It turns out that a healthy Isaiah Livers completely changes the Michigan Wolverines - who knew! In all seriousness, though, it finally looks like everything is coming together for the maize and blue for the first time since Thanksgiving, and getting back its most influential all-around player could not have come at a better time. With an NCAA Tournament bid all but certain at this point, the next few weeks are about climbing up the Big Ten standings and vying for a better seed.
The Indiana Hoosiers are not quite in the same situation, with their postseason future still in question. A win over Iowa on Thursday night certainly helps their case, but like the Wolverines, they currently find themselves in the congested middle of the conference standings. Bracket Matrix puts the Hoosiers as an 11 seed, but a lot can — and will — change by the time March comes around. This will be a big game for both teams.
Recent matchups have gone well for Michigan, who has won the last six meetings between the schools. Last season’s win in Ann Arbor was never in doubt, and the visitors jumped out to a 17-0 lead in a dominant trip in Bloomington. The last time Indiana came out ahead was February 2016. Odds are this does not change on Sunday, but this is a game that the Wolverines cannot afford to drop.
What to watch
Get moving: Indiana is dead last in the Big Ten in turnover rate at 19.7 percent. While the Wolverines do not force a ton of steals, there should be some opportunities to take the ball away and move in transition. Michigan has been getting warmer from behind the arc as of late, but it never hurts to get some easy baskets on the breakaway. There always remains the option of finding a shooter for an open look of a steal as well. This is a key area where the Wolverines can take advantage.
Working the paint: The regression of Jon Teske has been well documented by now, and while he still has a valuable role to play on this team, it makes sense to give some more minutes to both Austin Davis and Brandon Johns. The Hoosiers do not shoot many threes and they attack the offensive glass, so defending the paint will be key. On the other end of the floor, Michigan continues to lead the conference in two-point percentage and has seen good production from some of the other bigs. Teams are keying in on Teske and making him uncomfortable, so this is a chance for Davis, Johns, and maybe even Colin Castleton to step into a bigger role.
Take the available wins: Somehow there are only six games left on the conference schedule after Sunday. The Wolverines could realistically find themselves anywhere between fourth and 12th at the end of the season and right now face a bit of an uphill climb. At the very least, Michigan must find a way out of the first day of the Big Ten Tournament. Kenpom favors Michigan in just two of its last six games, so beating Indiana is close to a must. If the Wolverines can put up some wins, it might convince the committee to under-weight the games without Livers. For that to happen, though, it requires winning the games where they can.
Things are clicking now, and this offense is looking strong. Indiana is just 53rd in defense per Kenpom and is unlikely to be able to keep up. 75-65 Michigan.
Teams: Indiana Hoosiers (16-8, 6-7) at Michigan Wolverines (15-9, 6-7)
Date: Sunday, February 16, 2020
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET