John Beilein envisioned it could be this way: Michigan and Michigan State, two of the top teams in the nation, squaring off. He knows that just makes the stakes even higher when his squad visits the Breslin Center on Tuesday night.
Beilein knows the Spartans are a whole lot better than some were saying earlier in the season. They're good enough, in fact, to produce the first meeting of Michigan and Michigan State in which both schools feature a top-10 crew.
"All year, Michigan State has been way underrated," Beilein said. "They have tremendous talent. Tom [Izzo] has done a great job of recruiting over the years. They've got McDonalds All-Americans all over the place, and they're really good.
"They played a very competitive schedule early, and it shows right now. They're playing as good a basketball as anywhere in the country. When I first got here, one of the things people were talking about was Michigan-Michigan State.
"I said, 'Wouldn't it be great if both teams could be really, really good?' There is no reason both of us can't be really good in the Big Ten. We've moved more in that direction. They certainly have been that way for a long time."
Beilein hopes to avoid the huge road holes created in losses at Ohio State and Indiana earlier in the season. He knows playing at the Breslin Center isn't any bargain, though.
At the same time, the Michigan coach sees his team as getting used to playing in tight road contests at the end, and isn't on board with the notion that it hasn't accomplished much on the road.
"The Minnesota game, although it wasn't close, was a pretty darned good win for us," Beilein said. "The game at Illinois was a good win, too. Minnesota and Illinois are good teams.
"It's winning close games. There was a period last year for four or five games where, when the ball was in the air, we could have won or lost. The last two games, the ball is in the air and we could have won or lost, and we're 1-1.
"You have to hope sometimes the breaks go your way, and sometimes make the breaks go your way. Our kids are more comfortable now playing in close games."
Beilein refuses to fuel the ugly side of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, insisting he doesn't hate the Spartans. He just wants Michigan to win, and does acknowledge how big this one is for fans, players, etc.
Getting the upper hand in the point guard battle could go a long way toward getting that done. Beilein shakes his head when considering the talent in the league at that position, including MSU's Keith Appling and his own sophomore Trey Burke.
"I watched Keith score 50 in the state championship game, back in high school, your stomach uneasy about how you're going to guard him for four years," Beilein recalled. "He'd already signed with Michigan State.
"Our guy is pretty good, too. I'm sure they know each other. I think they've been to camps together. They'll go at it, that's for sure."
And in the bigger picture, a match-up between top-10 teams in the State of Michigan means one has experienced considerable growth of late.
"Everything that has happened so far, between the sellout crowds, the exposure on all the networks, is terrific for our program," Beilein said. "We're continuing to grow. Bringing Michigan back to the national scene is certainly happening right now. We've just got to continue to go on, wherever it takes us.
"Keep working hard, working hard and working hard, take each day. There is only good in these situations we have right now."
• Beilein said redshirt junior Jordan Morgan was going to practice today, but that his status for the MSU contest remains uncertain. The coach indicated Morgan has undergone intense treatment on his bad ankle, including three sessions on Sunday.
• The U-M coach acknowledged it will be good for the Wolverines to get back on the court quickly following Saturday's crushing overtime loss in Madison, triggered by a near half-court shot as regulation expired.
"To get it behind us was hard," Beilein said. "We had to address it. There were so many plays in that game that could have changed it - decisions here, decisions there by our team, by our coaches, everything.
"Their three-point shot - I wish we could have had two guys on the ball, two guys on the catch, but it didn't happen. We'll learn next time. We'll be better at that."
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