday afternoon at the very least. Assuming they get past Illinois, the Wolverines could play the winner of the game with Nebraska and either Purdue or Ohio State, all three teams of which Michigan has beaten this year.
The two teams that have the best shot to upend the Wolverines are Wisconsin and Michigan State. Bo Ryan and the Badgers have a win on their resume at the Crisler Center, while Tom Izzo and the Spartans are looking to use this conference tournament as a way to get their mojo back and prepare to make another long tournament run, which they have the talent to do.
Wisconsin has as much to play for in terms of seeding as Michigan does, perhaps even more, as the Badgers could potentially slide in as a one-seed.
Michigan and Wisconsin are the teams that are expected to match-up on Sunday afternoon in the championship game. Both teams have a win over each other on the road, so many are looking forward to a potential rubber match between the two schools.
As far as a prediction goes, Wisconsin is the team that appears to have the upper hand when you look at the tape. The have both the size inside and outside shooting to give Michigan fits. The Wolverines showed that they are not afraid of them, though, as they took it to them in Madison and mounted an aggressive comeback in their most recent match-up at home.