No. 2 Michigan eyes school history at Illinois
No. 2 Michigan doesn't deliver a lot of fancy plays or highlight dunks. It simply churns out victories with stunning efficiency.
The Wolverines can tie their best start in program history with a victory at Illinois on Thursday. Michigan (15-0, 4-0 Big Ten) never trailed while dispatching then-No. 21 Indiana, 74-63, on Sunday.
"We're like a no-maintenance team," coach John Beilein said.
No. 1 Duke has the flashy freshmen, led by all-world talent Zion Williamson. The team just below them in the rankings does have a standout freshman in forward Ignas Brazdeikis, who leads the team in scoring at 16.0 points per game, but the Wolverines are mostly seasoned veterans by current standards.
Many played key roles in last season's postseason run to the national title game.
Michigan has won 29 of its past 30 games by using a balanced, unselfish attack and sticking to its defensive principles.
"It's a purposeful way we recruit, to get a kid that's going to embrace this thing," Beilein said. "It's all about team. It's not something we have to preach. Do we have to teach it? Yeah. But you don't have to preach it."
Senior swingman Charles Matthews and sophomore guard Jordan Poole led the Wolverines against the Hoosiers with 18 points apiece. Matthews, a Kentucky transfer, is the team's second-leading scorer at 14.2 points per game.
"When you transfer and you have to sit out a year, you better be ready to grow," Beilein said. "You're going to be off to the side for a little bit and you better embrace the weight room. This kid's got a brilliant future because he's got a really bright mind."
Beilein has gone mostly with a seven-man rotation, but he might expand it slightly due to the play of freshman forward Brandon Johns Jr., who contributed eight points and eight rebounds in 13 minutes against Indiana. Sixth man Isaiah Livers has missed the past two games because of a back injury but could return against the Illini.
Beilein's main concern with Illinois (4-11, 0-4) is its traditionally disruptive defense.
"When you're playing against Illinois, it's a whole different animal now," he said. "They're going to go no-catch, pressure, pressure, pressure. They won't let you run any plays."
Illinois has lost its past four games, the latter three by single digits. Northwestern edged the Illini 68-66 Sunday on an A.J. Turner 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining. Trent Frazier missed a potential game-winning 3-point shot at the buzzer.
"We've got a hurting locker room," coach Brad Underwood said after the game.
"There's a lot of tears in that locker room. As a coach, you feel for them and yet you walk away from them and you're excited because it hurts. That's when you're playing the right way; that's when you're playing for the name on the front of the jersey.
"This team will continue to stay together. We'll continue to fight," he added. "I hope we look back at January 6th, the night of a tough loss, and say this is a game that really helped us grow and mature."
Frazier, a sophomore guard, leads Illinois at 14.9 points per game.
Michigan won last season's matchup at home, 79-69.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 10, 2019