Michigan emerges from a brutal stretch in their schedule having lost 4 of their last 5 games, but the reality of the situation may not be as dire as it sounds. The last two teams to beat them, Kansas and Ohio State, are both undefeated on the year, certain to be ranked #1 and #2 in next week's polls. With a combined margin of victory of 11 points (7 of them in overtime), Michigan has shown it can play with the big boys, if not necessarily beat them.
That makes the upcoming stretch of the schedule critical. Winnable road contests against Indiana and Northwestern follow the brutal stretch. Then there is a 3-day layoff before a home game against Minnesota. Ken Pomeroy predicts a win only against the Gophers, but the Wolverines must steal at least one of the other two to keep the season--and the hope of an NIT bid--on track.
Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Learning lessons from a close loss only counts so much. The Wolverines want to start winning games. Probably, anyway. A reporter asked Zack Novak this after the Ohio State loss: "Would you rather have won this game?"
- As much of a revelation as Jordan Morgan was early in the season, consistently good competition down low will wear on him. He was held off the scoresheet against Ohio State. He's finding it difficult to stay on the court because of foul trouble.
- As for other post options, Jon Horford improves game-by-game, but is good for a couple more silly fouls each time out, reducing his playing time. Instead of more Blake McLimans, that means we've seen Evan Smotrycz see serious time at the 5. He stretches the floor offensively, but needs a lot of help to guard talented bigs down low. He managed to contain Sullinger surprisingly well.
- Zack Novak is shooting the ball much better of late, whereas Stu Douglass has seen his 3-point percentage dip. Those two and Matt Vogrich have the "green light" to shoot. Beilein said today that teams are keying on Stu a little more, and Ohio State in particular was willing to give up the lane a little bit in order to lock down the perimeter.
- Tim Hardaway Jr. is close to getting the green light to shoot, but needs to continue adjusting to the speed and length of college defenders.
- Darius Morris's production has slipped a little bit, but Beilein insists that it's more a product of very tough competition (Michigan's last three opponents are in Kenpom's top 11), than anything Darius is doing wrong in decision-making.
For most of the year Michigan has faced teams that rarely send opponents to the free throw line, but rarely get there themselves. That changes with Indiana, as the Hoosiers play a physical interior game that draws plenty of shooting fouls. They are also among the worst in the country at not sending opponents to the line. Something has to give, and Michigan is likely to shoot more free throws than they're used to against IU as long as the game remains competitive.
Michigan and Indiana have comparable offenses (in terms of adjusted efficiency), but the Wolverines have a much better D. Since they've just faced three top-15 offenses in a row, the less-effective competition may be welcome. Similarly, Michigan hasn't forced many turnovers this year, but the Hoosiers are one of the sloppiest teams with the ball that they've faced in a while.
Key players for IU include 6-9 Christian Watford, 6-5 Verdell Jones, and 6-0 Jordan Hulls. Hulls is a sharpshooter, in the top 5 nationally in eFG%. Watford is IU's best at getting to the free throw line, and Jones leads the Hoosiers in assist rate. Jeremiah Rivers (yes, the son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers) plays plenty of minutes, but is practically invisible on the court, averaging just 3 points and under 2 assists per game.
The Hoosiers and Wolverines are both struggling as they enter tomorrow night's contest, as IU is winless in their last six. They last tasted victory December 19th against South Carolina State.
The Big Ten Geeks review the Ohio State loss. UMHoops breaks down some of Michigan's stats and interviews IU bloggers from Inside the Hall. For their part, Inside the Hall takes a look at the Wolverines.