Heading into the resumption of Big Ten play, Michigan has a target on its back.
Not that it didn’t before after winning back-to-back Big Ten Tournament championships, but the No. 2 ranking in the AP poll gives teams even more motivation to beat the Wolverines. As Michigan takes on Penn State Thursday, the Wolverines are ready for the challenge of being the hunted.
“This is exactly what we expected,” freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis said. “Me and Charles (Matthews) talk about this all the time, I don’t see us losing at all this year. That’s the kind of confidence we have and the kind of focus we bring every single day. We’re definitely ready for this. We deserve to be in that top five and I feel we deserve to be number one. I think we’re the number one team in the nation.”
While the Wolverines are undefeated as the calendar turns to 2019, they are still taking it one game at a time.
“I just think the guys are so focused on getting better every day and trying to get as prepared as possible for the next team that we’re really just blocking out the outside noise or the records,” sophomore forward Jordan Poole said.
The Wolverines third best start in school history isn’t going unnoticed however.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment 13-0,” Brazdeikis said. “There’s only four teams left that are undefeated in the country. It’s amazing for the school, amazing for us and the team. We don’t get caught up in it all.”
Brazdeikis knows hours of practice have put Michigan in this position.
“Just a lot of hard work, a lot of effort was put into this,” Brazdeikis said. “We work hard every single day in practice. Definitely are defense was a big part of it. We’re one of the best in the nation at that.”
As Big Ten play resumes, so will a more normal schedule for the Wolverines. The previous few weeks have seen Michigan play only one game a week, for a week in between each game. The grind of the Big Ten schedule is a welcome respite.
“It’s way better when we have two games a week just because when it’s one game a week it’s tough just to prepare the entire week for that one team without kind of losing focus around that team,” Brazdeikis said. “I feel we’re in a better rhythm when we have two games a week.”
For the next 18 games, Michigan will have to be on its top game to win.
“I’m definitely excited,” Poole said. You have to bring it every night in a league like this. Anyone can get beat at any point in the team so being able to have the mental focus to be ready and prepared every game is huge.”
The Wolverines are confident heading into the gauntlet of the Big Ten.
“I feel like we come into every single game thinking we’re the best team,” Brazdeikis said. “With that confidence, we’ve got to work harder than every single team. We’ve got that big target on our back now. We just have to be ready for it.”