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Posted on Sun, Feb 12, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

4 things to watch for when No. 22 Michigan basketball team hosts Illinois

By Nick Baumgardner

The Michigan basketball team hasn't lost a home game in 355 days.

But, the last time Illinois visited Ann Arbor (Feb. 23, 2010), the Illini walked out with a seven-point victory.

The 22nd-ranked Wolverines will look to improve to 14-0 at home this season while also avenging that 2010 loss Sunday when Illinois visits the Crisler Center (1 p.m., CBS).

Here are four things to watch:


Will Tim Hardaway Jr. be smiling or sulking on Sunday? The answer could impact the outcome of Michigan's game against Illinois. file photo

Picking up where he left off?

Tim Hardaway Jr. began the Nebraska game the way he ended the Michigan State loss.

By missing shots and hanging his head in the process.

But, after an 0-for-7 first half against the Cornhuskers on Wednesday, Hardaway found a way to contribute with six points and three assists after the break -- and seemed in much better spirits afterward.

Insistent that he's not going to dwell on the increasingly high number of bricks he's been laying (he's now shooting 40.7 percent for the season), Hardaway said after the game he planned on doing whatever he could to ensure Michigan's three seniors finish their careers in style.

Drawing charges and handing out assists are great, but Hardaway's the team's most potent scorer.

So, if he wants to help, he needs to put the ball in the basket.

His attitude seemed better during the second half in Lincoln, as did his decision making. Which Hardaway will the Wolverines see Sunday against Illinois?

The one that's smiling, or the one stuck sulking?

John Beilein and company are certainly pulling for the former.

Douglass on Paul

Michigan's ability to defend 7-foot-1 center Meyers Leonard is no doubt important, but how the Wolverines deal with Illini shooting guard Brandon Paul is just as crucial.

Paul is extremely capable and highly streaky, just ask Ohio State, who still can't figure out how he dropped 43 points in a win over the Buckeyes in January.

Michigan generally shows plenty of different defensive looks, but when the Wolverines are in man-to-man, senior guard Stu Douglass will likely draw the matchup with Paul.

Douglass is Michigan's best perimeter defender, and he's going to have to act like it Sunday.

Should the Wolverines choose to double down on Leonard at any point, Douglass will have to be extra careful to not let Paul slip free, as the 6-foot-4 two-guard averages 15 points per game and is comfortable shooting from just about anywhere on the floor.


Illinois coach Bruce Weber, above, is on the hot seat in Champaign.

AP Photo

Kick 'em while they're down

There are slumps, and then there's the thing Illinois is currently stuck in.

The heat under Bruce Weber's chair was warm to begin with this season, but it's been cranked up a few notches lately as the Illini have lost five of their last six games.

On the road during that stretch, Illinois is 0-3 with a loss at lowly Penn State, an overtime defeat at Minnesota and a 13-point setback at Indiana.

Illinois' only win during its recent slide was an abysmal 42-41 victory over Michigan State, and the Spartans were without Draymond Green down the stretch due to a knee injury.

Much like the Nebraska game Wednesday, Michigan is playing a team with little to no confidence. Unlike the Cornhuskers, though, Illinois possesses enough ability to earn some of that confidence back rather quickly.

So, if you're Michigan, start fast, deflate Illinois' energy and find out whether or not this downtrodden club has enough fight left in it to hang on the road for 40 minutes.

A winning streak ... It has happened before

Technically, if you believe fictional Cleveland Indians manager Lou Brown, a winning streak comes after three straight victories.

For Michigan, two in a row would be good enough.

The Wolverines haven't won two straight games since back-to-back wins against Wisconsin and Northwestern -- which took place more than a month ago.

Michigan hasn't suffered a losing streak all season, but it hasn't put together two quality performances in quite some time. A fact Douglass deemed as mildly frustrating last week.

Including the Illinois game, the Wolverines have six regular season games left, meaning there aren't an incredible number of chances for Michigan to get some consistent momentum rolling before the postseason.

So, it's not three in a row, but two is certainly better than nothing.

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.

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Sun, Feb 12, 2012 : 3:48 p.m.

I don't get the sense that anyone is rating them very highly, tough to think of them as over-rated.


Sun, Feb 12, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

why not predict a 30 point win??????? any win by any amount is a big win in this league. just win.

jeff blue

Sun, Feb 12, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

Hi All, You will think that I am overconfident today -- but the biting Illini are over-rated. ILL has a pretty good defense and that is about it. I sense is Michigan will come on in very focused and strong in this game. We are improving and building for a great stretch run. We really have a shot at a big ten title this year. We have beaten MSU and then we will get OSU at home. We will win this came "wire - to - wire" and I expect the final to be Michigan by 15. You might remember how we destroyed the Badgers this year in a very similar situation. Today is just going to be a day where everything clicks. I made a bold prediction before going on the road to play Purdue and the game came out exactly as I said. Same thing will happen today. No disrespect toward Illinios, but they do not have players this year. JEFF