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March 6, 2013

New life

Indiana cut down the nets on its Senior Day Tuesday night - but the Hoosiers did it following a stunning, 67-58 home loss to Ohio State that gave Michigan one more improbable chance to finish with a share of the Big Ten title. The Buckeyes kept their own Big Ten title hopes alive, and in doing so made Michigan head coach John Beilein look prophetic.

Beilein said earlier this year he could envision a Big Ten race that ended with a several-loss champion.

"The Big Ten is going to be so strong this year, with so many high level teams," Beilein said. "Last year we were a champion with a 13-5 record. That record, even 12-6, may be a Big Ten title winner. It's just going to be very challenging."

It will take 13-5 for the Wolverines - Indiana still stands 13-4 to U-M's 11-5 heading into Sunday's finale in Ann Arbor - and the road isn't easy. U-M faces Purdue on the road Wednesday night, a place it's won only twice in the last 10 games, against a Boilermakers team that just won at Wisconsin. Purdue, led by six three-pointers from D.J. Byrd, rallied from a 13-point, first half deficit to stun the Badgers.

The Boilermakers will be tough when they shoot like that, Beilein said, making three-point defense - an Achilles heel for the Wolverines this year - paramount.

The Wolverines also hope to get a shot in the arm of their own from long range in freshman Nik Stauskas, who is expected to play after taking an elbow to the face early in a 58-57 win over Michigan State Sunday. He received stitches and had a swollen eye, but he practiced Monday and Tuesday.

"I don't expect anything different than him playing," Beilein said. "His eye doesn't look the same - he had an injury to his eye - but I love the way he bounced back with toughness. I loved it. He jumped right into our scrimmage [Monday] and played about 20 minutes, so it was good."

They'll need contributions from everyone to set up a championship game with the Hoosiers in Sunday's finale, a position they're in only because they dropped an 84-78 stunner at Penn State last week, the Nittany Lions' only win of the Big Ten season.

They're looking ahead now, however - not backward - tougher, wiser and (they hope) prepared to take on a Purdue team that played one of its best games in weeks at Wisconsin.

"We had to lose that game to understand some things we had to do to win the Michigan State game," Beilein said on his Monday radio show. "There are games that will help you win others. Sometimes the best way to have it happen is to hit hard, and nothing hits harder than when you have a 15-point lead with 10 minutes to go and you can't win the game because you can't stop another team. That hit pretty good.

"We can score points, but we can't stop people. That hit pretty good. - [So] we played great and with great toughness, and we're going to have to do that again, a lot like we did Sunday."

If they do, they'll have an opportunity to hang a Big Ten championship banner in Crisler Arena for the second consecutive year.

Notebook

  • Stauskas will wear a bandage over his left eye, but nothing more, Beilein said. The freshman has started 23 consecutive games and is the team's leading three-point shooter, cashing in at 45.8 percent.

  • A quick start could be paramount to U-M's chances Wednesday night. The Wolverines are a 6.5-point favorite, but they've been inconsistent on the road.

    "I don't think there's any magic formula other than make sure you have great effort, keep poise and keep attacking - don't get back on your heels," Beilein said. "That's pretty much a road mentality. The common denominator in the wins we've had on the road is that we got out to a good start early.

    "The Wisconsin game, I thought we played a tremendous game, start to finish. There were three really bad times - Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan State - that we got off to a horrendous start, and that buried us."
    Michigan hopes to improve to .500 on the road.

    "This will be our 10th road game, and we would love to finish with a 5-5 record on the road," Beilein said. "Obviously, we would have loved to have been above .500 in the Big Ten, but that can't happen now."

  • Redshirt junior big man Jordan Morgan, who sprained his ankle Jan. 27 at Illinois, is almost back to full strength. He isn't 100 percent, but estimates he's around 90 while still lacking a bit of explosion.

    "I still see a problem sometimes where he limps around a little bit, and he's still in rehab an hour a day," Beilein said. "He probably will not be at 100 percent all season long, given our schedule. But when the season is over, within a couple weeks, he'll probably be back."

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