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Michigan (17-0) off to best start in program history after drubbing Northwestern

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There was no celebration after or even a hint of extra excitement. They shook hands in a line, walked off the court and into the locker room -- all in under two minutes after the buzzer sounded.

Michigan won its 17th consecutive game in an 80-60 hammering of Northwestern on Sunday. It set a school record for the best start to a season and tied the longest winning streak in program history, but the way the Wolverines acted, it was like winning an early-season nonconference game instead.

No big emotion. Just the same baseline of normalcy that has taken the Wolverines to a No. 2 ranking. Michigan didn't talk much about the record beforehand. After, head coach John Beilein said he put the 6-0 Big Ten record on the board before the 17-0 overall mark.

That, it seems, is just how this team is. The Wolverines understand the bigger goal, the larger overall picture after reaching the national championship game a season ago and losing to Villanova.

"There were teams, Virginia, for instance, I believe they got knocked out first round by a 16-seed and they had an unbelievable record," senior Charles Matthews said. "Like I said, you don't win championships with 17 games, 17 wins.

"We're just trying to be winning at the end of March, beginning of April."

This game was over early. Michigan took a 10-0 lead. By half, the Wolverines were up 50-28 and never led the lead dip out of double digits in the second half. This Michigan team, in many ways, is different from some Beilein's other highly ranked teams in the past -- including the 2012-13 national runner-up team whose 16-0 record start this team eclipsed. The 1984-85 Wolverines also won 17 games in a row, with the streak coming to end in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Instead of winning with a fluid offense -- Michigan still has that -- it is crushing teams with a dominant defense. Five of Michigan's six victories in the Big Ten have come by double digits. Sunday was the Wolverines' sixth straight double-digit win. Only two teams -- Northwestern on Dec. 4 and Western Michigan on Dec. 15 -- have played the Wolverines within single digits.

Michigan has allowed over 70 points just once this season and held teams to 50 points or less five times. The Wolverines, entering Sunday, were outscoring opponents by an average of 16.8 points and holding teams to an average of 56.4 points.

And the offense, it's still there, and it comes from everywhere. Junior Zavier Simpson set a career high with 24 points. Jon Teske tied a career high with 17 points -- all in the first half. Neither was averaging 10 points per game entering Sunday.

"It's probably the most well-rounded team [he's had]," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "It's a really good mix of guys who know their roles. They have a terrific leader in Simpson, a great coach in Coach Beilein.

"Really, they are one of the teams that should have a chance to play with anybody as you go forward when you're talking about Big Ten and beyond when you're talking about the NCAA tournament."

Beilein didn't want to compare this team to any of his others, including the 2012-13 team that had six future NBA players and the national player of the year in Trey Burke. But with the options he has this season -- and the defense he has -- even he says he wouldn't want to have to guard his team if the Wolverines receive offense like they did Sunday from Teske and Simpson.

It shows how far his program has come from that 2012-13 season, when he was coaching a team with five freshmen in the rotation who were still learning each other. This is what Beilein, in some ways, has been building to the past few seasons.

A 17-0 start? It's nice.

It's also somewhat ho-hum in the larger picture. Beilein looked at the impact of Matthews and Simpson as defensive presences. How they have influenced the younger players in the program to shoot before and after practice and drilled into them that hard work matters.

They take the mindset of their coach, who focuses more on the process of everything and the single game in front of them than on the record Michigan has; for instance, Beilein praised the capabilities of Northwestern in an answer about his team being 31-1 over the past 32 games instead of waxing on about what his team has done.

"We're such a day-to-day team and I'm a day-to-day coach," Beilein said. "Probably everybody would like me to make some great statement about being 17-0. It's just another game.

"It's another game and we've got another one coming up Saturday at Wisconsin."