Michigan is heading into Saturday's matchup against the No. 23-ranked Gophers as not just the team to beat in the Big Ten but arguably the program currently generating the most buzz in all of college basketball.
The No. 7 Wolverines (11-0, 6-0 in the Big Ten) are red hot after becoming the first Division I team to defeat three straight ranked opponents by 19 points or more following Tuesday's 23-point thumping of No. 9 Wisconsin in Ann Arbor.
At one point in the second half, Michigan coach Juwan Howard saw his team up by 40 points after outscoring the Badgers 43-6.
"Our guys do a phenomenal job of competing," Howard said Tuesday night. "It's beautiful to have high-character guys who are wired the right way."
ESPN college hoops analyst and former Michigan center Tim McCormick tweeted that it was "the most dominant stretch of basketball all year – NBA or college ... I am in awe of what I watched last night."
The other two ranked opponents steamrolled by these seemingly unstoppable Wolverines were Northwestern and the Gophers by a combined 44 points, including Minnesota's 82-57 loss on Jan. 6.
"This is the 16th team in the country," Big Ten Network analyst Stephen Bardo said about the Gophers covering Michigan's 20-0 run in the last meeting."It's just that Michigan is playing just as well as anybody in the country right now."
Richard Pitino's team will be the first opponent to play Michigan twice this season, and within a span of 10 days. This is the same opponent that had a 37-point lead on the Gophers in Ann Arbor earlier this month, the largest deficit for any Pitino team since 2016.
"They've got really good balance," Pitino said then. "They're a talented team, a very talented team, well coached. Juwan is doing a great job."
Outside of the top two ranked teams nationally, undefeated Gonzaga and Baylor, there doesn't seem to be a more complete team in the game this year.
The Wolverines rank No. 6 in offensive efficiency and No. 11 in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com national rankings. They lead the Big Ten in field goal percentage (52.4) and lowest opponent field goal percentage (36.9) and free throw percentage (78.3) and are second in rebounding margin (plus-9.7).
It's early but this could be the most balanced Michigan team since the Final Four years under longtime Wolverines coach John Beilein, according to analysts.
That's saying something considering the Wolverines started the season 17-0 and were ranked as high as No. 2 nationally in 2018-19.
Michigan got off to an 8-0 start last season in Howard's first year taking over his alma mater after Beilein left for the NBA. The former NBA player and Fab Five member went from unranked to No. 4 in the nation after back-to-back top-10 wins vs. Gonzaga and North Carolina. It was the first time a team jumped into the Associated Press poll all the way into the top five since Kansas in 1989.
These Wolverines could be even better this year.
Howard only had two starters returning last season. Seniors Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske were accomplished veterans, but the Wolverines struggled after a hot start to find consistency elsewhere. They lost eight of 12, including four straight losses in Big Ten play (Gophers beat them at the Barn). They finished 19-12 and 10-10 in the league.
Not only is Michigan deeper (impact transfers Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown added experience and talent) but three significant pieces are present that weren't there last season. Isaiah Livers healthy, Hunter Dickinson's inside scoring presence and Franz Wagner physically tougher and closing in on his potential.
Wagner arrived from Germany with NBA potential, but the 6-9 sophomore has filled out his frame and has become one of the top all-around players in the league.
Livers, who is averaging nearly 14 points, six rebounds and shoots 40% from three, is back playing his best basketball after missing 10 games with a groin/ankle injury as a junior.
Howard's recruiting prowess showed up immediately with landing the 7-1 Dickinson, who is more than just one of the best freshmen in the country. He leads the team in scoring (17.5), rebounding (7.9), blocks (1.5) and the Big Ten in field goal percentage (70.9).
How crazy will the Wolverines hype get before their first loss? Only time will tell, but the Gophers can try to bring Michigan down to earth in the rematch Saturday.
"I'm not a big revenge guy, pay-you-back guy," Pitino said. "I'm all about let's get back to work and see if we can beat a terrific team in Michigan. Our guys know what we're trying to get."