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The end of the regular season provides a stiff challenge for the Michigan basketball team

The Michigan Wolverines have a tough run of games here at the end of the season

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Penn State Linsey Fagan-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines went into Happy Valley last week and what should have been an easy win turned into a loss to the last place Penn State Nittany Lions. But, Wolverines rebounded on Saturday in a hard fought win over No. 24 Maryland.

Despite being tied for the No. 1 ranking in the conference, Michigan still has quite a bit of adversity ahead of them as they begin a brutal five game stretch to end the year.

The Wolverines will face No. 11 Michigan State (twice), at No. 24 Maryland, at Minnesota, and Nebraska.

Fans saw Michigan play very well defensively in the 65-52 victory of the Terrapins on Saturday. The 14-2 run they had to open the game gave them the advantage they needed to sustain a lead for the entire ballgame. However, there were points when Maryland got dangerously close to making a comeback as they cut the lead to just three points midway through the second half.

The Wolverines prevailed in the first meeting in Ann Arbor on Saturday. However, Michigan will have to travel to College Park in the second to last game of the season before all is said and done. And as Michigan has come to find out, it isn’t easy winning on the road in the Big Ten.

Michigan State vs. Michigan has been hyped up for the entire college basketball season, and now we’re close to seeing them play twice in a short time-frame.

After three straight slip ups in Big Ten play, Michigan State looks to have rebounded from those losses. They are extremely talented, and Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in not only the conference, but in the entire nation.

It also helps that Izzo has one of the top players in the country in guard Cassius Winston, who has been the focal point of their offense and has been placed in consideration for Big Ten Player of the Year. Averaging 18.8 points and 7.4 assists per game makes him one of the best point guards in the country and a perfect fit in Izzo’s system.

He and fellow guard Matt McQuaid are dangerous from behind the arc, both averaging better than 42 percent shooting from deep.

The Spartans can also beat you on the inside with Nick Ward patrolling the paint well. Ward averages 15.4 points on 60.9 percent shooting from the field. Ward has a 92.8 defensive rating, good enough for 15th in the conference. Let’s just say he has come a long way since this happened to him last season:

If there is one team in the Big Ten that will match up pound for pound with Michigan it is the Michigan State Spartans, and this series will be fun to watch. The high powered offense of the Spartans will meet one of the top defenses in the country.

The Wolverines must also play against the Minnesota Golden Gophers once again; a team they only beat by a bucket the last time they faced off.

Charles Matthews was the hero in a 59-57 win over the Gophers just about a month ago.

A scrappy, defensive battle ended as the Wolverines shot just 33.6 percent on the night, and a horrific 13.6 percent from deep.

Issues like those must be fully corrected before Big Ten Tournament play begins, because have seen in the past that Big Ten seeding is overrated. Every team in this conference is capable of winning it all.

Heck, Penn State just sucked the life out of Michigan and wiped the floor with them for the first 38 minutes. Other bottom-feeders like Rutgers and Illinois have had their moments this year too in the upsets of Ohio State and Michigan State, respectively.

This conference is open for the taking, Michigan has proved that the past two seasons with consecutive Big Ten Tournament Championships despite going in as the four seed last year, and the five seed the year prior.

This season they can avoid having an uphill battle if they stay the course and run the table in the lead up to the tournament. The madness has already begun.