John Beilein's decision to increase the nonconference strength of schedule is paying off for Michigan.
Winning on the road is a daunting task in a conference as tough as the Big Ten. Thanks to some trips to hostile environments early in the season, though, the Michigan basketball team is making it look pretty easy to storm into someone else's venue and come away with a victory.
The Wolverines boast a perfect 4-0 record in league games not played inside the friendly confines of the Crisler Center. Two of those wins came last week when Michigan defeated three Top 10 opponents, which has it set up better than anyone else to claim the Big Ten title come March.
Has anyone had a better week than Michigan? Three straight wins over opponents ranked in the Top 10.— Sporting News (@sportingnews) January 26, 2014
All of this is a product of head coach John Beilein's decision to ramp up the number of marquee matchups on the Wolverines' nonconference slate. Losses at Duke and at Iowa State undoubtedly helped Michigan maintain its composure in the hostile environments it has traveled to in Big Ten action.
A closer look at how the rest of the Big Ten has performed away from home thus far reveals just how impressive the Maize and Blue's unblemished road record truly is.
Excluding the Wolverines, league teams are 13-27 on the road. Michigan State is responsible for four of those wins and has yet to lose at an opposing arena. Iowa is a respectable 2-2 with a win at Ohio State.
None of those victories are really worth bragging about either. Three came at Penn State, another three were at Northwestern and two were against Illinois. Indiana and Purdue both dropped a pair of home games, while Ohio State lost once at Value City Arena. The combined Big Ten record of the teams is 15-29 and none of them are above .500.
Conversely, Michigan has beaten Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road. Those teams are 17-13 in league play.
Road victories are often the biggest factors in determining who sits atop the Big Ten standings once the regular season concludes.
Since 2003-04, only three champions have won fewer than six games on the road. Michigan and Michigan State each went 5-4 en route to a three-way split with Ohio State in 2011-12. The third occurrence was when Ohio State finished the 2005-06 campaign with a 5-3 record outside of Columbus.
No Big Ten champion has finished with fewer than five road victories since Wisconsin won the league outright in 2002-03 with a 4-4 away mark. Speaking of outright champions, six of the last seven were either 8-1, 7-2 or 7-1 in road contests.
For a more detailed breakdown of the outright champs, take a look at this table.
Now, this is by no means an attempt to say Michigan has the Big Ten all locked up in January thanks to an unblemished road record. The Wolverines have plenty of work left to do, including four games against nationally ranked teams, two of which will be played outside of Ann Arbor. Trips to Bloomington, West Lafayette and Champaign should not be overlooked either.
However, Michigan has gained an edge over everyone else in the Big Ten and forced contenders like Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin to steal road victories down the stretch.
Be sure to keep an eye on how teams perform on the road for the remainder of the conference play. The Wolverines already have a pair of impressive wins in hand and a 7-0 record in league action, which makes them the favorites to take home this year's Big Ten title.
In other words, someone will have to waltz into Michigan's house and win to take back control of the conference.
Want to talk more Michigan basketball? Follow me on Twitter: @Zach_Dirlam.