After huge wins over No. 11 North Carolina and No. 19 Purdue on Wednesday and Saturday, respectively, Michigan leapfrogged Nevada and Tennessee in today’s AP poll to find itself at No. 5.
The rankings are relatively meaningless this time of year, and the players admitted as much this afternoon at Crisler, but they do show that Michigan has become the “hunted” in a lot of ways — and that’s exactly how freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis prefers it.
“Being ranked No. 5 is nice, but this isn’t our end goal,” he confirmed. “Our end goal is to win a national championship, so that’s what we’ll strive for.
“We’re definitely the hunted, but that doesn’t change anything, because we still play with a chip on our shoulder. I love being in the spotlight and playing in big, intense games [like the one tomorrow night at Northwestern].”
Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers explained that he embraces the hostility opposing fan bases show toward his club when they travel, and will once again feed off it tomorrow night in Evanston.
“Ever since I started playing AAU and high school ball, I got used to crowds booing me,” he recalled. “I’ve always liked it. I actually get more adrenaline from it.
“Getting accustomed to the new rims and hardcore fans behind you talking are probably the toughest aspects of playing on the road. Coach [John] Beilein prepares us so well for stuff like that though — he prepares us for everything.”
Believe it or not, Michigan has actually won at every Big Ten venue more recently than it has won at Evanston. Its last victory there was in 2013, and the program has dropped three in a row on the Wildcats’ home court since, including last year (the last time the Wolverines lost a regular-season game).
“They were long and athletic, and they played that matchup zone,” junior forward Jon Teske recalled about last year’s game. “It’s difficult to play against. We missed some shots against them, but they’re a great defensive team.”
Tomorrow night’s contest may carry a bit more intrigue than most December games, simply because it’s a conference matchup.
The Maize and Blue are already 1-0 in Big Ten play, and have every intention of keeping that ‘zero’ in the loss column.
“We want to keep that perfect record in the Big Ten going,” Livers exclaimed. “Coach Beilein reminded us of that as well before the Purdue game.”
No, the Wildcats aren’t ranked like Michigan’s last two opponents were, but that won’t stop Brazdeikis from ramping the intensity level up once again.
He has just one road game under his collegiate belt — at Villanova on Nov. 14 — but none in league play.
“It’s exciting for me, because it’ll be my first Big Ten road game,” he said. “I heard there will be a lot of Michigan fans there as well. I know we’ll be ready with our defense and intensity.
“I’m ready to go every single time I step on the court — that’s just how I play.”