Column: Is Michigan the real deal? The toughest portion of the schedule is about to provide answers
ANN ARBOR -- John Beilein could only laugh.
What else was he supposed to do?
Minutes after dropping an 81-73 decision at No. 3 Indiana on Saturday, Michigan's basketball coach was asked if he was looking forward to his team's next three games.
Vs. Ohio State, at Wisconsin, at Michigan State.
"It's a heck of a stretch," Beilein said. "That's for sure."
Who has Michigan beaten? How good are the Wolverines? Can they win the Big Ten?
We're about to find out.
The most brutal portion of Michigan's schedule continues Tuesday (9 p.m., ESPN) when Ohio State visits Crisler Center, the same Buckeye team that snapped the Wolverines' 16-game winning streak and brought them back to Earth last month.
The same Ohio State team that's 8-1 against Michigan since 2010.
From there, the Wolverines head to Wisconsin on Saturday. Michigan hasn't won at the Kohl Center since 1999, when Bo Ryan was leading Wisconsin-Platteville to a Division III national championship.
Oh, it gets better.
After the trip to Madison, Michigan heads into the Breslin Center to take on rival Michigan State (Feb. 12) and a group of fired up Spartan fans who are probably a bit sick of hearing about the Wolverines' basketball resurgence at this point.
This upcoming stretch won't determine how Michigan handles itself in March, and it won't directly determine the Wolverines' NCAA tournament fate.
But it will have an effect on who they play when they get there. And it will also feature title implications.
Michigan (20-2, 7-2) can't win the Big Ten title over the next eight days, but it might be able lose it.
Go 0-3 in this stretch, and suddenly, you're sitting at 7-5 in league play with no room for error the rest of the way.
On the flip side, if Michigan defends home court and steals one on the road, it's in excellent position for a league title down the stretch.
The Wolverines have been outstanding in 20 wins this season. But that doesn't mean they're immune to question marks.
Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. proved they can handle a big-time stage on the road at Indiana, combining for 43 points. But Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III need to bounce back.
Mitch McGary and Jon Horford showed tremendous flashes of improvement along the team's front line last week. But how healthy is Jordan Morgan?
This stretch will help clear up some of these uncertainties.
With the Big Ten being as tough as it is this season, every team has to go through something like this -- probably more than once.
Michigan State had a three-game stretch at home against Ohio State, at Wisconsin and at Indiana last month. The Spartans will then close February at home against Indiana, at Ohio State, at Michigan and at home against Wisconsin.
Indiana's not exempt either. The Hoosiers have to play at Ohio State, Michigan State and Minnesota this month -- and close out the regular season at Michigan.
Sooner or later, the Big Ten gets real for everyone.
It's about to get real for these Wolverines.
But, as they say, no one eats an elephant in one bite. Beilein will focus on one day at a time, one game at a time, one four-minute spurt at a time.
He has no other choice.
"It's a rough stretch," he said. "I don't know if Wisconsin is nationally ranked yet, they deserve to be. But those four teams (including Indiana), with three of those four on the road? That's a tough stretch for anybody.
"But, somebody's got to do it."
Enjoy your elephant, Michigan.
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