Michigan prides itself on taking care of the ball and not sending opposing teams to the foul line.
Those two areas will be put to the ultimate test Saturday at Crisler Center against a desperate Illinois team looking to avoid an 0-4 start in Big Ten play.
“The challenge always is to get ready for this next style. This is a very aggressive Illinois defense,” Michigan coach John Beilein said Friday. “They’re turning people over I think at sixth in the country and that's going to be a great challenge for us to throw the ball to – I think we're wearing white or maize but we got to throw the ball to the guys in the right jerseys.
“They're a downhill team offensively, just taking it right at you and they're drawing fouls like crazy. … We faced (first-year coach) Brad (Underwood) last year when he was at Oklahoma State and you could see we couldn't stop them at all, so they got a really good offense.”
Michigan ranks seventh in the nation in fewest turnovers per game (9.9), 14th in turnover margin (4.7) and 79th in free-throw attempts allowed (247) entering play Friday.
Conversely, Illinois ranks sixth nationally with 18.94 turnovers forced per game, 22nd in total free throws made (269) and 33rd in free-throw attempts (366).
However, Michigan has been hampered by careless turnovers in the early stages the past two games. The Wolverines turned the ball over five times on their first eight possessions at Iowa on Tuesday and four times in the first five minutes against Jacksonville last weekend.
Still, they’ve only had more than 10 turnovers in four games with a season-high 14 against Jacksonville – 10 of those coming in the first half – and sent opponents to the line more than 20 times in four contests.
But something will have to give in Saturday’s showdown.
“It's the contrast that you have – we don't turn it over and they make people turn it over. We don't send people to the foul line, they get to the foul line,” Beilein said. “So, who wins some of those battles will be a difference in this game.”
Sticking with it
Beilein said there won’t be a shake-up in the rotation at the four following Isaiah Livers’ breakout game at Iowa.
Instead, Beilein said playing time for Duncan Robinson and Livers will be dictated by matchups.
“Duncan is going to be really good in some games and there's other games when they have the two traditional bigs that there are some times he can guard that guy and that guy can't guard him,” Beilein said. “There's other times where there's going to be a team that he can't guard and that guy can guard him or they're a predominately zone team.
“It's really more who we're playing. He makes our offense flow so easily. He knows every position on the floor and he does a lot of things that don't show up in the stat book. However, we've been hoping and working really hard for Isaiah to have a breakout; that was his first breakout game. There's more in there, but he can be so much more than he even is right now.”
Illinois at Michigan
Tip-off: Noon Saturday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: Michigan 13-3, 2-1 Big Ten; Illinois 10-6, 0-3
Outlook: Michigan has won 12 of the last 14 meetings between the teams. … Illinois has played three of its first four conference games on the road and is led by redshirt junior Leron Black (14.7 points).