Over the past three seasons, the Michigan basketball team hasn't had a strong start to its Big Ten road schedule. Since the 2008-09 season the Wolverines have begun conference play 1-4 every year. This year, with a two-point loss to Indiana at Assembly Hall, they’ve started 0-1.
That loss is the only blemish on No. 13 Michigan’s conference record, but the Wolverines are now staring down the next two weeks: three Big Ten road games and an extra non-conference away game against Arkansas.
Michigan has won nine of its last 10 games and Saturday’s game against Iowa will be its third game in what Michigan coach John Beilein refers to as "clusters." Within each cluster, his effort is to get his team to focus only on the next opponent.
"We’ve had to play really hard," Beilein said. "I’d rather just think about [Iowa] than what’s around the corner."
It will help the Wolverines that they’ve played at Indiana and Virginia, two of the toughest venues in the country. Both were close games and they’ve shown that they know how to play on the road, but now they must learn how to win on the road.
"You have to look at it and say, 'We have to be special. We have to be not just better than this team, we have to play significantly better than this team to win,' " Beilein said. "If you’re going to win on the road, you have to play your top game."
Michigan and Iowa have split the last four contests in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, two of which went into overtime. Players said it’s a tough place to play, made only more difficult by the fact they are playing there within this scheduling cluster.
Beilein said his team and coaching staff is focused on one day at a time, but he knows his team needs to improve on its transition defense -- an area the Wolverines struggled in against Indiana but did better with against Northwestern.
But with a Michigan State game looming and a tough road schedule awaiting the Wolverines, their focus needs to be on elevating their play each game and continuing to outplay their opponents.
"Unless you have a team that is so talented and such an incredible rebounding team, it’s difficult to win on the road," Beilein said. "Usually it takes a few games. … It takes a while, but at the same time, all you need is one [win] to make it happen."