Fans, analysts and (surely) the teams themselves have had this one circled all season.
Indiana and Michigan were projected to be the Big Ten’s two best teams before the beginning of the 2012-13 college basketball campaign, and each has held true to form — even if in inverse order to this point.
And at 9 p.m. today, the Hoosiers and Wolverines — both with 7-1 Big Ten marks — will go at it for sole possession of first place in the conference in Assembly Hall.
The No. 3 Hoosiers have won 14 of the last 15 home games against the Wolverines, who are No. 1 for the first time since the infamous “Fab Five” squad, but this unquestionably is the most talented roster Michigan has had since Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King were causing sparks to fly in all directions in Ann Arbor.
How does Indiana win tonight?
- Slow Trey Burke. The sophomore has been the best and most multi-dimensional point guard in the Big Ten thus far, averaging 17.9 points per game (second in the conference) and 7.1 assists per game (leading the Big Ten by far; next-best average is Aaron Craft’s 4.1 assists per game). This year’s Michigan squad really is a dream scenario for a point guard like Burke since there’s so much talent and athleticism on the floor with him. He can dish the ball to shooters Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Nik Stauskas, feed it inside or take it to the hoop himself in dribble penetration. The onus will be on Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, who has been as sensational a defender as any player in the nation, to shut down passing lanes and create turnovers (the Wolverines are +2.67 in turnover margin), and also on freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell, who will guard Burke on ball to open the game.
- Grab every single rebound. Michigan and Indiana, respectively, are the Big Ten’s top two teams in both scoring and field-goal percentage. Odds are we’ll see both teams hit more shots than they miss. That means the Hoosiers need to pull down any shots the Wolverines miss as well as go after their own misses. Rebounding is the one distinct advantage Indiana will have in this contest. The Hoosiers lead the conference in defensive rebounds per game (27.5) and are fourth in offensive boards per contest with 12.8. The Wolverines only crack the top half of the Big Ten in defensive rebounding — sixth. Oladipo, Cody Zeller and Christian Watford each can match or best Michigan’s top rebounder, freshman forward Mitch McGary, who averages six boards per game. If this game is close, the rebounding margin very well could be the difference.
- Feed off the Assembly Hall crowd. It’s No. 1 vs. No. 3. ESPN College GameDay was in Bloomington for the first time since the ill-fated Kelvin Sampson era. The general admission line opened at 3 p.m. for a game with a 9 p.m. tip-off. Paul George, an All-Star professional basketball player (Indiana Pacers) couldn’t find a courtside ticket for the game. The Hoosier fans are going to be raucous. With a crowd behind it, Indiana plays tougher on defense and can create turnovers and, by extension, knock down a bunch of points in transition, which is one of the biggest reasons they lead the Big Ten in scoring. When you welcome a bitter conference foe to your arena, particularly when that foe is No. 1, you take any edge you can get. There hasn’t been a better atmosphere in college basketball this season than Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers need that to hold true again tonight more than ever.