You thought the Super Bowl was the biggest game this weekend?
On Saturday night at 9:00 p.m. ET, we get the matchup we’ve all been waiting all season for. Michigan and their juggernaut offensive attack heads into Bloomington to take on a Hoosier team that seems to finally be hitting their peak this season. Michigan is the No. 1 team in the country. Indiana is No. 3. Both are national title favorites. Both are battling for supremacy in the Big Ten race.
Here’s a look at what you can expect on Saturday night:
Michigan: Trey Burke is the best point guard in the country and arguably the nation’s most valuable player.
He’s averaging 17.9 points and 7.1 assists on the season, numbers that we haven’t seen someone post in the Big Ten since Magic Johnson was still known as Earvin. He’s the engine that that makes the Wolverines go. Michigan loves to attack in transition, where they are lethally efficient, but when they are forced to play in the half court, the Wolverines are a much more patient team. They spread the floor and run a lot of high-ball screens, with the goal being for Burke to be able to penetrate, draw help and kick the ball out to one of the three shooters Michigan has on the wing.
Those are the guys that have been the difference makers this year. Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. They are all as versatile as the typical John Beilein wing, but instead of being slow and unathletic 6-foot-3 guards, these are big, physical, athletic slashers with NBA potential that just so happen to be knockdown jumpshooters.
Indiana: Like Michigan, Indiana loves to get out and run the floor as well. But where Michigan is more opportunistic and patient when the easy buckets aren’t there, Indiana’s transition game is more systematic. Cody Zeller runs the floor as well as any big man in college basketball, routinely beating his defender to the paint at the other end of the floor. Jordan Morgan (if his ankle is healthy), Mitch McGary and Jon Horford are going to have their work cut out for them.
When they are forced into the half court, the Hoosiers like to go four-around-one, forcing defenses into a decision: do they leave their center one-on-one in the post against Zeller, or do they try to double him and rely on help and rotations to get back out to shooters. And as you might imagine, shooting is not something that Indiana lacks.
Key Matchup: Who guards Trey Burke?
Michigan only has one loss on the season and that came against Ohio State. What the Buckeyes did was essentially allow Aaron Craft to spend the entire game going one-on-one with Burke defensively. They helped on ball-screens when necessary, but for the most part it was Craft keeping Burke from using the high ball-screen and forcing him away from side ball-screens.
This is where it gets interesting for the Hoosiers. Victor Oladipo may be the best all-around defender in the country, and the smart money would be on him taking the personal challenge of slowing down Burke. But Oladipo is also 6-foot-5 and the only perimeter player in Indiana’s starting lineup taller than six-feet. If Oladipo is on Burke, than two of Michigan’s big wings will have a six-inch height advantage. Do they trust Yogi Ferrell, a freshman, to be able to guard Burke and cut down on his penetration? Does Tom Crean use a bigger lineup, taking Ferrell or Jordy Hulls off the floor in favor of Will Sheehy or Remy Abell? Does he take the chance of using a zone against the Wolverines?
You want to beat Michigan? Stop Burke, but that’s easier said than done.
Key Stat: Offensive boards
Indiana is a very good offensive rebounding team. It’s not because they’re all that big or super athletic, it’s because they have a number of guys that simply pursue the ball well on that end of the floor. Oladipo, who never seems to get tired, is a nightmare to try and keep from crashing the offensive back boards, while Zeller has proven to be a better rebounder on this end than he was a season ago. And while Michigan is, statistically speaking, a good defensive rebounding team, the fact of the matter is that this group doesn’t have a ton of size on the floor. That didn’t matter against Kansas State or Pitt earlier this season, but the Wolverines got crushed on the offensive glass by Minnesota.
Transition and offensive rebounds are the two best times to shoot threes, and we all know how much Indiana loves shooting open threes. You can slow them down in transition, but you’re not going to stop them. Preventing second-chance points and the open looks they get off of those rebounds will be key.
My pick: Indiana
The Hoosiers are playing at home. They have one of the best on-ball defenders in the country to put on Burke. Forget about everything else: those are two things that are going to be very difficult for Michigan to over come.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.