Over the course of the season, IU basketball fans have seen a few problems consistently pop up with this team. Guard play, three-point shooting, and a 100%, full-throttle effort are all areas where Indiana has needed improvement all season. On Thursday night, the Hoosiers delivered gold-star performances in all three areas, and as a result, defeated No. 21 Iowa comfortably, 89-77. Coming up next, Indiana (16-8, 6-7 B1G) will try to tackle one other weakness they have shown all season: showing up on the road.

On Sunday, IU travels to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines (15-9, 6-7) in a matchup of two teams that have slumped at various points this year. The Hoosiers have dropped six straight to the Wolverines, the last five of which have all come by double figures. Both teams are attempting to rediscover their best form before the postseason. Let’s revisit a couple of the biggest moments in this rivalry before diving into this particular matchup.

Michigan is currently out of the AP Top 25, after an seven-week run during which they were ranked as high as No. 4. In the non-conference portion of the season, they recorded emphatic wins against Iowa State, No. 6 North Carolina, and No. 8 Gonzaga in the Bahamas. They also knocked off Creighton, an NCAA Tournament team, by double digits.

The Wolverines’ season turned as the calendar flipped to 2020. Junior forward Isaiah Livers picked up a groin injury against Presbyterian on Dec. 21. In the six games that Livers missed, Michigan lost four. That wasn’t the only issue. The Wolverines struggled defensively, and even senior point guard Zavier Simpson received a one-game suspension for violating team rules. Overall, UM went 2-5 in January, after losing just three times in November and December combined.

UM is coached by former Fab Five member Juwan Howard, who is in his first year at the helm, replacing legendary coach John Beilein, who moved on to lead the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Even though they aren’t in the AP Poll, the Wolverines are a top-20 team per KenPom. Their offense rates 35th, while their defense rates 22nd. One interesting note: Michigan leads the Big Ten this season with a 46% field goal percentage.

Michigan has improved defensively ($) over the last few weeks, though, leading the conference in defensive efficiency in February, per Bart Torvik’s site. Right now, bracketmatrix.com, which aggregates all the predictions made by bracketologists online, pegs Michigan as an 8-seed in the field of 68.

How to Watch

WhoIndiana Hoosiers at Michigan Wolverines
WhenSunday, Feb. 16, 2020, 1:00 p.m. ET
WhereCrisler Center — Ann Arbor, Mich.
TicketsFind the Lowest Tickets on SeatGeek
WatchCBS (Tom McCarthy, Dan Bonner)
ListenIU Sports Network
StatsLive Stats
SpreadMICH -7.5, O/U 137.5

Getting to know the Wolverines

Ever since the start of conference play, Howard has primarily gone with an eight-man rotation, headlined by senior point guard Zavier Simpson. Simpson, along with fellow senior Jon Teske, can set the all-time program record for wins by a Michigan player with a win on Sunday. Both Simpson and Teske are 104-36, tied with Wolverine great Glen Rice, as well as Mark Hughes, and Jordan Morgan atop the wins list currently.

Simpson’s primary role on Michigan focuses on distributing the ball to his teammates. He averages 8.0 APG, comfortably tops in the Big Ten. Simpson has assisted nearly half of his teammates’ field goal attempts when he’s been on the floor this season. The senior guard also does average 12.5 PPG and 4.5 RPG on the season, and loves to use a lethal skyhook to score on opposing defenses. Simpson scored 12 points in both tilts against IU last year.

Unlike Iowa, Penn State, or Michigan State, where a lot of the planning can focus on one or two individuals, every guy in Michigan’s eight-man rotation has the potential to give Indiana fits. The aforementioned Livers, who missed nine games this season due to a groin injury, is one of the most dangerous shooters in the conference, if not the country. A Kalamazoo native, Livers leads the team at 13.6 PPG, and is one of two players in the country to average more than 30 MPG and make at least 45% of his field goals, 45% from three, and 90% from the free throw line.

Teske, a 7-foot-1 center, has started every game the last two seasons for Michigan. The big man won co-Player of the Week in the conference back in December for his performances in the Battle 4 Atlantis, especially in the championship game vs. Gonzaga, where he scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. He followed that up with a ho-hum 18 and 10 at #1 Louisville. Teske has gone through a dry spell as of late, scoring in single digits in three straight games and six of the last nine.

Eli Brooks and Franz Wagner round out Michigan’s starting backcourt, along with the star, Simpson. Brooks has taken a big stride forward this year, after playing a minor role the last two seasons. The Pennsylvania native has seen his minutes per game jump from 12 last season to 32 this year, and he has also improved considerably as a three-point shooter. Brooks made 29.2% from deep last season, but he’s hit at a 39% clip this year, on five attempts per game.

Wagner, a freshman, and the brother of former Wolverine and current Washington Wizard Mo Wagner, has played a major part in the Wolverines’ story this season. In Big Ten action, Wagner has played the third most minutes on his team, leads the Wolverines in steals, ranks 2nd in rebounds, has taken the third-most field goal attempts, and has scored the third-most points.

