Despite his team having sole possession of the Big Ten lead and a favorable schedule to end the regular season, coach John Beilein realizes Michigan has a long way to go in order to earn a conference title.
He'll likely become more confident in reaching that goal if sophomore guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert continue their stellar play.The 16th-ranked Wolverines seek back-to-back victories for the first time this month by winning a fourth straight meeting with host Purdue on Wednesday night.Michigan (19-7, 11-3) has gone just 3-3 since a 75-66 victory over the Boilermakers (15-12, 5-9) on Jan. 30 extended its winning streak to 10, but Sunday's 79-70 win over then-No. 13 Michigan State gave it the outright lead in the Big Ten.The Wolverines split four straight games against ranked opponents, though their final four contests don't appear to be as challenging. They'll face Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana after this matchup with Purdue -- four of the bottom six in the 12-team league.Still, Beilein is making sure his squad doesn't look too far ahead after it committed a season-low three turnovers against the Spartans."(Sunday's win) does not win us a championship, it doesn't put us in position for it," Beilein said. "We've got four games left to play. What it does do right now is just put us in position to be in position."Stauskas scored 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half and shot 9 of 13 on Sunday. He and LeVert, who added 23 points after a career-best 25-point effort in a 75-62 loss to then-No. 21 Wisconsin on Feb. 16, each hit 3 of 5 from 3-point range."They were very aggressive," senior forward Jordan Morgan said of Stauskas and LeVert. "Coach had been on them about taking the shots that they make every day and not being passive. They were very aggressive, getting to the basket and knocking down big shots."Stauskas, fifth in the Big Ten with 17.0 points per game, got off to a slow start but took advantage of Michigan State's smaller defenders and shot over them in the second half. He's scored in double figures in 21 of 25 games this season."He's just a great player," LeVert said. "Defenses have been changing up all year on him, and he's figured out ways to adjust."Michigan committed a season-worst 16 turnovers in its first meeting with Purdue, but Stauskas finished with 16 points and LeVert added 14 and 11 rebounds.Purdue will play the rest of the season without guard Sterling Carter after he suffered a torn ACL in Sunday's 76-57 loss at Nebraska.Carter, who had started the last six games, transfered from Seattle University for his senior season."We are obviously disappointed for Sterling and really feel for him," coach Matt Painter said. "It's very unfortunate to see his collegiate career end like this. Sterling gave all he had for the program this year and did everything we asked of him since his arrival last summer."It's yet another blow to a Boilermakers team that has dropped seven of nine after shooting just 30.2 percent against Nebraska. Bryson Scott finished with team highs of 13 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.A.J. Hammons had 16 points and eight rebounds in the first meeting with Michigan, which has won two straight at Purdue after dropping the previous six visits.