Michigan coach John Beilein and junior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. discuss Wednesday's matinee with Illinois to open up Big Ten play.

Michigan coach John Beilein and junior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. discuss Wednesday's matinee with Illinois to open up Big Ten play.

Michigan has won four consecutive games, including eight of the last nine to wrap-up the non-conference season.

But now, the real season begins.

The Wolverines will be in Champagne Wednesday afternoon to open up what should be a competitive and challenging 18 game slate of Big Ten Conference games.

"Step into the Big Ten now is a whole different arena, so to speak," Michigan coach John Beilein said Tuesday. "Illinois, we had a tough loss there last year.

"Winning on the road in this league is very hard. You've just got to take one game when it comes up and try to get that win."

On the other side, Illinois comes in sitting at 8-5 and in the midst of a five game winning streak.

With strong perimeter play and depth at guard, the Illini present a challenge the likes of which Michigan hasn't ordinarily been accustomed to from John Groce's group in the past.

"I like what I've seen from that team," Beilein said. "We've seen Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn is now healthy. Malcolm Hill is a heck of a player and now they've added a pick and pop center, that's something we haven't seen.

"We've seen it from Wisconsin and a few other teams in the past. This is a different element defending a pick and pop center."

Center Michael Finke is a true difference maker, particularly on the offensive end for Illinois, stretching the floor while hitting 16-of-36 attempts from the three-point line, good for a 10.3 points per game average.

Still, to junior point guard Derrick Walton Jr., this Illinois team remains familiar in his eyes.

"They're really physical," said Walton Jr. "They don't really beat themselves so we'll have to be disciplined and sound. Our game plan will be.

"I just remember they've got a couple guys that can score without needing a ball screen or coming off a lot of screens. They've got some guys that can make some plays one-on-one."

Offensively for Michigan, the improvement over the last four games has been noticeable and more consistent.

Getting scoring from nearly the entire roster should prove to be beneficial for the Wolverines in conference play.

"We've got a smooth balance right now," said Walton Jr. "Guys are making shots. We're just spreading the ball around, guys aren't making the ball stick and just making sure that it's a balanced attack, running the sets with high speed and it's opened some things up for us."


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