The Big Ten is undoubtedly the strongest conference in college basketball, both in terms of depth and number of elite teams. Therefore, playing 18 consecutive games against Big Ten foes is as trying of a journey as there is in college basketball. There are no easy nights, just less hard nights.
For Michigan, a team that is vying for a conference title, every win counts. Their next three games happen to be one of their easier- or less difficult- stretches of their conference schedule. The Wolverines host Purdue, travel to Illinois and then host Northwestern. Both Purdue and Northwestern are in the bottom third of the conference, and Illinois appears to be free falling.
It would very much behoove the Wolverines to go 3-0 in this stretch, as the next game is at Indiana, in what should be a thriller.
Michigan currently sits at 4-1 in the Big Ten, after beating a really good Minnesota team on the road, Thursday. They return home for the Purdue game, in what could be a blowout. Purdue is a very good tough team, but have won just two games on the road. Michigan has won more games in New York City (3), than Purdue has won anywhere outside of West Lafayette. While this is obviously not a gimme for Michigan, it is pretty close to as easy as things will get for the rest of the year.
When Michigan travels to Illinois, they will find a desperate Illini team. Illinois has lost three games in a row, and five of their last seven. After a 12-0 start that excited the fan base, Illinois has regressed to their mean of the last few years, and fast. Their unsustainable, three point oriented offense, as well as lack of an interior game, have caught up with Illinois. They have gone from a team with plans of going deep in to the NCAA Tournament, to a team that just needs to win a game. So, when a likely top 3 team, in Michigan, comes to Champaign, you better expect Illinois to give the Wolverines all they can.
Finally, to close out this stretch, Northwestern visits Ann Arbor. Michigan thoroughly destroyed the Wildcats on the road to open Big Ten play, and there is not much reason to think this should be any different. Michigan has not lost at home once this season, and I highly doubt Northwestern will be the team to end that run.
You can’t sleep on any team in the Big Ten this season. But, Michigan might be able to catch some quick shut-eye over the next couple of weeks. They play Indiana in a huge game on February 2nd, and I would be very surprised if Michigan does not come in to that game 20-1.