Before Michigan can turn its attention to a much anticipated work trip to the Hawaiian Islands, it has one more hurdle to clear.
The No. 17 Wolverines look to open with a third consecutive victory Thursday night when they face Western Illinois at Crisler Arena.With four players back from last season's squad that lost to Duke by two points in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Michigan (2-0) expects to play deeper into March in 2011-12.The Wolverines should get a good idea of how they stack up early on with some of the best teams in the country when they begin play Monday at the Maui Invitational against No. 10 Memphis. The field also features sixth-ranked Duke, No. 12 Kansas, UCLA and Georgetown.First, Michigan needs to take care of things in its first meeting with Western Illinois, which lost 87-58 at Dayton in its season opener Saturday."This has been a good stretch for us as far as our guys playing these three games in getting ready for our season and getting as much experience as we can before we get into our trip over to Hawaii," Michigan coach John Beilein told the school's official website. "We have one more to get."Though the Wolverines beat Ferris State and Towson by a combined 43 points in its first two games, they are hoping to tighten some things up against the Leathernecks before tougher tests await in Hawaii next week."Right now we're just focused on this game against Western Illinois," sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz said. "We just want to put together a complete game."Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 15 points while Smotrycz and freshman point guard Trey Burke each added 13 in a 64-47 win over Towson on Monday. Though the Wolverines shot 46.3 percent for the game and forced 21 turnovers, they slacked off a bit in the second half when a lineup made up mostly of reserves was outscored 31-27 by the Tigers."We played really well in stretches at times in both games, but I think if we can play 40 minutes on the offensive and defensive ends, that will really give us a confidence boost going to Maui," said Smotrycz, who has totaled 27 points and seven rebounds through the first two games.Michigan will try for a 15th consecutive home victory against an unranked, non-conference opponent Thursday night.Western Illinois has dropped nine consecutive games against Top 25 teams since the start of the 1996-97 season. Six of those defeats have come against Big Ten schools.Guided by former Minnesota head coach Jim Molinari, Western Illinois trailed Dayton by three points at halftime before being held to just 20 in the second half. The Leathernecks look to improve on the defensive end after they allowed the Flyers to shoot 56.9 percent for the game.Senior guard Tommie Tyler and freshman Obi Emegano each had 15 points for Western Illinois.