- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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EVANSTON, Ill. -- In the offseason, Trey Burke told the media he thought the Wolverines were national title contenders.
At the time, it seemed like a stretch. There were questions worth asking: How good were the freshmen? Would the Wolverines defend? Could they really get to that next, almost imperceptible level -- where elite college hoops teams reside?
By now, it's long since official: Burke was right.
Of course, if you needed the confirmation of a 94-66 blowout at Northwestern, you probably haven't been paying attention. It's not so much that Michigan won its Big Ten road opener against a banged-up, overmatched Wildcats team in a split Welsh-Ryan Arena Thursday night. It was the manner with which the Wolverines so coolly and clinically dissected said overmatched Northwestern, the way Burke took the game over early, the way he got the Wolverines their 10-0 lead, the way he and his teammates kept pushing the pace and stretching the lead and pouring it on, the way they immediately and constantly snuffed out any and all thought of a nascent Wildcats comeback.
And it was the way the Wolverines -- starting with Burke -- all calmly shrugged the whole thing off.
"We came out, we made the right plays, and we got good shots," Burke said. "That was our goal, to come in and try to make a statement from the get-go. It's our first Big Ten game."
Burke said the Wolverines knew Northwestern guard Reggie Hearn would miss the game, and that his loss alongside guard Drew Crawford's, would make things easier for Michigan, even if he refused to acknowledge it before or after the game.
"We have to keep that attitude where guys are still doubting us," Burke said. "We can't go into a game thinking we're just going to blow a team out."
Of course, that's exactly what the Wolverines did, buoyed by a return from previously injured guard Tim Hardaway Jr., who returned from an ankle injury that kept him out of action against Central Michigan Saturday to score 21 points in 31 minutes. When Hardaway's shots started falling early -- after Burke had already crossed up Northwestern's hapless defense with noticeable, Chris Paul-esque ease -- Hardaway's hot shooting was a harbinger for the rest of the night.
By the time it was over, Michigan had shot 34-of-57 (60 percent) from the field and 13-of-22 (59 percent) from beyond the arc, and scored 1.4 points per possession on the road in their Big Ten opener.
Any way you slice it -- bad Northwestern team or no -- a 28-point road win in your Big Ten opener is some kind of statement.
"We're still trying to make believers out of a lot of people," Burke said.