For years, the Michigan-Indiana football game could be characterized as a “trap game” for the Wolverines, often coming late in the season and featuring an inferior but upset-hungry Hoosier squad looking to surprise.
Last fall, Indiana soundly beat Michigan on the gridiron, its first win over the Wolverines in 32 years. Coincidentally, it’s the men’s basketball version of the matchup that now qualifies as a trap game for Michigan.
While the Wolverines are 17-1 and cruising towards a potential Big Ten title, No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and possibly much, much more, the Hoosiers haven’t found any sort of rhythm in Archie Miller’s fourth season. They’re 12-11 and 7-9 in Big Ten play. They have the conference’s sixth-best offense and 11th-best defense, per KenPom. They haven’t won more than two games in a row all season, and they haven’t lost more than two games in a row all season.
Considering the Hoosiers’ two most recent games are losses to Michigan State and Rutgers, the latter fact might be the main thing working in their favor Saturday. But on paper, it shouldn’t be hard for Michigan to buck that trend.
Everything for Indiana starts with forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who was one of the league’s best freshman a season ago and has only gotten better. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Jackson-Davis averages 20.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. He rarely leaves the floor, playing 82 percent of the Hoosiers’ minutes, and has a usage rate above 30. While he has no outside game to speak of (he hasn’t taken a 3-pointer this season), Jackson-Davis is eighth in the entire nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and makes that pay off with a 66.7 free-throw shooting percentage on 8.6 attempts per game.
Armaan Franklin and Aljami Durham are Indiana’s key playmakers on the perimeter. Franklin, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, averages 11.6 points per game and shoots 45 percent from deep. Durham, a 6-foot-4 senior (11.5 ppg, 39.5 3pt%), has the second-highest assist rate on the team.
Rob Phinisee, the other member of the Hoosiers’ starting backcourt, is more of a distributor than anyone else on the roster. Phinisee is a 6-foot-1 junior who averages 6.7 points and 2.7 assists per game but is shooting just 35 percent from the floor.
Race Thompson rounds out Indiana’s starting lineup as Jackson-Davis’ frontcourt partner. Thompson, a 6-foot-8 redshirt junior, had to wait a while to earn a large role for the Hoosiers, but is one of the Big Ten’s most improved players statistically — 9.6 points per game, up from 3.7 last year, along with 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals.
Off the bench, the Hoosiers’ main players are Jerome Hunter, Trey Galloway, Khristian Lander, Anthony Leal and Jordan Geronimo, more or less in that order. The 6-foot-7 Hunter has been the most consistent, averaging 6.0 points per game on 38 percent from downtown.
All of the others are freshmen. Galloway is a 6-foot-4 guard who’s finished well inside the arc (56 percent on twos) but has hit just five of his 28 3-point attempts. Lander, a point guard, is a top-100 recruit who has struggled mightily with his transition to the college game: he’s shooting 21 percent from the field and has an offensive rating of 65.7. Leal is listed under “Nearly Invisible” on KenPom, which mostly sums up what you need to know about him. Geronimo (6-foot-6, 200 pounds) is shooting 62 percent from the field this year.
Thanks to Jackson-Davis, Indiana is tops in conference play in free-throw rate (40.4). But somewhat surprisingly for a team built around a dominant, post-bound big man, the Hoosiers don’t shoot many threes: they’re dead last in 3-point attempt to 2-point attempt ratio. When they do put them up, they’re hitting a respectable 35.6 percent in Big Ten play, mostly thanks to Durham, Franklin and Hunter.
It’s never wise to discount a team playing for its bubble life in its home building, especially with only one day of rest in-between. But considering how quickly Michigan hit its stride after taking nearly a month off, the normal rules of February basketball seem to apply only sporadically to the Wolverines.
Jackson-Davis is great, but Michigan’s defense on presumptive National Player of the Year Luka Garza on Thursday was something to behold. Garza shot 6-of-19 from the floor against the Wolverines and tied his second-lowest scoring night of the season with 16 points. If Michigan does the same thing to Jackson-Davis, it’s going to win. The Hoosiers just don’t have the offensive ballast to stay afloat unless Jackson-Davis is doing work inside and putting opposing bigs in foul trouble.
Michigan is also shooting 38.8 percent from deep since it returned from its pause, and has hit 19 treys in its last two games. The Big Ten’s worst team at defending the three? You guessed it, Indiana.