Michigan is one of the country's four remaining unbeaten teams and will be heading into conference play next week among the favorites in a loaded Big Ten.
Off to their best start since they last won an outright conference title 27 years ago, the second-ranked Wolverines will get their final non-conference tuneup Saturday night against visiting Central Michigan.The last time Michigan (12-0) began a season this well was 1985-86, when it started 16-0 on its way to a 28-5 overall mark while being ranked in the top 10 all season.The current squad has used a combination of explosive offense and disciplined defense to earn its highest ranking since the Fab Five reached No. 1 in 1992-93. The Wolverines rank among the national leaders in field-goal shooting (51.1 percent) and points allowed (57.3 per game).Michigan hit 12 of its 24 3-point attempts and held Eastern Michigan to 35.5 percent from the floor in a 93-54 victory Dec. 20 in its last game. It was the third time the Wolverines have eclipsed the 90-point mark during the program's longest win streak since a 13-game run in 2002-03."I really like winning," coach John Beilein said. "It beats the alternative."Doing so in Big Ten play may be a bit more difficult given five other teams -- Indiana (5), Ohio State (10), Minnesota (11), Illinois (12) and Michigan State (19) -- currently are ranked in the top 20.The Wolverines open conference play Thursday at Northwestern."We still have a lot of work to do," Beilein said.Michigan's backcourt has been key to its success. Trey Burke (team-high 17.4 points per game) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (15.8) are the team's top scorers, while freshman Nik Stauskas is averaging 13.8 points since being inserted into the starting lineup Dec. 1.The knock on Hardaway has been his lack of passing skills, but he dished out a career-high seven assists in the team's last contest."I'm trying to mix up my game because I don't want to be just a 3-point shooter," said Hardaway, who totaled 10 assists in Michigan's first six games. "There are more things I can do to score the ball, and there are things I can do to make passes."Central Michigan will be facing a vastly different Wolverines team than the one it defeated 78-67 in the last meeting Dec. 15, 2007. That game came during Beilein's first season at the helm and Michigan finished 10-22.The Chippewas (7-5) have little chance of pulling off a major upset, having lost their last three games against Top 25 foes by an average of 27.0 points. They have only one victory over a major conference team since that Michigan win -- against South Florida in 2009.Central Michigan is shooting 40.2 percent from the field after hitting 32.8 on Sunday, but a strong defensive effort helped the Chippewas beat Arkansas Pine-Bluff 62-45 to earn third place in the Sun Bowl Invitational in El Paso, Texas.Central set season bests in points allowed and field-goal percentage defense (30.4)."I know it sounds like a broken record the way we say we keep finding ways to win, but on a night when we shoot 33 percent, we rebound and we defend," coach Keno Davis told the program's official website.Senior guard Kyle Randall is the only Chippewa scoring in double figures at 15.9 points per game, but he's shooting 38.1 percent.