After Illinois helped it clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title, Michigan knows it can't afford to take the Fighting Illini lightly with much more at stake Tuesday night in Champaign.
The 12th-ranked Wolverines have a chance to win the conference outright for the first time in 28 years with their sixth consecutive victory over resurgent Illinois.
On a night when Michigan (21-7, 13-3) honored its 1989 national championship team, the Wolverines secured at least a share of the Big Ten title Saturday with a 66-56 victory over Minnesota.
After he missed 13 of 18 shots - including all four 3-point attempts - in a 77-76 overtime win at Purdue on Wednesday, Nik Stauskas got back on track with 21 points and 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc.
The sophomore guard ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 17.1 points per game and second in field-goal percentage (48.1) and 3-point shooting (44.4).
Although the Wolverines didn't arrive at the Crisler Center expecting to have a chance to earn their third banner in three seasons, Illinois (17-12, 6-10) changed that by pulling out a 53-46 upset win at then-No. 18 Michigan State.
Michigan won a share of the Big Ten crown in 2012 and lost to Louisville in the national championship game last season. The program hadn't hung banners in three straight seasons since 1964-66.
However, that isn't nearly enough to satisfy coach John Beilein with his squad needing a victory over the Illini or visiting Indiana on Saturday to capture the Big Ten title outright for the first time since 1986.
"I love the way that we cherish regular-season titles at Michigan," Beilein said. "I've never been anywhere else where it is so important. But when it happens, I never really know how to react. Maybe I'll be able to relax more if we get the outright title, because we want that.''
The Wolverines, who shot 50.0 percent Saturday, lead the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (47.7), 3-point shooting (38.9) and free-throw percentage (75.7) while ranking third in scoring (74.9).
But it's been a much different story on the road, where they've averaged just 66.5 points on 41.4 percent shooting over their last four games.
Michigan could have a difficult time reversing that trend while facing the Illini, who have limited four consecutive opponents to fewer than 50 points for the first time since 1947-48. They held the Spartans to a season-low point total and 39.1 percent shooting.
Illinois, which claimed its third straight win following a 1-10 stretch, is hoping to play its way onto the NCAA tournament bubble with its second consecutive victory over a ranked opponent.
''We're not getting ahead of ourselves,'' said Tracy Abrams, who had 12 points and a career high-tying five steals. "We've just got a fighting mentality right now, and we've got to keep it that way."
Abrams, averaging 10.9 points, bounced back after scoring one point in a 60-49 win over Nebraska on Wednesday. He's reached double figures in each of the last three matchups with the Wolverines.
Illinois has scored just 59.4 points per game while dropping the last five meetings by an average of 10.4 points.
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