Who: #22/21 Indiana Hoosiers (18-4, 8-1 Big Ten)
When: Tuesday, February 2nd, at 9:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Where: Crisler Center -- Ann Arbor, Mich.
Michigan and Indiana are in similar spots entering tonight's matchup. Both having shiny records -- Michigan is 17-5 (7-2 Big Ten) and Indiana is 18-4 (8-1 Big Ten) -- thanks to softer schedules to open the Big Ten season. Both have taken care of their business despite injuries sidelining one of their best offensive players for the last month -- Caris LeVert with his lower left leg and James Blackmon, Jr. with his right knee. Both are considered #7 seeds in the most recent Bracket Matrix update, hoping to avoid the the bubble come March. And both are in need of a quality Big Ten win to demonstrate to their doubters that they are indeed legitimate contenders for a Big Ten championship.
It's safe to say that this is a pretty important game for both teams.
One possible difference between them, though, is that Michigan's injured player could return tonight while Indiana's is out for the season. After Michigan's 79-72 win against Penn State in Madison Square Garden on Saturday, John Beilein informed the media that "there's a chance" LeVert is back this week and added that he made great progress in Sunday's practice. My gut says LeVert will sit out, but he'll be a game-time decision.
Though Indiana has faced a weaker schedule, that doesn't mean the Hoosiers are a weak team. They are 25th in KenPom thanks to wins against #31 Notre Dame and #47 Creighton and home blowouts over the likes of Ohio State, Illinois, and Northwestern. There is little question that they are a monster when they play basketball within the confines of Assembly Hall, where they are a perfect 13-0. However, they don't seem to be the same team when they are on the road, having lost to #91 UNLV and #120 Wake Forest on neutral sites and struggling to put away #189 Minnesota and #275 Rutgers in hostile atmospheres. It's something to keep in mind as Indiana comes to Ann Arbor this game.
For the second straight season, Indiana has an excellent offense, ranking 20th in adjusted efficiency (115.1). The Hoosiers are a master of efficiency because of their impeccable shot selection. They rarely settle for mid-range jumpers, instead going to the hole (19th in pct. of shots at the rim) or firing threes (76th in 3PA%). And, because they are a fantastic three-point shooting team (3rd in 3P%), they own the second-best eFG% in the country (60.2). Plus, on the few occasions when Indiana does miss, it does a remarkable job of grabbing offensive rebounds (11th in OR%), which lead to second-chance points. This essentially is what carries the Hoosiers' offense because they don't shoot many free throws (225th in FTR) and turnovers undoubtedly are their Achilles heel (299th in TO%).
Defensively, Indiana has undergone a transformation in the past month. For all of the value that James Blackmon, Jr. brings on offense (15.8 PPG, 122.0 ORtg), his defensive deficiencies were too great. In his absence, Indiana's defense has experienced a substantial boost, rising from outside the top 100 in adjusted efficiency to 59th (97.3). In fact, though propped up by a weak slate, the Hoosiers own the best Big Ten-only defensive efficiency thus far (94.8). Overall, there's not much that necessarily stands about their defense, ranking between 65th and 123rd in all four defensive factors, so I'll focus on what they have done in conference play. Indiana is fourth in the Big Ten in shooting defense as opponents have converted 47.2 percent of their twos (5th) and 34 percent of their threes (7th). Teams tend to attack Indiana's defense with dribble drives because the Hoosiers have the best defensive assist rate and the second-best defensive three-point rate. This also helps them strip ball-handlers (3rd in Big Ten in TO%), while they hit the defensive glass hard (2nd in Big Ten in DR%). However, the one area where they have been weak the past month has been their discipline (12th in Big Ten in FTR).
Indiana is headlined by its six-foot senior point guard Yogi Ferrell, who is on pace for a second-straight All-Big Ten first-team campaign and was just named one of 10 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, which is given to college basketball's best point guard. Ferrell averages 17.5 PPG and 5.7 APG, which are sixth and fourth in the Big Ten, respectively, as well as 4.3 RPG, and there's not much that he can't do. He's an extremely efficient scorer with his 125.9 offensive rating ranking second among Big Ten players with a usage rate of at least 20 percent -- only Caris LeVert, who's been out for the past month, is ahead of him. This is because he's a tremendous jump-shooter, particularly off the dribble. His quick change of pace creates space for him to shoot, and he's making 41.3 percent of his two-point jumpers and a ridiculous 47.1 percent of threes. That quick change of pace also gets defenders into trouble and forces them to foul Ferrell (37.7 FTR), who hits 82 percent of his free throws. And, of course, Ferrell is an excellent passer, too (28.7 ast%).
The shooting guard joining Ferrell in the backcourt is 6-foot-3 sophomore Robert Johnson, who has tallied 7.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, and 3.3 APG. Johnson does most of his damage from behind the three-point line, where he has made 44.3 percent of his shots. However, he's been off-target in his past two games, sinking only 1-of-7 triples. He's not nearly as effective when he's forced to shoot inside the arc as he has made less than half of his field goals at the rim and only 14.3 percent of his mid-range jumpers. He's a player defenses want to run off the line. Further, Johnson is a solid defensive rebounder (18.2 DR% in B1G) and passer (20.9 ast%), but turnovers can get the best of him (24.7 TO%).
