Michigan-Illinois Preview

Michigan coach John Beilein wouldn’t mind sharing the Big Ten
regular-season championship given the conference’s strength this
season.

If the 13th-ranked Wolverines are to have any chance of
accomplishing that, they’ll have to earn their first victory at
Illinois in more than 17 years.

Michigan looks to end a 13-game skid at Assembly Hall on
Thursday night against the Fighting Illini, who haven’t given up
hope of earning an NCAA tournament berth.

The Wolverines (21-8, 11-5) lost their shot at an outright
conference title after falling 75-61 at home to Purdue on Saturday,
snapping their four-game winning streak. They haven’t won a Big Ten
regular-season championship – shared or otherwise – since 1986,
though there’s a chance they could end that drought with wins
Thursday and Sunday at Penn State.

Michigan State’s loss at Indiana on Tuesday kept Michigan alive,
and if the Spartans fall to Ohio State on Sunday, the Wolverines
would share the title with two wins.

“Given the fact (the Big Ten is) the No. 1 RPI league … if
you’re co-champs, tri-champs or quad-champs, I don’t care,” Beilein
said. “We’re champs, and that’s what we’re trying to get to.”

Michigan beat Illinois 70-61 at home Feb. 12 behind 15 points
from Tim Hardaway Jr. and 14 from freshman Trey Burke, though it
hasn’t won a road meeting since a 69-59 victory Jan. 17, 1995.

Beilein said he isn’t concerned with the long drought at
Illinois, but is rather focused on what a win would mean for his
team’s season.

“There’s many other places that Michigan and a lot of teams have
not won at in a long time,” Beilein said. “We’re trying to get a
really tough road win.”

The Fighting Illini (17-12, 6-10) have lost nine of 11, but have
beaten three ranked teams – then-No. 19 Gonzaga, then-No. 5 Ohio
State and then-No. 9 Michigan State – on their home floor.

“Illinois is fighting as well. Three wins in a row would
certainly change their outlook going into the Big Ten tournament,”
Beilein said.

It earned the first of those possible victories Sunday, beating
Iowa 65-54 to end a six-game skid. Weber knows a win Thursday and
another at No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday would help his team’s case
for a bid to the NCAA tournament.

“We’ve talked about (the postseason) the whole time,” Weber
said. “We had to get (a win) before we could make it part of our
dreams or hopes or goals, but now we’ve got a Michigan team that’s
really high rated. It could be another marque win for us to put on
the resume.”

Weber shook up his starting lineup against the Hawkeyes, as
leading scorers Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard – who had started
each game since the season opener – came off the bench.

Paul finished with 17 points and Leonard matched his season high
with 22 while adding 14 rebounds. Weber said he was simply trying
to motivate his team with the changes.

“We weren’t mad at anybody, but the guys that competed in
practice got the opportunity to play in the game and that’s the way
it should always be,” Weber said.

Leonard was held to five points but had 12 rebounds and Paul
netted a game-high 21 points in the first meeting, though the
Illini shot only 38.9 percent from the field.

Michigan has shot 35.5 percent and averaged 50.5 points in its
last four visits to Champaign.