Winning the Big Ten opener. Check.

Winning the Big Ten road opener. TBD.

Just three days after its surprisingly easy 71-61 victory over Illinois, the Michigan men’s basketball team will travel to Evanston to face perennial conference doormat Northwestern tomorrow afternoon.

But just as players must put a bad loss behind them, the Wolverines understand that it’s just as important to look past a big win.

“We just have to move on,” junior Ron Coleman said Wednesday night. “We got a good win here at home, and now we have to prepare for (Northwestern).”

Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 13-3 overall) wants to avoid a repeat of what happened two years ago when the team last traveled to Evanston.

Powered by now-graduated forward Vedran Vukusic, the Wildcats jumped out to a 28-4 lead in the opening 10 minutes en route to a 69-53 win. It was the first of three consecutive losses that ended Michigan’s dismal 13-18 season.

“They were hitting everything, throwing alley-oops and making threes,” senior Courtney Sims said following the Illinois win. “So it’s going to be real tough. They are always real tough to play at home, so we have to set the tone just like today.”

The Wolverines relied heavily on the seniors to jumpstart the team and take control of the ballgame in the second half against the Illini.

Seniors Dion Harris and Lester Abram scored a combined 46 points and contributed a combined 11 boards. Not to be outdone, Sims grabbed 10 rebounds and added eight points.

Even with solid offensive production, Michigan has to play better defense to prevent another mauling by the Wildcats.

“They’re going to be in games all year because they run (their offense) until you make a mistake,” Petway said. “You just have to go into that game ready to guard (for) the whole shot clock if you have to. They’re going to run it and turn the offense over and make you play defense the whole time.”

Coleman added that Northwestern uses the backdoor cut to score many of its baskets. He said that by stopping that, the Wolverines can slow down the Wildcats’ offense. But Michigan has had trouble with similar offensive sets recently.

On Dec. 30 against Georgetown, the Hoyas abused Michigan with the backdoor cut, almost doubling the Wolverines in points in the paint. The Michigan defense never adjusted, and Georgetown cruised to an easy win.

“We learned that we have to sit on top of (the cut),” Coleman said. “We have to have help-side defense, and that’s the most important thing.”

But aside from taking care of business on the court, the Wolverines also have to remain levelheaded for their first road test of the conference season. While Northwestern (0-1, 10-4) is far from a basketball powerhouse, during the Big Ten season, Welsh-Ryan Arena can be a tough place to play. It’s smaller than most Big Ten basketball venues, giving it a high school feel.

“The Big Ten is a competitive league and on any given night someone can lose,” Coleman said. “We have to go out with the mindset that we’re not going to be one of those teams.”

Michigan at Northwestern

Matchup: Michigan 13-3-0; Northwestern 10-4-0
When: Saturday, 2:32 p.m. (EST)
Where: Evanston

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