After knocking off three consecutive ranked opponents, Michigan is looking like the team to beat in the Big Ten.
Coach John Beilein, though, knows there’s still a tough road to navigate in a very difficult conference.
Looking to stay unbeaten in Big Ten play, the 10th-ranked Wolverines go for a 10th consecutive victory when they host Purdue on Thursday night.
Michigan (15-4, 7-0) jumped 11 spots in the Top 25 after posting two more impressive results last week. After beating then-No. 10 Iowa 75-67 last Wednesday, the Wolverines won 80-75 over then-No. 3 Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday.
"The rankings right now are the rankings. You don’t know who’s going to be there in March," Beilein said. "I know we beat three really good teams. … That’s what really means a lot because now you have a game up on them in some regard for the Big Ten championship, which to every coach in this league is what we’re trying to do.
"The national stuff, forget about it. It’s about the Big Ten right now."
Michigan, which also won 77-70 at then-No. 3 Wisconsin on Jan. 18, is enjoying its best start in conference play since opening 8-0 in 1976-77.
"We’ve played seven games, heck there’s 11 more games to go in this league and this is a tough league," Beilein said. "I don’t care if we’re playing Michigan State or we’re playing one of our guarantee games, we just want our guys to approach each game individually and just win that game. We’ll go back to that approach.
"I guarantee we’ll have two days of practice where it will be like we lost this game. We’ll get better."
Derrick Walton Jr. scored 19 points Saturday – more than 10 above his average – and Caris LeVert added 17. Michigan, which took control late with a 10-0 run, shot 11 of 19 from 3-point range.
"This is one step in the right direction with a long way to go," Beilein said. "We’ll take the win. We’ll move on, we’ve got Purdue (on) Thursday and that’s who I am, just take it game by game."
The Wolverines have won 21 straight and 47 of 48 home games against unranked foes, though the only loss in that stretch was 75-61 to Purdue on Feb. 25, 2012. Michigan avenged that defeat by taking both matchups last season, including a 68-53 win in Ann Arbor last Jan. 24.
The Boilermakers (13-7, 3-4) took a one-point lead into halftime of that game before coming undone in the second half. They found themselves in a similar situation Saturday, falling 72-58 to then-No. 9 Wisconsin after getting outscored 40-29 over the final 20 minutes.
"We weren’t ready to play. It’s that simple. We weren’t ready to play in the second half," said guard Rapheal Davis, whose team is on the verge of a season-worst third straight defeat.
Terone Johnson and reserve Bryson Scott were the only Boilermakers to score in double figures with 10 points. Center A.J. Hammons, who had averaged 15.5 points over the previous four games, was held to two while shooting 1 of 3 in a season low-tying 12 minutes due to early foul trouble.
"It really threw things off for us," Johnson said. "Lately, we’ve been having success at getting the ball inside to (Hammons) and then playing from the inside out."
Purdue’s loss was its third in as many tries against Top 25 teams this season. The Boilermakers fell 97-87 to then-No. 5 Oklahoma State on Nov. 28 and 78-69 to then-No. 3 Ohio State on Dec. 31.