Last season, the Michigan men’s basketball team won its second conference game on Jan. 14.
Monday, the Wolverines (1-0 Big Ten, 7-2 overall) seek to accomplish that same feat nearly a month and a half ahead of that, when they take on Ohio State (1-0, 6-3) in their second early-season conference game.
With the expansion to 20 conference games from the previous 18 taking effect this year, the beginning of the conference schedule was pushed up. As a result, Michigan has an enticing opportunity to give itself a head start in the Big Ten standings.
“We’ve had like one day of practice that didn’t concern ‘Get ready for the next game,’ ” Beilein said. “It’s gonna be December 4th, and we’re gonna have 10 games in. So we haven’t had time to get better yet, I look forward to that, but games make you better than practices.”
Before it can rest, though, a road test looms.
Saturday, the Wolverines dispatched Indiana, grabbing a comfortable 14-point win to open Big Ten play. The Buckeyes, much like the Hoosiers, are in a rebuilding phase. Chris Holtmann, taking over after the program fired long-time coach Thad Matta, has his work cut out for him ahead of this season.
A year ago, Michigan won just three of its 11 road games and lost to Ohio State at home, 70-66, in perhaps the low point of its season. A road game of any kind this time of year respresents a major challenge for the Wolverines; a win over the Buckeyes would represent a major step, regardless of their fluctuation as a program.
Because of that, Beilein is uncertain about what to expect from the Buckeyes.
“I have no idea what Ohio State’s doing. I have no idea,” Beilein said. “I know that it is (assistant coach) Saddi Washington’s scout, but I have no idea who they’re playing and what they’re doing (with) a new coach.”
Under Holtmann, the Buckeyes have started the year with an uneven 6-3 record, with losses to Butler, Clemson and Gonzaga. But they kicked off their conference season with a convincing win of their own, topping Wisconsin, 83-58.
On the opposing side will be a guard Beilein is quite familar with, though. Guard Andrew Dakich, who played at Michigan for the past four years, will suit up for the Buckeyes this time around. In nine games so far, Dakich is averaging over 14 minutes per game, 10 more than he had a season ago with Michigan.
Two wings — senior Jae’Sean Tate and junior Keita Bates-Diop — account for over 30 points per game and will be the Buckeyes’ primary scorers. How redshirt sophomore forward Charles Matthews and fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson matchup with Tate and Bates-Diop could ultimately tell the tale of the game.
And if the Wolverines can come out with a win, they will grab a major advantage ahead of a couple major non-conference challenges.
“It’s pretty cool, it’s December 2nd and we have a first Big Ten game — win,” said junior forward Moritz Wagner. “So that’s pretty sick going into January having that win and going to Ohio State obviously trying to get that second win. That’s a big challenge, but that’s definitely something to have in the back of your mind to keep going into UCLA, Texas and then Detroit. It’s definitely really helpful.”