Following a strenuous stretch in which No. 5 Michigan clashed with seven teams boasting a combined 56-17 record, the Wolverines welcome a brief two-game reprieve against two low-major squads visiting Crisler Center for the holidays.

U-M finished the stretch 4-3, including two wins over AP Top 25 teams, but has dropped three of its last four, and could use a couple of stress-free wins to help right the ship heading into the new year.

Currently sitting at 1-1 in the conference, the Wolverines open 2020 with critical games against No. 16 Michigan State and a Purdue team that recently decimated No. 9 Virginia 69-40. Both are hard-nosed defensive teams, with the Boilermakers yielding only 54.8 points per game and the Spartans allowing 65.4, and present a challenge for a U-M offense that has managed only 58.3 points per game in its three losses.

Here is a preview of the U-M’s next five contests, as well as a look at how its last five opponents fared last week.

Michigan’s Next Five Opponents

Combined Record: 25-25

Dec. 21: vs Presbyterian (2-8)

Dec. 29: vs UMass Lowell (6-6)

Jan. 5: at Michigan State (7-3, 1-0)

Jan. 9: vs Purdue (6-3, 1-0)

Jan 12: at Minnesota (4-5, 0-1)

Dec. 21 - vs Presbyterian (2-8): 

With a 64-63 loss to St Francis Brooklyn Dec. 12, Presbyterian has now dropped seven of its last eight games and is 1-8 on the year against Division 1 foes. The 326th ranked team in the country according to KenPom advanced stats, the Blue Hose's 63-point output it its most recent outing dropped them to 305th in the country in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (93.0). Averaging 63.2 points per contest this year, Presbyterian has shot better than 50.0 percent from the field just once in 10 games. PC’s defensive efforts have been even more futile with a 108.2 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency Rating that is 332nd in Division 1.

Dec. 29 - vs UMass Lowell (6-6):

After a sluggish 2-5 start, UML has won four of its last five games to improve to .500 on the season. During this stretch, the River Hawks are averaging 80.0 points per contest, led by junior guard Obadiah Noel’s 17.0 points per game, and have outscored opponents by an average of 9.4 points. UML has been strong on the offensive glass this season, leading the America East conference with a 32.0 Offensive Rebound Percentage (OR%) but have allowed opponents a 50.5 Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%), which is 221st in the nation.

Jan. 5 - at No. 16 Michigan State (7-3, 1-0):

No. 16 Michigan State has won four of its last five, with three of the victories by at least 12 points. Despite this recent success, the Spartans have made only 18 of 70 three-point attempts over their last three games (25.7 percent) and are No. 222 in the nation with a 31.3 three-point percentage. MSU has been able to counter these struggles with a 55.0 shooting percentage from two-point range, which is the third-best in the Big Ten, and a conference-leading 18.8 assists per game.

Up to this point, senior point guard Cassius Winston’s 108.0 Offensive Rating (ORtg), 47.5 eFG%, and 37.4 Assist Rate (ARate) are all down significantly from his junior season. Still, Winston’s ORtg is well above the 100.0 score that is considered good by KenPom standards, as are the ORtgs of 8 of the 10 other Spartans that have seen significant action this season. Sophomore guard Gabe Brown has made noticeable strides from his rookie year, and is currently logging the seventh-best ORtg in the conference (128.5).

Jan. 9 - vs Purdue (6-3, 1-0):

At 6-3 and with a win over No. 9 Virginia on its resume, the Boilermakers are ranked No. 6 in the country according to KenPom, although remain unranked in the AP Poll. Purdue squandered leads in the final two minutes in losses to both Texas and Florida State, and let 13-point second-half advantage slip away in a 65-55 dispatching by Marquette. Most recently, the Boilermakers stifled Northwestern 58-44 Dec. 8.

Purdue is averaging just 68.9 points per game, but this low scoring output is more by design than lack of offensive efficiency. The Boilermakers average possession length is 19.4 seconds, which places them 13th in the Big Ten and 334th in nation and, along with the fifth-best Adjusted Defensive Efficiency Rating in the country (86.0), has helped limit opponents to just 54.8 points per contest (2nd Big Ten, 6th nationally). PU has yielded more than 65 points just once this season, and has held four foes to under 50 points.

Jan. 12 - at Minnesota (4-5, 0-1):

After losing center Jordan Murphy to graduation and guard Amir Coffee to the NBA draft, Minnesota has struggled to replace its two leading scorers from a year ago. The Golden Gophers have scored 80 or more points just once in its last eight games while putting less than 70 on the board five times in that span.

Sophomore center Daniel Oturu has been a bright spot for the Gophers, the rookie is the only player in the country averaging at least 18 points, 11 boards, three blocks and 60 percent shooting from the field per game. At 6-10, Oturu has the height down low that has given Michigan problems this season and he can also stretch the floor, hitting 5 of 13 three-point attempts (38.5 percent) on the year.

Michigan’s Last Five Opponents:

Combined Record: 44-10

Oregon (L, 71-70 OT): 8-2

Illinois (L, 71-62): 8-3 (1-1)

Iowa (W, 103-91): 8-3 (1-1)

Louisville (L, 58-43 ): 10-1

Gonzaga (W, 82-64): 10-1

No. 10 Oregon (L, 71-70 OT):

Including its matchup against Michigan, Oregon’s five tilts against teams ranked in the top 15 is the most in the country, and the 71-70 overtime win at Crisler Center improved the Ducks record to 3-2 in such contests. The victory over No. 5 U-M marked the highest-ranked non-conference foe that Oregon has defeated during the regular season in program history.

Illinois (L, 71-62):

Illinois followed up its mid-week upset of U-M with a convincing 69-54 triumph over Old Dominion Dec. 15. The Illini defense limited to the Monarchs to 36.8 percent shooting from the field, and have held three of its last four opponents to 65 points or less. After amassing 44 points in the paint and 16 second-chance points against U-M, UI scored only 26 points in the post and five points on second-chance opportunities against ODU.

Iowa (W, 103-91):

Iowa bounced back from its 103-91 loss to Michigan with a pair of convincing wins. The Hawkeyes allowed just 23-second half points in a 72-52 triumph over Minnesota Dec. 9 and saw all five of its starters score double-digits in a 84-68 win over rival Iowa State Dec. 12.

Junior center Luka Garza continued his red-hot play, scoring 21 points and grabbing 11 boards against ISU, and recording 21 points and 10 rebounds against the Golden Gophers. He leads the Big Ten with 22.4 points per game, and has registered four 20-point double-doubles this season.

No. 1 Louisville (L, 58-43):

Louisville had its hopes for an undefeated season dashed in a 70-57 loss to Texas Tech Dec. 10, but responded with a resounding 99-67 trouncing of Eastern Kentucky Dec. 14. The Cardinals are giving up a stingy 59.4 points per game this season, but have averaged just 59.7 points in its last three contests against Power 5 teams. With his 26-point outburst against the Hilltoppers, junior forward Jordan Nwora has scored at least 20 points in seven games this season.

No. 6 Gonzaga (W, 82-64):

Gonzaga improved to 10-1 on the season with two-consecutive road conquests of PAC12 opponents. The Zags exploded for 49 points in the second half to fend off No. 15 Arizona 84-80 Dec. 14, and outscored then No. 22 Washington 13-6 over the last four minutes to secure a 83-76 triumph Dec. 8. The Bulldogs are now 3-1 against teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25 this season and are averaging 89.3 points per game since managing only 64 in an 18-point loss to Michigan Nov. 29.

What do you think the Wolverines need to do to right the ship heading into the rest of the Big Ten schedule? Comment below!!!