Michigan basketball coach John Beilein speaks to the media on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, in Ann Arbor.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
The last time Michigan’s basketball program started this fast, the most uncomfortable man in Ann Arbor might have been John Beilein.
In early 2013, the Wolverines raced out to a program-record tying 16-0 start and eventually grabbed the program’s first No. 1 overall ranking in more than two decades.
And Beilein hated it.
For a team filled with freshmen and sophomores, Beilein believed Michigan was getting too much attention far too early and, in time, it would become a problem. He wasn’t wrong, as Michigan finished the regular season 9-6 before gathering itself for a run to the national title game.
On Thursday, Michigan will restart Big Ten play at home against Penn State with a 13-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking. And a head coach who is much more comfortable with everything.
“They’ve handled it well, but the real indication will be once we get (back into) Big Ten play. And we’ll see how good any team is, not just Michigan,” Beilein said Wednesday. “There was a little span there when we came off those (early) wins (against Villanova, North Carolina and Purdue) and we didn’t guard people like they were Carsen Edwards, or we didn’t guard them like they were some of the guys from Villanova.”
Michigan got through its final non-league portion of the schedule and through the holiday season without much of a bump, even if it went through a few inconsistent moments following Big Ten wins over Purdue and Northwestern in early December.
The Wolverines were pushed at home by South Carolina and Western Michigan. They ran away from Air Force and Binghamton, though both games had their share of learning moments.
Still, Michigan gets back to it this week with home games against Penn State (7-6, 0-2) on Thursday before hosting Indiana (11-2, 2-0) on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m., CBS).
When Michigan’s been at its best, the Wolverines have been near untouchable. They’re far from perfect, but they’re also not lacking confidence, either.
“We’re the No. 2 team in the nation right now, trying to become the No. 1 team, I feel like we’re right there,” Michigan freshman Ignas Brazdeikis said. “I feel like we were all ready for this. This is exactly what we expected. Me and Charles (Matthews) have talked about it. … That’s the kind of confidence we have.
“We’re definitely ready for this. I feel like we deserve being in that top five, I feel like we’re No. 1. … We just need to continue to work, continue to get better and continue to be humble.”
The difference between this team and the 2013 team is age and experience. Michigan has more veterans on its roster than that group had. The core of this lineup has also been to a Final Four and played in a national title game.
The 2013 team didn’t have that type of experience, it had never been out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
This group, Beilein believes, has handled expectations the program’s set for itself well thus far.
“We just need to stay locked in how we have been offensively and defensively,” sophomore Jordan Poole said. “We’ve had a couple slip-ups on a couple coverages, but coaches have done of good job of bringing those to our attention.”
If Michigan’s not considered the top Big Ten favorite at this point, it’s certainly one of two teams most have pegged as the top title contenders entering 2019 — the other being rival Michigan State.
But the Wolverines and Spartans won’t play until late February. In the meantime, Michigan enters this month with an opportunity to set a program record for the best start in school history.
Wins this week and next Thursday at Illinois would make it 16 straight, with a home game against Northwestern being the possible 17th straight victory.
Michigan’s focused on Penn State right now. Then it’ll move to Indiana and so on.
Beilein would like to keep it that way.
“(Penn State) is extremely scrappy, a team that loves to get up in you, loves to push the tempo, extremely talented,” Poole said. “They’re a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end.
“It’ll be exciting for us.”
Contact Nick Baumgardner: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner.