It was a quick turnaround for Michigan coach John Beilein when he joined media for a Big Ten coaches conference call Monday morning following his team’s 93-57 win at Nebraska on Sunday night.
Michigan opens the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday at noon ET vs. Illinois at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
“We’re thrilled with our win last night. Late night getting back,” Beilein said. “So glad we’re not playing on Wednesday, that we have a Thursday game against a really good Illinois team that’s been playing as good a basketball as anyone in the league in these last three weeks. We know we have a tough opponent.”
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Michigan and Illinois split two meetings in the regular season, with each winning at home: Illinois took an 85-69 victory in Champaign on Jan. 11, but Michigan returned the favor with a 66-57 win at Crisler Center 10 days later. The Wolverines (20-11) are the No. 8 seed after finishing with a conference record of 10-8, the same as Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa. Illinois (18-13) is the No. 9 seed after an 8-10 Big Ten finish. The winner advances to the quarterfinals on Friday against top-seeded Purdue.
“I’ve only watched a couple of their games this morning that was not against us. I was saving that for the afternoon,” Beilein said. “You can’t really get anything on this one. Both teams played really well on their home court. Now we’re neutral, so expect a buzzer-beater type of game because I think both teams have some experience. We both have talented players. (Illinois head coach) John (Groce) has a great plan over there. I don’t know what’s going to happen, all I know is we’re going to do everything to get prepared to play a really good team that’s really hot right now.”
As for the logjam of teams in the middle of the Big Ten, it has left the likes of Illinois and Iowa on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Michigan’s recent run of six wins in its last eight games has the Wolverines on the safe side of the bubble in the minds of most bracket analysts. Illinois had won four straight before losing at last-place Rutgers, 62-59, on Saturday.
“I think what the committee does consider, I’m sure that they do, is improvement as the year goes on,” Beilein said. “Iowa is a great example. You have a bunch of young guys all trying to figure it out early that are going to have some good wins in the beginning and they may drop a couple as they learn what college basketball is about.”
Beilein was also asked about Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, who is a favorite to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year after averaging 16.6 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game.
U-M coach John Beilein on Miles Bridges gushing over his all-around talents. "There's not a defense that's gonna stop him."
— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) March 6, 2017