Big game tonight.....well, they are all big as the program tries to navigate the league schedule and cobble enough wins to get into the NCAAs.
This is a game they must win. IU might win 2 league games this year and a loss--even on the road--to this year's Hoosier outfit might just cancel out one of Michigan's prime wins on it resume.
According to Vegas, UM is a 7-point road favorite.
IU is going through a similar situation to what Michigan football did this fall. They are completely rebuilding. Michigan football had the largest proportion of yards gained by freshmen in all of CFB because of the attrition that followed 2007. IU is in the same boat. Their top returning player scored a total of 28 points last year. Their second most experienced returning player logged a grand total of 11 minutes all of last season. Among all D-1 schools, IU ranks second in both points per game and minutes played by freshmen.
Tom Crean has done a great job of recruiting. He has a top-10 class ready to set foot on the Bloomington campus for next season. This season? He has a nice core of freshmen and first time contributors, most of whom, however, would only be solid role players on your typical IU basketball team. Doesn't that all sound familiar?
The results on the court have been similar too. UM trudged to its worst season in years in the first year of this transition. Indiana comes in at 5-8 and this longtime Big 10 hoops observer wonders just who exactly this club going to beat in league play. The program is headed towards an historically unprecedented awful record. IU was the last Big 10 team to go undefeated in league play. They may be the first team ever to go 0-18 in league play. So, IU is also channeling their inner Detroit Lions.
And, like the UM fanbase, Hoosier fans have found themselves arguing over what is the worst, more embarrassing loss in program history. While UM fans debate Appy St vs. Toledo, IU fans have their own compelling back and forth relative to terrible losses. The contenders? In this corner, there is a 14-point loss to Northeastern (you may recall UM whipping NE by 20 or so to open the season) in which the Hoosiers tallied their feweat points ever at Assembly Hall. In the other corner, is a wire to wire lose, albeit closer, to mighty, mighty Lipscomb. I don’t know, I guess I would go with Lipscomb as the worse loss. NE is in the notable Colonial Conference and may be a contender in that league. Lipscomb is an also ran in the Big South. Actually, I don’t think there is a right answer on this one. Both losses are shameful to the IU faithful.
Typically Indiana fans are discussing the quest for the Big 10 title and seeding prospects for the tournament. This winter, they’re debating moral victoriesand the likelihood of an 0-18 record. My favorite is the guy who considers Saturday’s Iowa game a win because the Hoosiers covered the 14-point spread. I think he’s my long lost brother.
In addition to the Michigan game, there are two other intriguing games going on tonight. The best part about UM's rise this year back into the basketball discussion is that it makes the whole landscape of college hoops relevant again to our fanbase. Each night this winter, there will be games that will impact the bubble, seedings and regional placement for the NCAA field. Instead of that world being foreign to us, now those games directly impact our program progress. Its way to early to talk bubble and seeding, but that does not mean things are not in focus enough to give us an indication of which scores elsewhere in the country impact Michigan.
Tonight, ESPN has a great doubleheader. Davidson plays at Duke at 7 pm. The Stephon Curry show performs at venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium. That is must see viewing. Davidson is a 13-point dog tonight, but they have covered the spread virtually every time when catching points the last two seasons when matched up with a BCS school. I think they keep it close.
The other contest is Gonzaga at Tennessee. These schools have already played, with Gonzaga winning in the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving Weekend. The Zags are in a free fall, having lost four of five and dropped out of the national polls. The Vols are 3-point favorites. I expect the Vols to keep Gonzaga’s tumble going. The upshot of the Zags troubles for Michigan is simple. The WCC earned three bids last year, but with none of those schools looking good right now, I don’t think any of them are certain to get an at large. The more bids available, the better for a program like Michigan trying to get back into the dance after a decade long absence.