February 21, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Michigan's John Beilein doesn't view game vs. MSU as must-win in Big Ten title race

'I don't think any one game, until it comes down to the last game, is for a Big Ten championship,' Michigan coach John Beilein told host Matt Shepard on Friday morning on WDFN (1130 AM). (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Sunday’s showdown between Michigan and Michigan State has been billed by some as the game for the Big Ten regular-season championship.

The two teams are atop the conference standings, with No. 13 MSU (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten) holding a half-game lead after Thursday night’s win at Purdue.

No. 20 U-M (18-7, 10-3) is 1½ games ahead of third-place Iowa. With four games left after Sunday’s game for the Wolverines, coach John Beilein isn’t ready to put too much emphasis on just one game.

“I don’t think any one game, until it comes down to the last game, is for a Big Ten championship. At the end of the year, you’ll look back and say (a game) really cost us,” Beilein told host Matt Shepard on Friday morning on WDFN (1130 AM).

“I don’t think you can say that ahead of time right now; there’s just too many unusual things happening right now — not just in the Big Ten, but around the country.

Beilein instead focused on how the Wolverines can finish the schedule and try to peak in time for the NCAA Tournament.

“Some of the best teams in March have the hardest times in February,” Beilein said. “It happened to us last year, and it happens a lot. If you look at it correctly, you can grow from it. I don’t think any game right now is of more importance than any other.”

That proved true last season, when Michigan was 3-4 in February, losing all four on the road. But U-M responded in March, making the run to the national championship game.

The Wolverines, who haven’t played since Sunday’s home loss to Wisconsin, are looking to avoid their first back-to-back losses since road losses at Wisconsin and MSU last season. The last time they lost consecutive games at home was to Kansas and Ohio State in 2011.

With no game between that loss and Sunday’s matchup, Beilein has had time to prepare but also to stew about the loss a little.

“It’s hard, especially this time of year. You’re working hard and as you come down to the end of the year, you’re trying to put together a great season and competing for a championship,” he said. “Losses might hit you harder this time of year than they do early in the year because you know there’s a lot more riding as the season goes on.

“None of them are must-wins, but for some reason they hit you a little harder because there aren’t that many games left. It’s been a difficult week and we didn’t get to play right away, so maybe that adds to it a little bit.”

MSU, meanwhile, had a nice tuneup, crushing Purdue, 94-79, Thursday night. The Spartans had a school-record 17 3-pointers, which Beilein clearly noticed.

“That was an incredible show; that was as good a game as any team has played anywhere right now,” Beilein said. “It shows they have a lot of bullets in that gun and they really showed it all last night. They were shooting from everywhere and every shot they took, it looked like it was going in from the get-go.”

Adreian Payne, who had 23 points against the Boilermakers and missed the first meeting with Michigan because of a foot injury, is back and playing as well as he has all season.

“It’s amazing how well they’ve done when he wasn’t even in the lineup. It says a lot about their program, their coaching staff and the players they have right now,” Beilein said. “They have so much talent on that team, even the loss of a couple (players) hasn’t affected them.

“You have to guard him on the outside, on the block. He’s got tremendous energy and is really a good player.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/detnewsRodBeard