While the NCAA Basketball schedule is light for Thursday, one exciting Big Ten match-up stands out as the 16th-ranked Michigan Wolverines (12-2, 2-0 Big Ten) head to Assembly Hall for a road battle with the #12 Indiana Hoosiers (13-1, 1-1 Big Ten).
Both teams are making an exciting return to the elite ranks of College Basketball, after struggling for years to turn around their respective programs. Meeting for the first time as ranked opponents since 1997, tonight’s clash will be a great battle between one of the nation’s top scoring offenses and one of the stingiest defenses in the country, as Indiana has been on fire shooting this year at a %50.5 clip while putting up north of 82 points per contest, and Michigan has seen its stock rise with outstanding defense, which has held opponents to just 59.9 points per game.
Indiana’s surprise ascent to the top ranks of College Hoops starts with their ability to get production from every member of their starting 5. With all starters in double figures for the year (each averaging at least 10.7 points per game) led by the 6’11” freshman Cody Zeller (14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds/game), the Hoosiers have been able to hang with any team in the country, as is evident by the fact that they’ve already knocked off the #1- and #2-ranked teams in the nation in close games at home. What is truly impressive about those two wins in particular has been the fact that in both games, the Hoosiers shot at their lowest field goal percentages of the season, beating Kentucky with 43.1 percent shooting from the floor (Kentucky shot lights out at 55.6 percent), and overcoming Ohio State with a 45.8 percent shooting effort (OSU shot 49 percent). That seems to suggest that this year’s Hoosiers squad is adept at finding different ways to overcome adversity in each game; In the game vs. Kentucky, Indiana shot lights out from the perimeter and the free-throw line (9-15, 14-17 respectively), and in the game vs. Ohio State, the Hoosiers got the advantage in the turnover margin (11 to 17) and singled out William Buford and Deshaun Thomas (both averaging above 15 points per) on defense, holding them to 8 and 5 points respectively.
With Michigan bringing in just 3 players in double figures and having to overcome with defense in the face of their low 70.9 points per game scoring average (ranked 128th in the nation), Indiana’s game plan will once again look to singling out areas of comparative advantage over Michigan, and that could start with shutting down the 6’6″ Tim Hardaway Jr., who leads the Wolverines into tonight’s contest with 15.6 points per game. While Michigan has run off a streak of seven straight wins on outstanding defense versus sub-par opponents, they are going to have to find a way to produce more scoring to keep up with the Hoosiers, who are currently 6th in the nation in scoring and 5th in shooting percentage. That will mean getting a continuation of scoring presence from freshman Trey Burke, who comes off his best performance of the year in a 27 point effort against Minnesota last weekend. Consistency in shooting has been a bit of an issue for the young guard, but it’s promising for the Wolverines that Burke has stepped up when needed most against the best opponents they’ve faced this season, and getting him off to a good start is key for Michigan tonight.
Another big factor in tonight’s game will be the efforts of the Wolverine’s Evan Smotrycz (10.9 points, 7.1 boards/contest) and Jordan Morgan (7.3 points, 5.1 boards) in the paint, as Michigan hasn’t been great at rebounding this year (235th in the nation at 33.9 per) and will have to find a way to limit Cody Zeller’s production down low. With Michigan thriving on perimeter shooting and ball possession as well, they could do themselves a huge favor by getting more aggressive on the offensive boards and picking up a few extra points on put-backs. Getting the rebounding margin in their favor should also help to limit the production of the Hoosiers’ Christian Watford, who has two double-doubles in the last 3 games, and Victor Oladipo, who is a solid mid-range threat and is adept at grabbing missed shots (12.2 points, 5.4 boards a game). However, even with securing the paint and locking down OSU’s top inside threats, Michigan will still have to contend with Indiana’s hot hand beyond the three-point line, where they are shooting a ridiculous 44.7 percent on the season. You can’t hope to completely stop this Indiana team in all areas on offense as they’re very well rounded, but controlling the paint and forcing Indiana to shoot around the perimeter could at least put the Wolverines on a level playing field tonight.
Betting Lines for #16 Michigan at #12 Indiana at Sportsbetting Sportsbook
With Michigan’s talented defense holding opponents to under 60 points a contest this year, it’s a little surprising to see the Wolverines as a heavy +7.5 point underdog against the spread, but justified as a precaution since Michigan has only ventured away from home once this season and suffered a 70-58 loss to #23 Virginia. I’m still not entirely sold on Michigan’s ascent into the Top 25 this season, as despite their outstanding D, their offensive production leaves a lot to be desired and their reliance on outside shooting leaves them vulnerable to dropping games on less-than-average shooting nights. Getting a +275 underdog for tonight’s game while Indiana is a -350 favorite at home, you might want to throw the money line out the window, and focus on the two other main betting lines for this contest. I like Indiana to cover the -7.5 points against spread at home banking on their well-balanced offense and their stout defense (which is no slouch itself, allowing just 61.9 points per game), and with the lack of scoring offense for Michigan, we could very well see the 139 points set for the over/under be too high a number for the teams to reach tonight.
Our Pick to Win:
Although Michigan has ripped off 7 straight wins, they’ve yet to prove they can win on the road, and overcome a team with as much balance as Indiana has. Indiana on the other hand has already shown their talents by knocking off the #1 and #2 teams in the country on home court, with clutch play and a great ability to close out tight games. For tonight’s match-up I simply don’t think Michigan has what it takes to compete with Indiana’s offense, despite the fact that the Wolverines should make a valiant effort on defense and keep the Hoosiers frustrated with a slowed-down game plan. Indiana will seek to single out 1 or 2 key players on the Michigan side, likely Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke, and if either one of those players fails to eclipse 10 points, I just don’t see any way the Wolverines can muster enough points to make this a close game. Indiana prevails at home with a convincing 70-60 win, overcoming good defense with better perimeter shooting, and winning the battle of the paint behind Cody Zeller.