Michigan successfully navigated through its first test of the season this past week. It won't have to wait long for its next one.
The third-ranked Wolverines will try to continue their best start in six seasons Tuesday night when they welcome No. 18 North Carolina State to the Crisler Center as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.After winning its first three games by a combined 105 points, Michigan got some stiffer competition during the final two games of NIT Season Tipoff in New York. The Wolverines (5-0) held off Pittsburgh for a 67-62 win Wednesday and used Tim Hardaway Jr.'s 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting for a 71-57 victory over Kansas State in Friday's championship game.Hardaway, though, was also kneed in the head with less than four minutes remaining, but Michigan trainer John DoRosario said the junior passed his concussion tests. He later returned to the bench to celebrate with his teammates and accept the tournament's MVP award.No other Michigan player scored more than 10 points Friday, but Glenn Robinson III had 12 rebounds and helped the Wolverines post a 42-30 advantage on the boards."The season is a marathon. This is maybe the first 400 yards or something of that marathon, but we ran it well," coach John Beilein said. "I think it's important that we're heading in the right direction."The Wolverines will try to keep their momentum going and move a step closer to matching their 7-0 start from 2006-07."We've got to go prove it again," Beilein said. "They're not going to care that we won the (NIT) championship. We've got to perform again."The season-opening winning streak from six years ago was snapped with a 74-67 loss at North Carolina State, the last meeting between the programs.The Wolfpack (4-1), who have lost four straight in the Challenge since beating Michigan, were routed 76-56 by Oklahoma State in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tipoff on Nov. 18 and gave a largely uninspiring effort in an 82-80 home victory over UNC Asheville on Friday.They trailed nearly the entire game before Richard Howell hit the go-ahead basket with 3:06 left. The senior forward finished with season highs of 23 points and 15 rebounds.Lorenzo Brown also posted his best scoring performance of the season (18 points) and C.J. Leslie recorded his first double-double of the year (14 points, 11 rebounds). Those performances, however, did little to quell coach Mark Gottfried's frustration."We've got to be better," Gottfried said. "We've got to be better defensively. We've got to develop better chemistry amongst our team. We've got to develop a team spirit that is all about winning -- period. Nothing else."If we do that, we've got a chance to be a good team. If we don't, then we're just another team out there playing."N.C. State lost 68-61 during its most recent visit to Ann Arbor on Dec. 2, 2003, and is 5-7 all-time in the Challenge. Michigan has a 4-7 mark in the conferences' annual event, and also trails 2/3 in the all-time series with the Wolfpack, but has played four of those games on the road.