Michigan's non-conference will almost surely give them some momentum heading into conference play. Outside of Duke and Maryland, there are a lot of cupcakes here.
Overview: While this is not an exhibition, MTU is a Division II school, so it's not going to count toward postseason eligibility (for better or worse). The Huskies went 13-14 last season.
What to look for: Michigan's offense figures to look pretty good in this one. MTU opponents shot 36.2% from 3 point range (and 49.2% from 2).
Who to watch: Junior Robbie Springborn attempted 265 shots last season. Among returning players, the next highest total was 150 shots from sophomore Don Fowler. Stop Springborn, stop the Huskies.
Expect the unexpected: The Huskies are somewhat height-challenged. The tallest guy on the team is 6-8, and he's a freshman. Among non-freshman, the tallest guy is 6-6 junior Chris Baugh. And he averaged 10 minutes a game last season.
Chance of a Michigan victory: 95%
Overview: The Norfolk State Spartans went 16-15 last season, and that represented one of their better efforts over the past few seasons. This is a generally middle-of-the-road team in the MEAC.
What to look for: Norfolk St. should at least present a test for the Wolverines' Zack Gibson. We like Gibson to break out this season, but his rebounding needs to improve. The Spartans consistently feature good offensive rebounding.
Who to watch: A pair of seniors - Corey Lyons and Michael Deloach - will be the focal points of the Spartans' offense. Someone needs to tell them to stop shooting 3 pointers, however, as both shot under 30% last season.
Expect the unexpected: It's not just Lyons and Deloach who abuse the iron from downtown. Norfolk St. flirted with a three point percentage under 30% (they finished at 30.1%). But at least they know this, as Norfolk St. rarely attempts threes.
Chance of a Michigan victory: 85%
Overview: The Tigers are coming off an extremely successful season (for them), winning 13 games. A relative newcomer to Division one, Savannah State won a total of 11 games in five seasons spanning 2001-06.
What to look for: Coach Horace Broadnax took over the program in 2005, and the offense is just as awful as it was when he fist took over. But the defense has improved. Last year, the Tigers created a turnover on 25% of their opponents' possessions - good for 12th in the nation.
Who to watch: When the offense is this bad, it's hard to pick out someone to focus on. With that said, sophomore Anthony Jones figures to take a lot of shots again this season. He played the third most minutes on the roster last year, and took 27.9% of the available shots while on the floor. Of course, he shot 29% from 3, and 39% from two, and he had a turnover problem, and he didn't rebound...but hey, he was a freshman!
Expect the unexpected: This is another team with a seemingly endless bench. Ten guys averaged 10 minutes or more last year. In this case, however, it might be necessary to keep up the pressure defense.
Chance of a Michigan victory: 90%
Overview: Maryland defeated Indiana in 2002 to win the national championship. I can't believe that either coach in that game could foresee the next six years. Mike Davis was consequently outed at Indiana a few seasons later (he stepped down...forcibly), and now Gary Williams finds himself on the hot seat. In the six seasons since winning the title, the Terrapins have failed to win 20 games three times.
What to look for: Maryland went 8-8 in a pretty good conference last season, and return 70% of the minutes from last year. Normally, that would mean at least a return to that level, but unfortunately for the Terps, the ACC is a heck of a lot better. The conference lost only one underclassman from the draft last season - and this conference was pretty good last year. Add to that several big time recruits for a lot of other teams (like Wake, Duke, and UNC), and the Terps' conference record figures to take a step back. But that improved competition doesn't make them any worse for Michigan - this will be a big test for the Wolverines.
Who to watch: This season will likely determine whether Greivis Vasquez is a solid PG, or a future star. At 6-5, he's got great size for the position, and it shows in his two point shooting (53%). He's also very gifted at setting up his teammates (36.9%). But his TO Rate is a tad on the high side (24.4%), and he needs to improve his outside shooting (30.9%). What's strange is that he's been a 79% free throw shooter over the past two years. If he can start hitting outside shots, he's NBA material.
Expect the unexpected: Maryland is tall, and features some of the best perimeter defense in the country (opponents shot 32.4% from deep). That's a bad matchup for a John Beilein team.
Chance of a Michigan victory: 40%
Overview: The shine on Duke has started to wear off in recent seasons. Sure, the team is a consistent threat to win 30 games, and this year is no different (the team won 28 last season, return 84% of the minutes, and welcome three top 100 RSCI recruits). But the Blue Devils haven't escaped the first weekend of the tournament in the last two seasons, losing to lower-seeded teams both times.
What to look for: Duke has also started shooting more three pointers in the past few seasons, and some have pointed to this as a possible underlying cause to their NCAA struggles. Well, that didn't seem to be a problem when Duke won the title in 2000-01, when they attempted 27.1 three point shots per game (last year, they were at 25.5).
