Illinois-Michigan: John Beilein's Wolverines Face Vengeful Illini Squad

joel bradleyContributor IJanuary 14, 2009

John Beilein's batch of Wolverines enters tonight's game against Illinois trying to sweep the season series. The Illini have played only one game since Michigan defeated Illinois at home 10 days ago, 74-64.

Expect to see Illinois come out with an emphasis on feeding their big men down low. Michigan is forced to play small ball with their current roster, which means if the three ball isn't falling, Michigan could get into some trouble offensively.

With the recent addition of Laval Lucas-Perry, Michigan has been given an additional scorer and someone who can penetrate and draw fouls. Drawing fouls seems to be LLP's forte. He looks like he would rather take the foul than get the points, which is good—this shows his team player mentality.

I have a tough time believing Michigan can pull off the win in Champaign tonight, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. If the three is falling, then look out.

A win tonight would no doubt increase the team's confidence heading into Saturday's game with Ohio State. If Michigan happens to win both of those games, we are definitely looking at a Big Ten title contender in Ann Arbor this year.

John Beilein loves to downplay his team's talent and has said that he doesn't believe they deserve to be ranked. Being the only team so far to beat Duke and one of two teams to beat UCLA—the other being Texas—Michigan definitely deserves the ranking and a tournament berth for the first time in 11 years.

Unless, of course, somehow, some way the team's chemistry, hard work, and focus completely dissolve over the next month and a half, expect them to be dancing, and I would even say a six or seven seed.

Back to tonight's game. I expect Michigan to come out gunning from the get-go. They know they can ill afford to let that crowd get into the game early—there is no silencing them for the whole game. Therefore, look for LLP and Manny Harris to get an early lead by driving and sometimes kicking out to Merrit and Novak.

DeShawn Sims needs to be DeShawn Sims tonight. Another 20 points and 20 rebounds would do, but if he gives a solid effort on the glass, expect good things tonight.

If Michigan ends up shooting 40 percent from three-point range, look for a Michigan victory. However, if they allow the Illini to get a double-digit lead, then don't look for a comeback. This isn't the Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana; this is Illinois, and they are not happy about the loss in Ann Arbor.

Expect a highly competitive game that should go down to the wire. I am predicting Illinois comes out on top, possibly in OT, but it will be one of the Big Ten's best games of the year.

Final score: Illinois 78, Michigan 72.