The Michigan Wolverines have started out the season with two big victories, but John Beilein's team can't look ahead to next week's Maui Invitational quite yet. Tim Hardaway Jr. and company will play the Western Illinois Leathernecks on Thursday night in a game that will be televised on ESPN 3 when it tips off at 8:30 p.m.
The Wolverines, ranked 17th in the country, started off the season with double-digit victories over the overmatched Ferris State Bulldogs and Towson Tigers. Their game against Western Illinois represents a sort of third warm-up game before heading to Hawaii to take on a tournament field that includes three other ranked teams -- the Memphis Tigers, Duke Blue Devils and Kansas Jayhawks.
First thing's first, however, as a loss to Western Illinois certainly wouldn't be a good omen heading into the prestigious early-season tournament. The Leathernecks lost by 29 points to the Dayton Flyers in their only game of the season to this point, but that was without leading returner Ceola Clark. The point guard was suspended for the first game of the season for reportedly violating team rules, but he and Tommie Tyler will likely be heavily leaned on by the Western Illinois coaching staff on Thursday night.
The Wolverines will likely look to work out as many kinks as possible before next week's roadtrip. Hardaway is averaging 13.5 points per game, tied for the team-lead with Evan Smotrycz, while Trey Burke and Stu Douglass have both been important parts of the backcourt -- even if it doesn't exactly show up in the box score.
The Wolverines are only guaranteed a game against Memphis in Maui next week before heading into the tournament's winner or loser's bracket.