The Hoosiers will start two 6-foot-7 junior forwards in Collin Hartman and Troy Williams who are very different players. While Hartman essentially is a low-usage (11.8 pct.) three-point specialist (37.1 3P%), Williams is an athletic freak that contributes throughout the box score. He scores 13.1 PPG, and most of it comes around the rim where his athleticism shines (57.4 2P%) or at the free-throw line (55.3 FTR, 68.6 FT%). However, he can step back and hit the occasional three (37.1 3P%). Williams also is an excellent rebounder on both ends (7.5 OR%, 20.6 DR%) and makes a strong defensive impact with blocks (3.4 pct.) and steals (2.7 pct.). But turnovers do pop up (23.4 TO%).
Indiana received a major upgrade at center when it landed 6-foot-10 five-star phenom Thomas Bryant in its 2015 class. Bryant has been very good for the Hoosiers as a freshman, averaging 12.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 1.2 BPG in just 22.6 MPG. He's a monster around the rim. He has the best two-point percentage (75.0) in the country because four-fifths of his tries are dunks and layups and he's an excellent finisher. Plus, his prowess on the offensive glass (11.8 OR%) leads to easy second-chance points. On the defensive end, Bryant is a very good rebounder (16.6 DR%) and even better rim protector (5.3 pct.).
There are four main reserves that should see time on the court. The first is our old pal Max Bielfeldt, the 6-foot-8 center with the Big Ten's biggest calves that transferred to Indiana after he graduated from Michigan. He's posted 8.1 PPG and 4.6 RPG in just 17.2 MPG, demonstrating improved abilities as a finisher (62.1 2P%) and three-point shooter (44.4 3P%) while maintaining his superb rebounding rates (13.5 OR%, 17.7 DR%). The second is 6-foot-4 senior guard Nick Zeisloft, who basically launches only threes (90.8 3PA%) and makes a high share of them (39.4 3P%). The third is 6-foot-8 freshman forward OG Anunoby, who has become a very good all-around player for the Hoosiers in Big Ten play. He can convert around the rim (62.2 2P%), knock down threes (47.1 3P%), and solidify the defense (5.4 blk%, 4.3 stl%). And the fourth is 6-foot-7 freshman forward Juwan Morgan, who fouls a bunch on defense (6.5 FC/40) and coughs up the basketball too much on offense (28.0 TO%). Morgan shouldn't make too much of a positive impact.
Win the Three-Point Battle: Both Michigan and Indiana are coming off poor efforts from downtown, but don't expect that to repeat itself tonight. The Wolverines are eighth in three-point percentage (41.3), while the Hoosiers are third (43.2). And neither team has an issue pulling the trigger. Michigan needs to make over 40 percent of its triples -- Duncan Robinson falling back into his groove would go a long way -- and close out on the Hoosiers' numerous bombers. The Wolverines have relied on more zone defense in recent weeks, but they should keep that in their pocket because Indiana would torch it.
Run the Zak Irvin-Mark Donnal Pick and Roll: Indiana's defense has improved in the past month, but the Hoosiers still have a tendency to permit dribble penetration. Michigan should exploit this by running a pick and roll that draws out two of Indiana's best shot blockers in Troy Williams and Thomas Bryant. Plus, Bryant has a knack for picking up some bad fouls and running on empty due to conditioning. If U-M can make him work harder on defense, it could tire him and make him less effective on both ends.
Don't Allow Second-Chance Points: Early losses to Xavier and SMU were largely a result of Michigan's inability to box out and keep its opponents off the glass. Both teams are ranked in the top 25 in offensive rebounding rate and gathered at least 45 percent of their misses against Michigan. Though the Wolverines have been much better on the boards since then, Indiana will provide of their biggest challenges in that area. The Hoosiers are 11th in offensive rebounding rate and have no problem flying in the air for missed shots. Michigan must not let an Indiana team that already makes a great deal of its first shots get second looks. If so, the Wolverines' defense will be in for a long night.
A Rockin' Crisler Center: In a game between what the computers think are two equals, home-court advantage could be the difference, particularly against an Indiana team that tends to struggle more than most on the road. If fans come out in full force and bring the energy, it may rattle IU and force 'em to make more mistakes than usual (299th in TO%).
The venue truly will be the deciding factor. I've watched enough of both of these schools to know that it takes a great team to beat the Wolverines in Ann Arbor and that the Hoosiers are not road warriors. If this game was played in Assembly Hall or even at a neutral site, I'd probably favor Indiana. But, because there is just something different about Indiana when it enters a hostile environment, I think the home crowd will rally Michigan to an important win, unless the Hoosiers just light it up from downtown.
Michigan 76, Indiana 71