After being ranked No. 7 coming into the season, the Michigan Wolverines are in danger of becoming irrelevant after suffering their third loss of the season. Duke handed them a 79-69 defeat on Dec. 3, knocking the Wolverines out of the polls completely. They've lost to Charlotte and Iowa State, and were taken to overtime by a mediocre Florida State team. Piling on will be Arizona, the country's best and most physical team, who Michigan will host this Saturday. The Wolverines will likely have four losses before Christmas, a feat they didn't accomplish until last season until mid-February.
Despite the crooked number in the loss column, this Michigan team is good enough to finish the season as a ranked team and to make a run in March. The Wolverines have yet to lose at home, falling twice in hostile environments and playing two bad games on a neutral floor. A win against Arizona in Ann Arbor would completely change the perception of the team and thrust the Wolverines back in to the polls.
Also, this team is too talented to not make a push during conference play. Losing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA was crippling, but John Beilein has weapons left in his arsenal. Mitch McGary is a first-round talent who can average a double-double, and Glenn Robinson III will be cashing paychecks as a professional basketball player for quite some time. Both have been underwhelming in the early going, with Robinson's field-goal percentage down to 44 percent on the season. McGary has shot much better, but hasn't become the star Michigan fans hoped he would be.
The lone bright spot on the offense has been Nik Stauskas, who has taken over the brunt of the scoring in Burke's absence. The sophomore is averaging nearly 19 points per game and shooting 50 percent from the three-point line. Michigan's problem comes when players other than Stauskas are trying to establish range. The rest of the team is shooting just 35 percent from behind the arc, unacceptable for a team that needs to spread the floor to be effective.
When Big Ten play starts, Michigan has the opportunity to prove itself against the toughest teams in the country. There are three Big Ten teams -- Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State -- in the Top 5 in the AP Poll, with Iowa and Indiana in the conversation for title contention. McGary must prove that he can be a healthy and productive player that can average more than the 25 minutes per game that he is averaging. Robinson needs to find his long-range shot to complement what Stauskas is doing. Or else it's going to be a long conference season for the Maize and Blue.