Who to watch: Kyle Singler figures to be the go-to player for the Blue Devils this season, and look for him to improve on his outside shooting (34%), despite the fact that the three point line is being moved back.
Expect the unexpected: This is another bad matchup for Michigan, as no team in the country consistently defends the three point line better than Duke. The Wolverines are going to have to figure out another way to win this game.
Chance of a Michigan victory: 30%
Overview: The Eagles were 14-17 last season, which is sort of a typical season for them. This season might be a little rougher, as the Eagles return only 47.6% of the minutes from last season.
What to look for: Stylistically, these teams are awfully similar, as they both like to keep the ball on the perimeter. EMU devoted over 45% of their shot attempts to three pointers.
Who to watch: Carlos Medlock figures to be the focal point of the offense. As an 82% FT shooter, his 34% three point percentage seems low. He's also very gifted at getting to the line, which makes his accuracy an even greater asset.
Expect the unexpected: After facing some tough perimeter defense, this will be a welcome game for Michigan. EMU opponents shot 36% from three point range last season.
Chance of a Michigan victory: 80%
Overview: Oakland has a legitimate shot to reach the NCAA Tournament this season. Oral Roberts and IUPUI each lose a lot from last season, and Oakland returns 69.1% of the available minutes from last season. At the least, we should expect another winning campaign.
What to look for: Oakland has a pretty impressive offense for its mid-major status. The offense was powered by the third-best offensive rebounding percentage in the country. Expect the Golden Grizzlies to crash the glass, and really test Michigan's frontline.
Who to watch: Derick Nelson is an undersized power forward at 6-5, but he rebounds well and really gets to the line. 6-3 Erick Kangas is the outside compliment, who hit on 41% of his three point shots last season.
Expect the unexpected: Although this is a bad defensive team, I expect some improvement as their luck evens out. Opponents shot 74.6% at the free throw line last year.
Chance of a Michigan victory: 70%
Florida Gulf Coast
Overview: The Eagles fared pretty well for a team that was new to Division I last season. Sure, 10-21 isn't going to intimidate too many teams, but plenty have fared worse in their inaugural seasons.
What to look for: This is another team that likes to hit the glass, grabbing 35% of their misses. That might end this season, as FGCU loses two of their top offensive rebounders.
Who to watch: This is sort of TBD, as the Eagles will likely struggle to replace departed senior Casey Wohlleb, who took over 35% of the available shots while on the floor last season. But I'd give early odds to the 6-9 Landon Adler. If Adler can retain his efficiency in more minutes (he took over 32.6% of the available shots while on the floor last year), he'll replace Wholleb ably.
Expect the unexpected: FGCU benefited from some luck at the line last year, as opponents shot 65.9% at the charity stripe.
Chance of a Michigan victory: 90%
Overview: UNCC had a more typical showing in its first season of Division I hoops, going 4-26.
What to look for: It's hard to find a lot of strong trends with a team this bad, as nothing really stands out. The Eagles were balanced inside and out of the perimeter, and had a fair amount of assists on their shots, so we're probably looking at a team that runs a good amount of set plays.
Who to watch: It's no surprise that senior Bryan Ayala will lead this team, but he took a lot of shots last year too. What remains to be seen is who will replace Charles Futrell, who not only took a lot of shots, but played 92.8% of the available minutes last season. That's Jamar Butler-esque.
Expect the unexpected: Besides Ayala, this team has massive TO issues. Their TO Rate of 28.6% tied Savannah State for the worst in D1 last year.
Chance of a Michigan victory: 95%
There are lots of schools of thought on scheduling. Some propose that a rougher non-conference schedule prepares teams for conference opponents and postseason play (we'll call these people "Izzonites"). Others believe that an easy non-conference schedule allows a team to make mistakes while learning (while not affecting a team's record), and gain some confidence heading into the season (we'll call these people "Tubbynites"). I don't know if there's a right answer to this debate, but it appears that Beilein aligns more closely with the latter category. Michigan should enter Big Ten play with a pretty good record.
Update: As readers have pointed out, I forgot a February game against UConn in Storrs. Obviously, that changes the complexion of this non-conference slate significantly. And moreover, while UConn should be the heavy favorite, there's a real chance of the Wolverines springing the upset. Sure, UConn was a good team last year that loses little, but this team does not match up well against POTs. Consider that teams shot only 40.4% against UConn on two pointers, but 34.9% on threes. Also, UConn opponents held an embarrassingly-low TO Rate of 16.9. A Beilein team might not crack 15.0 against them, and frankly, your odds of winning are pretty good at that point. I'm not saying it will happen, but from this distant, three-month-away perspective, this has upset potential all over it.
(Also, thanks to readers for pointing out the MTU game was part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. I didn't mention it not because it was an oversight,
but because I'm a little, well, put off by a purported tournament that has guaranteed advancement for certain teams, win or lose. Apparently, I was thinking of the CBE Classic. I'm a bit off my game today, sorry).