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February 9, 2013
Wolverines can make a push in wild Big Ten race
There's never a dull moment in the Big Ten.
Days after beating Michigan to take back the No. 1 ranking in both polls, Indiana was upset by a struggling Illinois team, 74-72, on a wild last-second play Thursday night.
The Wolverines have a huge opportunity in front of them now. Not only can they retake the top spot in the national rankings themselves - because of the Hoosiers' loss and No. 2 Florida's upset loss to Arkansas - but they can put themselves in perfect position to win an outright Big Ten title.
"All we're trying to do is win the Big Ten Championship," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "That game last night (vs. Indiana and Illinois) was a really good game. Illinois played really well and hung in there when you thought it was going the other way, but it proves that the team that is going to win this league is going to have to win on the road. That's very difficult to do.
"I'm the same way whether we're playing a team that is having a rebuilding year or the team that is No. 1 in the country. When I look back to when I was a young coach watching the ACC, when it was far and away the best, between Maryland, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia. They were all tremendous teams, and I said, 'that is the highest level of basketball ever.' That's what our league is in these particular years right now. We have four or five teams that, with breaks, could go a long way. That's what we're seeing. As we found out last night and with Kansas and TCU, the other games are no slouches. You have to be ready to play every day."
Michigan's next two games are at Wisconsin (Saturday, Feb. 9) and at Michigan State (Tuesday, Feb. 12).
If the Wolverines win both games, a Big Ten Champion will certainly be within reach. After the next two games, they have two games against Penn State, one vs. Illinois, one at Illinois and tough home games against Michigan State and Indiana.
But first, the Badgers.
"We finally have an afternoon game," Beilein said. "It's been a while since we've had this. Obviously, it's against a great team. Wisconsin is the same Wisconsin you've seen for a long time. They're patient. They play great defense. You look at their field goal percentages - they're incredible on defense. They have a younger back court than we have seen before. They're a good team home and away, but on particular in the Kohl Center."
Wisconsin plays a very deliberate style that will test the Wolverines' patience.
"With some teams, you have to understand that the game is going to be in the 40s, 50s," Beilein said. "Let's face it, everyone likes to score points. You're not going to probably score as many points as usual. You're not going to get as many shots. It's going to be a lower-possession game. Your turnovers, your value of the ball is important. You have to take quality shots, but you also have to guard for 37 seconds, get the rebound.
"Wisconsin is the best I've ever seen, with one second on the shot clock, still getting a good shot off. It's hard to practice all those things, but our scout team will do it today. It kills guys like Eso and Josh, because they want to jack up shots. They want to be more like some of the other teams, but with Wisconsin, our scout team will have to be patient."