Several writers have called Michigan's Thursday night game against No. 9 Minnesota a must win for the Wolverines' Big Ten chances following a 56-53 loss to Ohio State Sunday.
Head coach John Beilein laughed off the characterization Wednesday.
"I'd be dead if I looked at games like that," Beilein quipped. "This is another great opportunity for us to grow. I will never, whether we have a team that is picked last or at the top end - it is all about the process. The process. the journey is what leads you to the end.
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"There's never a must win. I've said before, when the math shows it - like last year we had to win at PSU to have a chance to be a champion - that's a must win. There's none of that right now."
Beilein insisted he prepared his team the best he could for the trying Big Ten slate.
"We did that by trying to play a schedule where we were not always home," he said. "I think Duke played its first road game the other day. Most teams play one or two, and there are a lot of reasons for that, a lot of it revenue driven. At the same time, we did everything we can, but nothing is like the real thing. You've got to be out there. With experience, it grows. That's the best thing."
The boisterous arena will be the least of Michigan's problems at Minnesota, Beilein said. U-M practices 30 minutes a day with music cranked up to make it tough to hear plays and switches.
"I don't think it's much about the loudness, but the quickness, intensity and speed some of the teams the Big Ten has," he said. "Minnesota is no different. We didn't see that on the road at Northwestern.
"Is it a combo of being on the road and having 18,000 haters? Yeah, that's an element, no question. But it's more about the speed, the quickness, the length and the strength, especially if they are experienced like Ohio is fairly experienced. Minnesota is really experienced. That is the bigger combination."
They're also talented.
"Trevor Mbakwe causes problems just because he is such a tremendous rebounder, shot blocker, dunker, the whole deal," Beilein said. "He doesn't need much space. He operates really well in small spaces. You have to have a body on him and compete with him.
"Rodney Williams plays way above the rim, probably the most athletic player in the conference one of the three or four most - it's a great environment to play in, very difficult. I sense if we continue to improve as a team, it will be an environment we see every night from here on out.
"We'd better get used to it. We've got to do our best against it. It's never going to be easy. We're going to be as ready as we can be. We had a great practice yesterday, so we'll see what we can do."
Minnesota is the Big Ten's best offensive rebounding team. Michigan is No. 2 on the defensive glass. Something's got to give, and the Wolverines spent more time this week on rebounding drills to do their part to ensure it's not them.
"We had the bubble on the rim where no shot goes in, everybody has to box out," Beilein said. "I'm really proud of our guys. We've had this situation before whether it was Pitt, Kansas State, some other teams really getting high numbers of rebounds. This is probably the most difficult of all those challenges because they are getting such a high percentage of second chance opportunities."
Freshman Spike Albrecht, the spark that led Michigan back against Ohio State, and Trey Burke were on the floor at the same time against the Buckeyes. Beilein said they could do more of that.
"We hadn't had the need for it, really," he said. "When we saw that kind of pressure from Aaron Craft and then they put Shannon Scott in there, that was double trouble. We thought we needed two point guards out there.
"We may use it again. Certainly the way Spike played, it merits more consideration."
Beilein believes the days of Burke having to take over games in order for the Wolverines to score are over. The sophomore carried U-M to a Big Ten Tournament win over Minnesota last year.
"Last year we had been through a long year, fighting tooth and nail," Beilein said. "That game we noticed first that we were going to have to ride him a little longer. Zack Novak and Stu Douglass were doing everything they could, but with our size and speed, it was tough to score points. He got some.
"I think we are much more diverse now in our plan - not that Trey can't go out and get a bushel load of points some nights. I think we know there are other ways can score, either in the post, outside, whatever."
Beilein said he's spoken with Nik Stauskas and others about Twitter backlash received after the Ohio State loss.
"You've got to understand, when you're working to have 1,000, 5,000 or 10,000 followers, there are going to be some haters," he said. "It's like reading a blog but it's your own blog.
"Frankly, that's why I'm not a big tweet guy. I tried it, gave it my best, but I think mine is on an as-needed basis now. It's just a lot. Today's generation puts their stuff out there - there's a downside to that you have to experience to understand, but we're not going to tie their hands and say you're not going to tweet. We'll say it's probably a good idea to be really conservative with some of the things you tweet, whether it's life or a girlfriend. Just be conservative."
Beilein said nothing he sees in Big Ten play surprises him - not even Wisconsin's win at Indiana.
"Wisconsin is just amazing," he said. "Look at them. Jordan Hulls got one three-point shot off. The style is Wisconsin doesn't pressure, they don't create turnovers, but Jordan Hulls gets one shot off and goes 0-for-1 from three.
"I'm not surprised by any game Wisconsin plays. They have a tried and true method of playing tough for everybody. It's going to be tough to play on the road, but you'd better have a good game on road. If you don't have a good game you're going to get beat in this league, even at home."
Are Big Ten conference games officiated differently? Some think so. Beilein, though, hesitated when asked if the league's reputation slowed offenses down.
"That's a tough one for me to answer right now," he said. "We had two teams averaging 78 points a game score 53 and 56 [in Columbus], but we have to watch more to see if it's just that game or if it's how the game was called.
"We have a great supervisor of officials - I think it's a work in progress. You've got to remember this is a defensive league, people guard in this league - all 12. Different ways, but they guard. You'll see some of these high scoring numbers come down, and other times game will be in the 70s or 80s. We'll have to wait and see, but I would like to see no difference [from other conferences]."