After interim head coach Phil Martelli guided the Michigan Wolverines to a 3-2 record during Juwan Howard’s five-game suspension, the head man is back to guide his squad through the postseason. And that all starts today in the Big Ten Tournament against a team Howard and the No. 8 seed Wolverines have already defeated this season — the No. 9 seed Indiana Hoosiers.
It’s been a rather disappointing season for both teams. After starting the season ranked inside the AP top-10, Michigan finished the season 17-13 overall and 11-9 in the conference. It hasn’t been all bad, as there were some key wins along the way against Purdue, Michigan State, and at Ohio State to close out the regular season. But there were some ugly losses at the beginning of the season as well against UCF, Minnesota and Seton Hall.
Meanwhile, Indiana’s season has somewhat mirrored Michigan, albeit the Hoosiers were not as highly-regarded preseason as the Wolverines. Indiana finished 18-12 overall and 9-11 in the Big Ten, with solid wins against Ohio State and Purdue. But losses to Penn State and Northwestern cast a dark cloud over what could have been a better season overall for them.
Michigan Wolverines (17-13, 11-9) vs. Indiana Hoosiers (18-2, 9-11)
Date & Time: Thursday, March 10, 11:30 a.m.
Location: Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.
DraftKings Sportsbook Odds: MICH -3.5, O/U 136.5
The player to watch here for the Hoosiers is junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. He averaged 17.4 points and 8.2 rebounds in 30 games this season. He’s had double-digit scoring in every game but three this season and has averaged 15.2 points since the beginning of February, so he is clearly the focal point of their offense. Slowing him down will be key for Michigan, as he went for 17 points and eight boards in the first meeting back in January.
The key to victory for Michigan here is simple — keep feeding the players who have been putting the team on its back over the stretch of the season: Hunter Dickinson and DeVante’ Jones.
Dickinson missed the season finale at Ohio State thanks to a stomach bug, but should be good to go for this one. He led Michigan in scoring and rebounding during the regular season with 18.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He’s also been much better beyond the arc this year than last season, as he hitting 31.5% of his three-point shots. He put up 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists in the first game against Indiana, so look for the Wolverines to find him early and often.
It took Jones a while to get going, but he has been nothing short of fantastic over the last month of the season. The fifth-year grad transfer started off his hot streak during the loss to Ohio State at Crisler Center, where he put up a stat line of eight points, eight assists and 10 rebounds. Since then, he’s put up 14.4 points, 5.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. He’s still drawing fouls more than you’d like to see, but he is finally starting to live up to the preseason hype that was bestowed upon him after transferring over from Coastal Carolina.
At this point, win or lose against Indiana, I would imagine Michigan has a spot in the NCAA Tournament. But nothing is ever guaranteed. Surprises happen every year when the bracket is released. Keep winning, and the Wolverines have a better resume. Lose, and they risk staying on the bubble and sweating all the way through Selection Sunday.
With Howard officially back, I’d imagine they’d do everything it takes to make sure they punch their ticket to March Madness.