Trey Burke says Michigan should be No. 1, but 'they don't give out banners for' a top ranking in January
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- If you want the truth, more often than not, Trey Burke will be glad to give it to you.
After his Michigan squad rolled to a 74-60 win at Illinois on Sunday, the Wolverines' star point guard was asked if he felt his club was the No. 1 team in the country.
He didn't hesitate.
"I think so," said Burke, who had 19 points and 5 assists against the Illini. "I don't think that was our goal. Obviously we want to be No. 1.
"If we're not, so be it, but I think (we are No. 1 team in the country)."
If the Wolverines move up to No. 1 in either The Associated Press Top 25 or USA Today Coaches' Poll on Monday afternoon, it'll mark the first time since 1992 that a Michigan squad sat atop a national poll.
The '92-93 Wolverines -- led by Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson -- opened the season as the country's top-ranked team, but dropped their second game of the season at Duke.
This team (19-1, 6-1) is off to the best start in school history after Sunday's victory, as no other Michigan club has began a year 19-1.
No. 1 would be nice, Burke admits, but it's not everything.
"They don't give out banners for being (ranked) No. 1 (in January)," Burke said. "It'd be a great accomplishment to have, and we're looking forward to it (if it happens).
"But we know we've got a lot to work on, and a lot (of things to) get better at."
The last time Michigan was playing for a potential No. 1 ranking, its wheels rattled off during a disheartening 56-53 loss at Ohio State earlier this month.
On Sunday in Champaign, though, there were no such problems. Michigan acted the part in just about every facet of the game -- winning easily to move into a tie with Indiana for first place in the Big Ten standings.
"Our first step is to win a Big Ten championship," said Michigan freshman Glenn Robinson, who finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds. "I feel like we can be (the No. 1 team in America). When we come out here and play as hard as we can and execute our game plan, I feel like we are."
A total of 16,618 fans filled Assembly Hall looking for an upset. And at least a few times, Illinois looked prepared to give it to them.
Illinois cut an early 7-point deficit down to two midway through the first half with a Tyler Griffey putback dunk, which drew a raucous roar from the crowd. Two trips later, Michigan's Mitch McGary uncorked a dunk of his own, putting everyone back in their seats.
The Illini moved within three late in the first half after a D.J. Richardson triple -- but Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. went on an 8-2 run to close the half, by themselves.
Illinois tried once more midway through the second, cutting a 13-point lead down to seven, forcing a Michigan timeout and bringing its capacity crowd to life one more time.
But less than a minute later, a deflated Illini squad slogged back to its bench after a quick McGary layup and a Burke steal and slam pushed the lead back up to double digits.
Illinois threw a lot of punches.
But Michigan threw more. Each one harder than the next.
"They've got a lot of weapons," Illinois coach John Groce said. "They've got a lot of weapons out there."
More weapons than anyone in America?
Michigan received 11 first-place votes in the AP poll last week, but finished third in the coaches' poll behind Kansas -- who is 18-1, and hasn't lost since November. With Duke dropping a game at Miami earlier this week, it'll either be the Wolverines or Jayhawks sitting atop the national polls on Monday.
Though Burke admitted that he and the rest of his teammates would consider it an honor to be viewed as the top team in the nation, Michigan coach John Beilein maintained a familiar stance Sunday night.
He really, really doesn't care.
"We've sort of been anticipating that question, haven't we?" Beilein said Sunday. "Here's where it is, guys. It's Jan. 27 and not one of you in here can remember who was No. 1 last Jan. 27. To our team, that really does not make a big difference.
"I'm sure with our fans at water coolers and coffee shops and for people that love Michigan and hate Michigan, that's probably something they hate or they love right now. Our big thing is 'let's keep getting better every day.' "
Beilein's point makes sense, even if his players will naturally be peeking at the polls Monday.
A No. 1 ranking doesn't mean a whole lot in January if you lose it before March. And though it could be perceived as a feather in Beilein's cap, considering the team went 10-22 during his first season five years ago, there are larger prizes to be had.
Michigan might be No. 1 nationally Monday afternoon. But it'll certainly be No. 1 (along with Indiana) in the Big Ten.
Which is more important?
"We know if we're No. 1, the target gets even bigger, guys are going to come at us that much stronger," Burke said. "But our No. 1 goal is to win the Big Ten."
And that's the truth.
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