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Michigan basketball’s biggest week of the season begins tonight

Two top five matchups await the Wolverines, and it all starts tonight in Ann Arbor.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan’s men’s basketball team hasn’t lost a game in more than a month. And if the team hadn’t blown a huge lead in Columbus, its last loss would’ve been in November.

Since the team’s last loss, star forward Mo Wagner has been battling an ankle injury sustained in the win over Detroit Mercy. He is clearly not at 100 percent health, and it’s showing in his lack of production over the last few contests. But Duncan Robinson seems to have broken out of his shooting slump; Charles Matthews continues to step up and lead the team in scoring; and freshman Isaiah Livers has won over the fanbase with his stellar play as of late.

But all these things occurred against weak opponents, for the most part. Now a huge challenge awaits the Wolverines — No. 5 Purdue in Ann Arbor (tonight, 9 p.m., ESPN) and at No. 4 Michigan State (Saturday, noon, Fox). And no matter how Wagner’s ankle is feeling, or how young this team is, or who is shooting lights out and who isn’t, this team needs to be prepared to stun the college basketball world.

Believe it or not, these are two games the Wolverines can win. They defeated Texas on the road earlier this year, and they even had a remarkable comeback victory at home against UCLA. This team has been there before, and they can surely do it again.

Now, just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it will be easy. It will be anything but easy.

Michigan State and Purdue are No. 1 and 2 respectively for scoring offense in the conference (86.5 PPG and 86.1 PPG). MSU and Purdue are also No. 3 and 4 respectively for scoring defense in the Big Ten (giving up 62.5 PPG and 63.3 PPG).

The way Michigan defeats these teams? Three steps:

  1. Defense
  2. Don’t live and die by the three
  3. More defense

Head coach John Beilein preaches the importance of defense, especially to the younger players. With Michigan State and Purdue leading in scoring offense in the Big Ten, as well as field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage, the Wolverines are going to have to play nearly flawless defense in order to hang with the premier teams in the conference. That includes the freshmen.

Whether the Wolverines split these two games, lose both or win both, we are going to learn a ton about them by the end of the week. They have looked good during the winning streak, but have only been challenged a handful of times. This is a chance for Michigan to silence any critics and get some love from the AP voters/tournament committee.

Get ready, Wolverines. Your biggest week of the season begins now.