UM eager to turn page on lackluster nonconference start

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — After a 7-5 nonconference season, Michigan is looking to turn the page and focus on the Big Ten slate.

Today's conference opener against Illinois at Crisler Center is a chance for the Wolverines to have a mulligan and begin their season anew.

UM ended its four-game skid with a win over Coppin State, but the stakes get higher against the Illini, who have one of the top scorers in the league in Rayvonte Rice.

"He's so much of what we've been seeing — the fifth-year guy that's transferred and now he's a senior," coach John Beilein said Monday. "The thing with him last year was he wasn't a downtown sticker from outside and now he is. He gets to the foul line five times a game and is really a tough matchup for us.

"The ball will probably be in his hands at winning time. He's really one of those guys whose game continues to get better. He must be a really hard worker."

Rice will challenge Michigan's defense, which struggled in the nonconference, especially in the frontcourt, as Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal get their sea legs. But even on the perimeter, the Wolverines will have to improv.

While UM continues to grow, one of the biggest lessons for Beilein was how each outcome affects a young team. That maturation quickens now with the regular league schedule with two games a week.

"It's how fragile a team can be and a win or loss can really set them back," he said. "At the same time, I tried to put things into perspective of not just us, but basketball in general."

Illinois at Michigan

Tipoff: 3 today, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: ESPN2/WWJ

Outlook: UM opens the conference season against one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten. ... The Wolverines have won seven straight in the series, including the only regular-season meeting last season.