Michigan-Illinois Preview

The Associated Press

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.

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