The final weekend of the regular season is always a huge one for college basketball. There are rivalry games, conference title battles, and teams fighting to get into the NCAA Tournament. Needless to say, there are a lot of big games this weekend, but Sunday's game between Indiana and Michigan may be the biggest. Not only is it a battle between top 10 teams in the polls, but it's also a battle for the Big Ten championship and will be huge in determining seeding for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament. The game starts at 4pm and is sure to be a thriller.
Can Burke end the season by carrying Michigan to another Big Ten title?
The Hoosiers: Indiana has been a great team all season. Not only did they start the season as the preseason #1, but they have backed that up for most of the season. They rank #2 according to KenPom and have not just one, but two Player of the Year candidates on their roster. The Hoosiers have already shown they can beat elite competition as well, beating Georgetown, UNC, Ohio State, sweeping MSU, and beating Michigan in the first meeting between the two teams by a final score of 81-73. Most believe Indiana will be a high #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and have actually already locked in their spot as the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
The player catching most of the headlines on the team this year has been Victor Oladipo. He was a good player before this season, but he truly has taken his play to another level. He averages 13.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.3 steals per game. His athleticism makes him lethal on both sides of the court and although comparisons between him and Michael Jordan are definitely premature, that tells you something about the way he has been playing.
In the backcourt, Indiana puts a few very talented players on the court. Senior Jordan Hulls is an incredible offensive player and is an outstanding outside shooter. He shoots 48.3% from outside the arch to accompany his 10.6 points and 3.0 assists per game. He is nowhere near as good on the defensive end, but he's great in transition and punished Michigan several times in the first game for giving him open looks. Yogi Ferrell is the team's freshman point guard, but he has played nothing like a freshman this season, averaging 7.7 points and 4.3 assists per game. He's good on the defensive end, can hit outside shots, and has shown tremendous composure this season.
In the frontcourt, Indiana has a boatload of talent with Cody Zeller and Christian Watford. Zeller was a preseason All-American and is perhaps the best transition big man in the nation. He's always been great on the offensive end, but he's also shown he can do well on the defensive end and rebounding the ball. He's had a few "off" games this season, but he still leads the Hoosiers with 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game and scored 19 against Michigan the first time. Alongside Zeller, Watford is not your typical big man. He averages 12.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, but he also shoots an astounding 48.1% from outside the arch. Most of these come on open looks, but he is a big man that demands attention anywhere on the floor. The final player worth noting is Will Sheehey, the team's 6th man, who averages 22.3 minutes, 9.5 points, 3.7 rebounds per game and is a solid defender.
Keys To The Game: There are three keys to the game this time. The first is to slow down Indiana in the transition game. Michigan is a team that likes to run uptempo at times, but Indiana is a completely different animal. Making sure they can't get wide open looks, especially on the outside is going to be huge for the Wolverines. Indiana did well in transition against Michigan the first time including a few wide open looks for Hulls and Ferrell. Giving up an easy 2 or 3 points in a few seconds can really hurt a team's chances by the end of the game, especially in one that will likely be close.
Along with slowing down Indiana's transition game, Michigan will have to focus on making sure to box out, rebound, and decrease second chances for a deadly Indiana offense. Several times in the first game, Indiana got easy baskets due to Michigan's inability to box out and secure rebounds. This occurred most often when Zeller would tip-in an easy basket. For a team like Michigan that can struggle with its defense at times, it really hurts to force a bad shot from an opponent, then just allow them to get two easy points anyway. If Michigan is going to win, they're going to have to keep these type of plays to a minimum.
The final key to this game is getting a presence inside on the offensive end. This doesn't mean the bigs have to score a ton of points, but in the first game, Michigan's big men (Morgan, McGary, Horford) and GR3 scored a combined 16 points, which averages to 4 points per player. The Wolverines need some easy looks inside and hopefully a few alley-oops for GR3 to keep the pressure off the backcourt and make sure Michigan can keep up the ball movement. Oladipo will surely put the pressure on Hardaway and Burke, so it's important to make sure they aren't the only ones carrying the load.
Players To Watch: The big player to watch is going to be Trey Burke. Not only has he been the best player for Michigan all year, but he's been huge in the last few games and is battling for Player of the Year honors. If he has a big game, he might take command of the race. The second player to watch is GR3. He came up pretty small in the first game and Michigan will need him to play much better. The final player to watch is Jordan Morgan. He was still recovering from his ankle injury in the first game so he could be the one that makes the difference in this game.
Prediction: Michigan by 3
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