Perhaps the Hoosiers tried too hard to make it a perfect Senior Night.
Perhaps the seniors were preoccupied with playing their last game in Bloomington.
Or, more than likely, Indiana just wasn’t ready for Aaron Craft the vengeful Ohio State Buckeyes.
Clearly out for blood after the embarrassment they suffered in Columbus, Ohio State locked down Indiana defensively. The Hoosiers scored their lowest point total of the season in their nine point loss, 58-67.
Aaron Craft certainly played his best on both ends of the court and ultimately, he and Deshaun Thomas made the biggest difference for the Buckeyes in their win on this past Tuesday.
The negative emotions from the loss soon dissipated as Indiana’s seniors took the floor to give their final farewells and thank you addresses. And wow, the speeches they gave were incredibly touching. Almost everyone – teammates, many of the fans, coaches – shed a tear or two (links to YouTube speeches here: Jordy, C-Wat, and Derek). You couldn’t help but feel real emotion for these three guys, especially Jordan Hulls, who truly rebuilt an entire program from ashes and restored it right back to where it belongs.
Looking at both games, each won by the road team, is a worthy illustration of the strength and parity that you see in the Big Ten. There are legitimately five teams, Indiana included, that could potentially make some very deep NCAA tournament runs depending on their regions and match-ups.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, or Wisconsin all in the Sweet Sixteen. It’s not likely that all of them will crash the Sweet 16, but expect the Big Ten to make a statement (finally) in this year’s tournament.
Hoosiers and Wolverines Since February 2nd
Whether or not Indiana defeats Michigan in Ann Arbor on Sunday will determine whether they’ll be lone champions of the B1G or split the title.
In the teams’ first meeting in Bloomington on February 10th, the Hoosiers won 81-73, pulling away in the final few minutes in a game that was tightly contested throughout. Including that loss to Indiana, the Wolverines are just 5-4 over their last nine games. And their struggles over the past three games have done nothing to cure the diffidence that I have for this team.
An utterly inexplicable six point loss to 10-19 Penn State and a one point win over the #10 Michigan State Spartans was followed up by barely escaping 14-16 Purdue by five in West Lafayette. Michigan’s recent play has been borderline baffling and wildly inconsistent.
Out of all of the games I’ve had to predict this year, this is probably the hardest. Even though they’re at home, the pressure is on the Wolverines.
But the Hoosiers haven’t been playing so well either. They’ve dropped two out of their last three, and a loss in Ann Arbor would pin them with their third defeat in four games.
That’s a bit worrisome and not indicative of a potential national champion. Indiana needs to remind the rest of the college basketball world, and themselves, that they’re truly an elite team.
Would a loss be lethal? No. They’re still going to head into the Big Ten tournament with the top seed regardless, but they might end up sharing the title with several other teams. If that’s the case, Indiana would really need to win the Big Ten tournament to prove that they’re truly worthy of one of top four seeds in the Big Dance.
A loss to the Wolverines, plus an early exit in the conference tournament, and Indiana could find themselves in a potentially dangerous spot on Selection Sunday (March 17) when seeding for the tournament is announced.
Let’s revisit our Four Factors from the Hoosiers’ first meeting with the Wolverines on February 2nd:
As we can see, the Hoosiers largely overcame their turnover woes (they had 16 to Michigan’s 8, giving up 21 points off turnovers), by doing what they do best: Shooting the ball well (eFG%), and getting to the free throw line (FTR).
Whether or not the Hoosiers will be able to find their shot in a hostile environment remains to be seen. Though ironically, Indiana’s three worst shooting performances this season, and their only ones where they had a FG% below 40%, were all at home.
So playing in Ann Arbor may not be as a dreadful as you think, and their eFG% on the road against Big Ten opponents has only been a few percentage points lower than their eFG% at home.
What gives me pause, however, is the fact that Indiana’s second and third worst shooting performances have come in their past two games; the win over Iowa and their loss to Ohio State.
Looking at KenPom.com, Iowa and Ohio State’s Adjusted Defense Rating (AdjD – a statistic or rating that calculates a team’s overall defensive ability based on points allowed per 100 possessions) were 20th, and 12th, respectively; so one can see why the Hoosiers had a little trouble shooting: they played two teams that were in the top 20 in the nation defensively.
Michigan, on the other hand, is ranked a rather unimpressive 60th in AdjD. Indiana’s only loss to a team that was ranked lower than 36th in AdjD was their overtime loss to Butler, who is currently ranked 65th. Despite this, Ken Pomeroy still ranks Michigan as the 12th best team in the country overall, propped up largely due to their prolific offense, which is ranked second in AdjO, right behind top-ranked Indiana.
If anything, the game will more than likely be a close one, but the Hoosiers are the nation’s #1 offense for a reason, and I truly believe we’ll remind the country that we’re right where we belong: sole champions of the Big Ten.
Taking current rankings into consideration, Indiana is 4-1 against top 15 teams; I’m ready for another performance like we saw in Columbus, and I think our Hoosiers are too.
Prediction: Indiana 82, Michigan 74