Michigan basketball looking to match best start since 2013 Final Four team tonight at Illinois

Wolverines 15-0 this season

Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole celebrate a win over South Carolina at the Crisler Center on Dec. 8, 2018, in Ann Arbor. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - As the Michigan basketball team turns its attention to a matchup against Illinois, it has an opportunity to match the 16-0 record last reached by one of John Beilein's best teams.

Comparing 2013 to 2019

The situation for this year's team is very similar to what the 2012-13 team faced in early January.

On Jan. 9, 2013, the Wolverines beat Nebraska to improve to 16-0 on the season. They were ranked No. 2 in the country behind Duke and were one of just three undefeated teams in the country, though Arizona lost the following night at Oregon.

This year's team will go for its 16th win Thursday while ranked No. 2 in the country behind Duke. There were three undefeated teams in the country until Wednesday night, when Houston lost at Temple.

Beilein has a very different-looking team in 2019. The 2012-13 Wolverines were the No. 1 team in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 37 defensively. This year, Michigan owns the nation's No. 4 defense and No. 22 offense.

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke against Syracuse during the 2013 Final Four at the Georgia Dome on April 6, 2013, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Beilein doesn't have close to the star power of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Mitch McGary on this year's team. But he has a tough, gritty defensive squad that can win in many different ways.

The 2012-13 team's 16-0 start included two wins over teams ranked in the final AP poll -- Kansas State and Pittsburgh -- and three teams that went to the NCAA Tournament -- Kansas State, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State.

This year's team also has two ranked wins -- over North Carolina and Indiana -- but four wins over likely tournament teams in North Carolina, Indiana, Villanova and Purdue.

How 2013 worked out

Three days after improving to 16-0 with a win over Nebraska, Michigan became the final undefeated team in the country when Duke lost at North Carolina State. It only lasted one day, though, as the Wolverines lost at Ohio State the next day.

Two weeks later, after wins against Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois, Michigan rose to No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time under Beilein. It surrendered the No. 1 spot to Indiana the following week after a loss in Bloomington.

Jordan Poole celebrates a basket with Charles Matthews while playing Indiana at the Crisler Center on Jan. 6, 2019, in Ann Arbor. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Michigan finished the regular season 25-6, lost in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament and received a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan won the South Region and beat Syracuse in the Final Four to get to the national championship game against Louisville. Despite building a big lead in the first half, Michigan fell short and lost 82-76.

This season

Just like in 2013, Michigan is a Duke loss away from taking over the No. 1 spot in the AP poll. The Blue Devils have a difficult test this weekend at No. 13 Florida State, so wins over Illinois and Northwestern would at least give the Wolverines a chance.

In the battle to become the final undefeated team in the country, Michigan will have a very good chance if it can beat Illinois, Northwestern and Wisconsin, which will be the toughest Big Ten test so far. Over that span, Virginia -- the other unbeaten team -- has to play at Clemson, against No. 9 Virginia Tech and at No. 1 Duke.

The Michigan-Wisconsin game is at noon and the Virginia-Duke game is at 6 p.m., so Michigan would need to win in Madison if Virginia's first loss comes in Durham.

Illinois will be Michigan's third road test after wins at Villanova and Northwestern.

Road games are extremely difficult in the Big Ten. The game at Northwestern was the closest Michigan has come to a loss, and Ohio State's loss at Rutgers on Wednesday night served as a shocking reminder about the challenge of road games.

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