Date: Saturday, March 8
Time: 6:00 ET
Place: Ann Arbor, Mich.--Crisler Center
Conditions are still a bit on the chilly side (although it's projected to be in the 40s here in the Chicagoland area this weekend!), but things are about to heat up with the regular season coming to a close.
Before Michigan heads to the Big Ten tourney and the Big Dance, however, they'll take on Indiana tomorrow at home, a game that doesn't really mean anything on paper save for hypothetical NCAA tournament seeding purposes.
Oh, also, it's senior night for one Jordan Morgan, the guy who came in with very little hype and leaves Ann Arbor with two Big Ten titles, a NCAA tournament final appearance, a sterling record against the in-state rival Michigan State Spartans and the utmost respect and admiration of Michigan fans everywhere.
Tell him this game doesn't mean anything.
Season So Far
Since the Hoosiers downed Michigan in Bloomington way back on Feb. 2--which feels like an eternity ago--they've gone 3-5, include a 3-game losing streak on the heels of that win.
However, Tom Crean's squad has won two of its last three. Naturally, the Big Ten being what it is, the Hoosiers knocked off ranked Iowa and Ohio State squads at home, then followed that with a 70-60 home loss against Nebraska on Wednesday.
The Hoosiers have obviously had a down season, of course, but especially on the road, where they are 2-6 during Big Ten play--their wins came at Illinois in an 83-80 OT thriller on Dec. 31 and at Northwestern on Feb. 22.
Needless to say, while anyone can beat anyone etc. etc., the Hoosiers lose quite a bit of oomph when playing away from the friendly confines of Assembly Hall. Even so, the Wolverines can't afford another sluggish start if they hope to avoid another grind-it-out win (or worse, a loss).
By now you should be fairly familiar with the rosters around the Big Ten, so I'll try to keep this brief. Point guard Yogi Ferrell obviously leads the way for the Hoosiers as the heart and soul of the squad. As you'll remember, Ferrell went off against the Wolverines in the first matchup, dropping 27 points while having an out-of-body experience from beyond the arc (7-for-8).
You would think Michigan would try to do something a little different defensively this time around--getting a hand up on his shots would be a nice start. However, you'd also think that another 7-for-8 mark from three for the sophomore guard is unlikely.
Star freshman F Noah Vonleh checks in at 11.6 ppg and 9.1 rpg. The bad news for IU fans is that he's been out for their last two games, and it's unclear (at least as I write this) whether or not he'll go on Saturday. While you never want to see any college player miss a game due to injury, his absence would be a relief for Michigan in this particular game, especially if Jordan Morgan is held out for precautionary reasons.
After that, Will Sheehey, who has had a somewhat disappointing season, has been on fire of late, averaging 16.2 ppg in IU's last five contests. This stretch included a brilliant 30-point effort in IU's high-scoring win against Iowa Feb. 27. He did score 13 in the loss against Nebraska, but managed just a 5-for-14 mark from the field (2-for-7 from three).
Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, Evan Gordon and Jeremy Hollowell round out the major contributors (although like Matt Painter, Crean seems like playing with a pretty big rotation). Other than Ferrell, Gordon is the most effective three-point shooter on the roster (34 percent).
Williams averages just 6.9 ppg but is coming off of a nice 18-point effort in the loss against Nebraska, in which he shot 7-for-12 from the field and pulled down six boards, good for his best performance of the conference season.
- Run Ferrell off the line. Simply put, Michigan can probably live with Ferrell probing his way into two-point land (which he'll probably do with some success anyway). However, the Wolverines can't afford to let him get comfortable from outside. Even if he does hit a few early outside shots, they need to be contested. Perhaps my memory is hazy, but I remember some of those makes in the first matchup going up with nothing more than a token contest.
- Stauskas vs. Ferrell. If I remember correctly, this matchup the first time around ushered in the "Stauskas can't figure out what to do against smaller guards" meme into our collective fan-mind. After continued struggles after that game, it appeared figured out against MSU's Keith Appling that he can just over the top of a smaller guard. Even when he does miss, a three over a much shorter point guard is generally good to be a good shot for Michigan's Mississaugan.
- Don't take the exit to Cliche City. With the Big Ten title and the conference tournament 1-seed wrapped up, Michigan doesn't have much to play for except upping its stock for a 2-seed in the Big Dance. Nonetheless, if Michigan's lone senior doesn't play, the Wolverines will need to find a way to fill in that void of general grit and hustle that Morgan's absence would create. In short, it would be nice to avoid The Letdown.