The loss on the road to Nebraska hurts a little more today, as the Hoosiers would be sitting in a tie for 5 and with the ability to take sole possession of fourth place in the conference at the halfway point today. Instead, they're again in a situation with their backs against the wall and pretty desperately needing a win against one of the top teams in the nation. It isn't a good situation to keeping getting ourselves into.
Then again, if you've just resigned to accepting that an NIT bid is inevitable these situations are a little easier to swallow. Michigan comes into today's game still undefeated in conference and looking to push their mark to 9-0. Indiana is just looking for a reason to feel good about the rest of the season. Again, this would be a game where Indiana comes out gets a victory and has all of us thinking big things only to fall Penn State at home a week later. Many of us knew this team was going to have ups and downs but this has been much more dramatic than expected. Still the Hoosiers have a job to do.
If you browse around the internet and especially Michigan sites you'll see where they're pretty fearful that their defense is going to cost them dearly in one of these games they should win. Several have circled this game specifically as a trap. At this point Michigan has the ninth best defense in the conference and certainly shows some struggles to stop teams at times. This is where Indiana could pounce. If they stick to the game plan and get some fluid offense moving this could be a lot like the Wisconsin game. Indiana has the horses to get to the rim at will on Michigan, the question is, can they do that while limiting turnovers to something below 16.
This is very much a game of strength versus strength and weakness versus weakness. Indiana now has the 19th best defense in the nation and Michigan the third best offense. Most of that offense has come on the back of a dramatically improved sophomore Nik Stauskus. Stauskus this year, made the jump that many, including myself, thought Jeremy Hollowell could make between freshman and sophomore year (only not quite this big). Stauskus as a freshman was a single dimension three point shooter who survived mostly on the efforts of his teammates. This year, he can create his own shot, attack the basket and get to the line seemingly at will. He's played his way into the conversation of being a lottery pick and could be playing pro ball by next October.
On top of Stauskus you have another Indiana kid making major contributions to a Michigan team. Glenn Robinson also made a big sophomore jump. He plays a lot like Michigan State's Branden Dawson in that he limits himself on his jump shots and does most of his damage around the rim. Not quite the rebounder that Dawson is he can get his points from range, but still with a low efficiency. He's mostly just a big physical athlete that has good enough body control that he can finish around the rim with consistency. It will be interesting to see who pulls the defensive assignment on him.
With Michigan missing Mitch McGary, Noah Vonleh has the ability once again to be a major impact player. John Horford and Jordan Morgan will be the two post players roaming the paint for Michigan and neither, though incredibly hard workers are near the talent level of Vonleh. If Vonleh can just get up the court early and battle for position down low he should be able to have a field day. Notice I said should. Horford and Morgan are both blue collar guys that will fight like pit bulls to not allow a favorable post position for Vonleh. Offensively they won't offer a ton, but they're both efficient in limited touches. Neither one is someone you'd consider an outstanding rebounder either.
In fact, that is where Indiana could get a lot of secondary offense. Michigan is 11th in the conference at defending the offensive boards. As we all know that is Indiana's strongest point. If the Hoosiers can generate second chance points with some consistency, it may not matter how awful they shoot. Rebound and defend like your life depended on it is likely Indiana's best chance at grabbing a win today.
A "W" does pull the Hoosiers into a 4 way tie for fifth place and still in the conversation at least for a top 5 finish. Whether that is a reality or a pipe dream remains to be seen, but the fact is they're in striking distance. At the beginning of the year I thought a ceiling of 4th and a basement of 7th. It would be all in all and season we could be OK with if the Hoosiers manage to find themselves in the top half of the conference. Northwestern has done its fair share of screwing up the conference. It's time for Indiana to get in on the action as well.