After returning to the Top 25 following a one-week absence, Michigan looks to show it deserves to be back by getting its first win in Champaign in 14 years.
The No. 25 Wolverines visit Illinois on Wednesday in a meeting between programs undergoing revivals after finishing near the bottom of the Big Ten last season.
The Wolverines (13-3, 3-1) have lost 11 straight at Assembly Hall since winning there on Jan. 17, 1995. This is the first time they’ve gone into Champaign as a ranked team, however, since 1998, when Illinois beat then-No. 16 Michigan 64-53.
Last season’s meeting there wasn’t close, with the Illini winning 75-57, but the Wolverines return having won three straight. That streak began with a 74-64 victory in Ann Arbor over Illinois (14-2, 2-1) on Jan. 4 as five Michigan players scored in double figures.
Illini coach Bruce Weber, though, feels the short turnaround between the two meetings plays in his team’s favor.
“We have a little bit of a mental edge,” Weber said. “You can’t change a whole lot, but a couple little things and our kids have a better feel for them.”
Both teams are feeling better this season after finishing with 5-13 conference records in 2007-08 to finish ahead of only Northwestern in the Big Ten standings. While Weber’s team appears to be rebounding nicely from its first losing season (16-19) of the decade—Illinois set a school record for losses— Michigan is off to a strong start after going 10-22 in John Beilein’s first season as coach.
The Wolverines had opened Big Ten play with a home loss to Wisconsin to drop out of the Top 25, but returned to the poll this week thanks to a 72-66 overtime win at Indiana last Wednesday and a 64-49 victory over Iowa on Sunday.
Beilein is going for his 500th career Division I win on Wednesday, and could get it if his team plays well again defensively.
Michigan opponents averaged 67.7 points in its first three conference games while shooting 47.4 percent, but the Hawkeyes scored only 16 points in the first half and shot 39.5 percent for the game Sunday. They also committed 18 turnovers leading to 20 Wolverines points.
“It is something we focus on every day in practice and coach has stressed it a lot more since the beginning of the season,” guard Manny Harris said of the team’s defense. “It is not something we just focused on today or yesterday. It is something we have been focused on and it worked well today.”
Harris led Michigan with 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds and matched a career high with four of his team’s season-best 12 steals.
Illinois, meanwhile, responded from its loss to Michigan, which ended its seven-game winning streak, with a 76-45 win over Indiana on Saturday in its only game last week. The Illini shot 51.0 percent, went 13-of-25 (52.0 percent) from 3-point range and had 31 points off Indiana’s 19 turnovers.
Trent Meacham scored 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc after getting held to a total of 16 in his first two Big Ten games while going 1-for-8 on 3-point tries. Meacham is one of four Illini players averaging more than 11 points, leading the way with 12.3 per game.