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No. 18 Indiana at Michigan Preview: A true litmus test

How the Wolverines perform on Saturday will say a lot about how this season ends.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Make it three straight for the Michigan Wolverines, after trouncing — yet at times holding on against — Nebraska. It was not the cleanest win on Wednesday night, but earlier this season sloppy play led to far too many nail biters; this one really never got too close, despite some ugly stretches by the home team.

The rest of the schedule does not allow for any more lackadaisical play, which is a good thing for the Wolverines. Four of the seven remaining contests come against teams currently ranked in the top 26 of the NET rankings, which is higher than Michigan’s best win of the season (at home against Maryland).

Saturday brings on the first of these chances, with the Indiana Hoosiers sitting squarely within Quad 1 territory. An unfathomable collapse in the Big Ten Tournament broke Michigan’s streak of nine (!!) straight over the Hoosiers, so the Wolverines should feel like there is a real shot at an upset here.

No. 18 Indiana Hoosiers (17-7, 8-5) at Michigan Wolverines (14-10, 8-5)

Date & Time: Saturday, Feb. 11, 6:00 p.m.
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
TV/Streaming: ESPN
Big Ten Standings: IU t-2th, UM t-2nd

DraftKings Odds: UM -2

Strength on strength (again)

For some reason, Indiana was the preseason darling, projected by most to win the Big Ten. With a month remaining, that looks fairly unlikely, as the Hoosiers’ rival is in the driver’s seat despite the head-to-head result. This is still a good team, but much closer to the bottom of the top 25 than the top.

Like Purdue, Indiana has a dominant big man inside, and the story for Michigan will be how Hunter Dickinson fares against his counterpart. Dickinson scored 21 against Purdue in a pretty good showing and put up 25 against Trace Jackson-Davis in the blowout in Bloomington last year, and the Wolverines cannot win without this sort of effort.

Statistically, the Hoosiers have been decent defensively (in the 40s nationally), mostly thanks to their abilities to contest a lot of shots. Big Ten opponents have struggled to log good shooting percentages against them, but the defense does suffer from pretty poor shot blocking, rebounding, and foul numbers.

Unfortunately, these are areas Michigan typically does not exploit, meaning it will take a combination of ramped up effort and good decision making to win this one. The turnovers against Nebraska were unacceptable, but they were offset but hitting a ton of threes. That formula is less likely to work against Indiana, and instead the guards must let the offense flow through Dickinson.

Know the plan

The Indiana offense will run through its big as well, and Dickinson (and Tarris Reed) must contain Jackson-Davis without fouling. This is a much different matchup than Zach Edey but the principles are the same, and at the very least Michigan must make sure to not lose the game because of the opposing star.

A lot of this is going to fall on Dickinson because double teaming is really not an option. The Hoosiers rank best in the conference and in the top 20 nationally in three-point percentage, but they have one of the lowest volumes. The Wolverines absolutely cannot give them a bunch of open looks from behind the arc, as these would be essentially free bonus points.

On paper, it is clear who the better team is, but the gap is really not that wide. While Michigan would probably be fine if the best player on the floor is the deciding factor, this one likely comes down to how the rest of the lineup plays. Trying not to call everything a must win, but man, the temperature will feel drastically different depending on how this one goes. There are two more big ones next week, but it all starts on Saturday.