Michigan Basketball: Indiana at Michigan — Preview — Big Ten Title On The Line — No Wolverine Left Behind
Sunday, as the entire knowledgeable basketball world is aware, settles the Big Ten basketball standings. There are four contestants, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, and preseason favorite Indiana. The centerpiece of this intrigue is the Michigan-Indiana game Sunday evening. If Indiana wins the game, the Hoosiers get what is behind door number one, two, and three. This losing scenario would not even give Michigan a lovely parting gift if Ohio State and Michigan State win the earlier match-ups, which frankly should happen. Michigan would fall into the five slot in conference tournament seeding, setting up a game against Penn State and then, assuming a Wolverine win and all the chips fall as expected, a game against Wisconsin, who would slide past Michigan if the Badgers beat Penn State.
While the scenario is complicated, the meaning of the game is not: this game is almost an all or nothing event. Michigan’s outcome is entirely self-dependent; there will be little scoreboard watching except at Crisler Arena. No other game result matters.
Indiana is a premium program and the thought of sharing a championship is much less palatable than having sole possession of a banner. Michigan is an early 1.5-point favorite to a flat even pick-em, which surprises the author. The best guess here was Indiana by 3. Look for the money to flow heavily Indiana’s way, but it is suspected that an initial 3-5 point Indiana favorite would have yielded less action.
Michigan certainly has the potential to pull off a win. This is still one of the best offensive teams in America, regardless of the warts. Indiana has had some recent difficulties, none of Chicken Little status, and the Hoosiers, like about everyone else, find the visiting venues of the Big Ten to even up the advantage Indiana has over most foes. Michigan has not lost in Crisler this year, and yes there have been close encounters. Michigan plays better at home, like about everyone else. Those little tidbits are nice, but the only thing that will matter is how well the teams play tomorrow.
The biggest problem for Michigan is the overall match-ups, which generally favor the Hoosiers. A secondary problem is the difference between the set-up and execution at the defensive end of the floor, which favors Indiana. Indiana is not as flat out athletic as Ohio State: close and worth arguing. Indiana is not as brutal as Michigan State: not as close as above and not really worth arguing.
If Indiana does not dominate Michigan physically, the Wolverine chances for victory increase. Ohio State made no bones about how the Buckeyes would play Indiana days before the game. The coaching staff made it clear that Ohio State was going to be very physical with Indiana, especially concerning Cody Zeller. Ohio State could afford that strategy since several large, physical inside players are on the roster. The strategy worked as all could see. Ohio State accomplished two other major objectives that may have been equally important in securing the big road win. First, Aaron Craft beat the Indiana guards and defense all night long, many times for lay-ups. Second, the Ohio State perimeter defense did a very nice job of pressuring shots by Jordan Hulls and the long armed Christian Watford. Ohio State values perimeter defense and pressure on the ball as a key to victory.The Michigan-Indiana match-ups from the above strategy are not as favorable for Michigan as for Ohio State. Will Michigan try anything different to defend Cody Zeller other than play behind and let a post guy push to the basket? It may take some very creative strategy and a little subtle contact to force the Hoosier big guy outside. This is clearly how opponents have succeeded against Indiana.
Michigan may have to use all four inside guys and some serious inside doubling. If Michigan lets Zeller enjoy easy access and a big day, the odds of victory go down, perhaps greatly. Zeller went 8-10 from the field and scored 19 points the first time around. Morgan made only a token appearance with his severely sprained ankle. McGary and Horford combined for a total of 14 points, not a bad effort considering all factors. But defensively Zeller was not neutralized. Jordan Morgan’s grit will be important to Michigan’s chances; he cannot spend the game on the bench with foul trouble.
Mission one is for the interior defenders to stand their ground and not chase all over the place allowing easy scores. Will Michigan double the high screen and leave the middle, or put it on the guard to fight through and get good communication from the center who holds a lower position? If the center retreats the Indiana shooters will go on top and launch, and hopefully miss a few.
Trey Burke will certainly try to be as effective against the Hoosier guards as was Craft. There is no reason, other than cold shooting, not to expect a good game against Yogi Ferrell, Hulls, and anyone else on the floor solely to defend Burke. On the other end, Michigan must do better at preventing guard penetration, a scary thought, but sometimes the troops rise to the occasion.
Mission two is taking the ball to the hoop and not backing off.Michigan’s impossible dream is to match up defensively with Victor Oladipo. He is going to score; he is going to have some wow moments. The secret may be to take a few fouls to prevent the wow moments. The hope is that Victor misses enough shots that he is not the primary factor in the final game outcome. It is bad to depend on hope, at least in a championship athletic event.
Stauskas, Robinson, and Hardaway will need to defend, not only Oladipo, but also Christian Watford, and Jordan Hulls on the perimeter. Giving Hulls wide open looks early and letting him start hot is a really bad idea. When behind this year, Indiana has gone through some stretches where the outside shot percentage dropped off.
Burke and Yogi Ferrell may be a match-up of future NBA point guards. Both will play with full abandon.
Michigan’s best bet on defense may be to pressure the ball as against Illinois and Michigan State to force fast-break turnovers. Ohio State accomplished this aim and broke the game open at the very end. Ohio State also played the passing lanes very well and picked off many inside Hoosier passes. At times Michigan has accomplished the same result.
Michigan and Indiana can both play transition offense well and both teams have given up easy transition points on defense.
Mission three may determine the game- playing solid enough defense to provide a chance at victory.
Michigan has one ace in the hole if the card is flipped over: a hot game by Tim Hardaway Junior. If he becomes a big concern to Indiana’s defense by hitting some outside shots, or getting to the rim, other offensive options may fall like dominoes. Hardaway could be the variable that throws the edge to Michigan. He will likely be very pumped; the question is will the shots fall?Mission four- Michigan hits the wild card with scoring from Hardaway, Stauskas, Robinson, and McGary.
Coach Beilein will need to balance his team’s approach. The Wolverines absolutely cannot afford to play tentative and with fear. But this young team cannot play without control, focus, and most importantly an understanding of how to play Indiana effectively at both ends of the court. A game like this has big moments, potential breaking points in both directions, and sometimes one shining moment. Courage and persistence pay off big.
The first game was an eight point Hoosier win. Home court add-on is factored by the stat guys as 3 or 4 points. That figure may not easily apply to the weird goings on in Big Ten games. Both teams have declined slightly in play level over the last two weeks, due to the nature of the demanding Big Ten schedule. Looking at the numbers the end result on paper is about 3-5 points, Indiana’s way. But this is a game that belies such easy calculations. What will matter Sunday are hard play, toughness, and who makes the shots. The spread will count only on sandwiches. But let us hope the Vegas guys were on target.
This is a tough task for Michigan, but if the Wolverines play like Wolverines, and not prairie dogs, Indiana will not have an easy walk, and may go home with only door number one.
This is arguably the most important regular season game for the program in over a decade. Play hard and play well is the best coaching advice to a team after the preparation stage is completed. We will soon know the outcome.
Go Blue, exponentially.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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