Coming off a particularly disheartening contest against Penn State on Saturday, dropping their record to 13-13 overall, the Wolverines enter a tough final four games, starting tonight with a contest against a surging Illinois team that is looking to secure an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

One key matchup will be between freshman Darius Morris’s defense and Illinois’s leading scorer, guard Demetri McCamey, who leads the Fighting Illini (9-5 Big Ten, 17-10 overall) with 15.2 points per game.

“Because he is 6-3, he sees over people,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of McCamey during yesterday’s Big Ten teleconference. “I remember the first time I saw him play as a freshman, he just could see over everybody and pass. His shooting and shooting off the dribble was just developing. But now he could pass, he could shoot and he has the midrange.”

Although McCamey provides the freshman with another challenge, Morris held Penn State’s Talor Battle in check when given the opportunity last Saturday. In the final seven minutes, when Morris finally came off the bench to provide defensive relief, Battle and the Nittany Lions were held scoreless until 14 seconds left in the game.

Before Morris entered the contest, Penn State tore apart the Wolverines’ defense, scoring 34 points in the paint, many of which came in the second half off of dribble penetration from Battle and assists to wide-open forwards in the paint. Without Morris on the floor, Michigan didn’t have the speed to match both Battle and Penn State guard Tim Frazier. The two combined to extend the Nittany Lions’ lead to nine with 7:53 to play in the contest.

“Sometimes one of the guards would get in there and we were forced to help,” Morris said. “And that caused the other help man that was guarding Battle or Babb, because they’re such great three-point shooters, a little slow on the rotation down there on the block and they were getting easy layups.”

Although McCamey doesn’t possess Battle’s speed, he will once again pose a threat from the perimeter, which Michigan has struggled to stop. And though McCamey scored just six points in Illinois’s 75-65 loss to No. 4 Purdue last Saturday, the guard tallied 16 assists, tying him for fourth all time in Big Ten history for a single game.

“He’s not as quick as Battle ― few are,” Beilein said. “But he’s got a big body, so he’s able to get leverage on people not just using speed, but his body, and he can see over the top of screens because of his great vision and court awareness.”

None of those attributes bode well for Michigan. And with 7-foot-1 center Mike Tisdale ― who tore up Michigan last season with 24 points at Assembly Hall ― and 6-foot-9 forward Mike Davis, tomorrow’s matchup could be even uglier for the Wolverines.

But Morris’s performance could be paramount. All season, the Wolverines’ shooting has been streaky at best and comatose at worst. But with Morris’s speed at the top of the 1-3-1 zone or guarding the point guard in man defense, Michigan can potentially slow down the versatility of the Fighting Illini.

With the Wolverines looking to refocus after Saturday’s disappointing loss, it will become harder and harder to avoid simply looking toward next season.

“I don’t think there’s any issue with refocusing,” Beilein said. “The opponent I do not believe is ourselves as much as it is Illinois. We’ve got to regroup and get better. That’s what our main focus is, getting better. Whether it pays off this year or next year, it’s going to pay off.”

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