Northwestern-Michigan Preview

The Associated Press

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- - John Beilein acknowledged Monday afternoon that he had quite a few text messages on his phone.

The Michigan coach just hadn't checked them yet.

"I've been absorbed in Northwestern tape," Beilein said.

The Wolverines are No. 1 in The Associated Press poll for the first time since their Fab Five days 20 years ago, but Beilein is determined not to get carried away with all this recognition.

Michigan (19-1, 6-1 Big Ten) took over the top spot after a 74-60 victory at Illinois on Sunday. Next up on the schedule is Northwestern (12-9, 3-5) on Wednesday night, and there's no reason for the routine to change.

"Our goal at Michigan is to be No. 1 in the Big Ten. When you achieve that honor, you will have a chance at the national championship," Beilein said. "All through the year polls will spark great interest among college basketball fans everywhere and that is always good. Our coaches and players, however, will remain focused on our goals of improving daily and competing for the championship within our conference."

Michigan is doing pretty well in that regard, too. The Wolverines tied for the Big Ten title last year, and they're deadlocked atop the league with No. 3 Indiana. Michigan visits the Hoosiers on Saturday night, followed by games against No. 11 Ohio State, Wisconsin and No. 13 Michigan State.

The Wolverines advanced from No. 2 to become No. 1 for the fourth time. They were at the top for 10 weeks in 1964-65, eight weeks in 1976-77 and three weeks at the start of 1992-93, the Fab Five's second and final season together. The Fab Five lost in the national title game in 1992 and '93.

Now Michigan is a national title contender again thanks to guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. and a talented group of freshmen.

Burke is second in the Big Ten in scoring at 17.9 points per game and ranks first in assists at 7.1. Hardaway's scoring average of 15.9 is fifth in the league, and he is 9 for 14 from 3-point range over his last three games.

Freshmen Nik Stauskas (12.7 ppg) and Glenn Robinson III (12.1) are the team's other double-digit scorers, and Stauskas is deadly from the perimeter, connecting on 49.0 percent (51 of 104) from beyond the arc. The Wolverines are the nation's seventh-best 3-point shooting team at 40.8 percent.

"We have to put it in perspective and say to them, 'How did we get here?'" Beilein said. "'Did we get here because we were obsessed with being No. 1, or did we just get here because we worked hard every day? Well if that worked so far, then let's just keep doing exactly what we were doing.'"

While the Wolverines have several tough challenges ahead, Northwestern is unlikely to pose such a threat.

Michigan opened conference play in Evanston on Jan. 3 and cruised to a 94-66 win. The game was never close as the Wolverines jumped out to a 20-4 lead just over six minutes in, and all five Michigan starters scored in double figures. Burke led the way with 23 points and Hardaway had 21 for the Wolverines, who made 13 of 22 (59.1 percent) shots from 3-point range and held Northwestern to 40.7 from the field.

"It's very hard to beat them going up and down. They'll wear you out if you do that," coach Bill Carmody told the Wildcats' official website. "So we definitely have to try and control things as good as we can. But it comes down to everything. You have to make shots."

Northwestern has played better since, having beaten then-No. 23 Illinois and then-No. 12 Minnesota, but those teams are fading fast. The Wildcats are also coming off Saturday's 64-49 loss at Nebraska, which entered 1-6 in conference play.

Dave Sobolewski matched his season high with 21 points and Jared Swopshire had 11 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, but leading scorer Reggie Hearn tied a season low by scoring six on 2-of-11 shooting. The senior guard, averaging 14.0 points, missed the first game against Michigan because of a sprained ankle.

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