He won Big Ten Freshman of the Week earlier this month, and he’s scored at least five points and grabbed at least five rebounds in each of the last eight games. All of this has come in a conference that doesn’t usually come easy to players in their first season. Oh, by the way, while Mo was a forward, Franz is listed as a 6’8″ guard. He has presented a matchup nightmare to opposing coaches and teams all season.

The rest of the key Wolverines are forward Brandon Johns Jr., guard David Dejulius, and forward Austin Davis. Johns, a sophomore from East Lansing, had a slow start to the season, but his game really took off in late January. Starting each of the nine games that Livers missed, Johns put up 14 and 7 against PSU, 16 and 7 at Nebraska, and then an eye-popping 20 and 7, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, against Rutgers at Madison Square Garden. Since then, Livers has returned, relegating Johns to a bench role, and he has seen his minutes decrease from 25 to 18 to 12 in UM’s last three games. Nevertheless, if Juwan Howard wants to play big, or if Teske runs into foul trouble, Johns could play a key role against the Hoosiers.

Dejulius, a Detroit native, typically spells Simpson as the team’s point guard whenever the senior needs a rest. A 6-foot sparkplug, the 2018 4-star recruit has scored in double figures nine times this season. Davis, a 6-foot-10 forward, also from the state of Michigan, has somehow made 72.5% (37-of-51) of his field goal attempts this season. He’s also one of his team’s best per-minute rebounders, so when big #51 enters the game, IU has to make sure to box him out.

Projected Starting Lineups

Indiana HoosiersMichigan Wolverines
G: #10 Rob Phinisee (So.)G: #3 Zavier Simpson (Sr.)
G: #1 Al Durham (Jr.) G: #55 Eli Brooks (Jr.)
F: #3 Justin Smith (Jr.)G: #21 Franz Wagner (Fr.)
F: #4 Trayce Jackson-Davis (Fr.)F: #2 Isaiah Livers (Jr.)
C: #50 Joey Brunk (RS Jr.)C: #15 Jon Teske (Sr.)

What to Watch for

1. Indiana needs to dominate the glass

One of the (few) areas where Indiana holds a decisive advantage over Michigan entering Sunday’s game is on the glass. IU averages 38.3 rebounds per game, while allowing 30.8 per game. Michigan’s rebounding margin, on the other hand, is only a couple boards per game. Digging deeper, Indiana rebounds 32.4% of their misses, while Michigan secures only 24.4% of theirs. In other words, not only does IU have to take quality shots, but they also have to follow them up when the attempts go off target. On the defensive end, Indiana’s bigs Trayce Jackson-Davis, Joey Brunk, Race Thompson, and De’Ron Davis have to grab boards, but if they can’t, IU’s guards need to contribute in that area as well.

IU coach Archie Miller has consistently emphasized the importance of his guards rebounding the basketball. Al Durham, Rob Phinisee, Devonte Green, and Armaan Franklin average 8.8 rebounds per game combined. They need to exceed that number in Ann Arbor.

2. Michigan’s marksmanship from three

Miller’s “packline” defensive system is known for collapsing inside and coaxing opponents into shooting three-point shots. That plays into what the Wolverines prefer, as they have attempted nearly 40% of their field goal attempts from three-point land. Assuming IU continues playing its defensive system, which concedes a three-point rate of 40%, the Wolverines will get a ton of looks from downtown. A robust Michigan three-point shooting performance could take Indiana out of the game early.

Brooks and Wagner shoot the most threes per game out of anyone on Michigan in Big Ten play. Combined they are 41-of-148 (27.7%) on the season. If those two, or Livers, catch fire tomorrow, IU could be in for a long afternoon.

3. Managing Michigan runs, then going on ones of their own

The sun will be out in Ann Arbor tomorrow, but as the visiting team on Sunday, IU will have to weather a few storms at the Crisler Center. The Hoosiers have struggled to absorb blows in Big Ten road games this season. They might bounce back from one, like they did at Rutgers after falling behind 12-0, but another hot streak in the same game usually knocks out IU. On a similar note, the Hoosiers have rarely, if ever, put the opposing team on the back foot in road contests. Last season, Michigan held a 15-point lead at halftime in both contests vs. IU.

No team in the Big Ten outside of Northwestern and Nebraska has lost more home games than Michigan. If IU can jump out to a lead, or hit back after every Michigan spurt, the Hoosiers can plant a seed of doubt in the minds of the Wolverines and create some angst in the Crisler Center crowd.

4. Who wins the foul contest?

Archie Miller said it clearly after Indiana’s win on Thursday night vs. #21 Iowa: when Indiana has struggled this season, they have done so because of an inability to get to the foul line. One of the big turning points in this game will be which team wins the foul battle. On one hand, Indiana draws a ton of personal fouls, as no team in Big Ten play has a higher FTA/FGA rate than the Hoosiers. On the other, Michigan rarely commits personals, as all of their starters have a foul rate of 3.5 per 40 or less.

Michigan gives up 14.4 free throw attempts per game at home this season, while IU takes an average of 16.8 per road game. In order to win this contest, Indiana will likely have to get to the line at least 20 times.

Featured Photo: Michigan Athletics

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