Technically speaking, the Hoosiers haven’t won a game all year.
IU closed out 2009 with a bang, defeating Michigan by six at Assembly Hall in a New Year’s Eve showdown. Despite two straight losses, the Hoosiers have a chance to beat a familiar foe when they play the Wolverines in Ann Arbor today.
Some have credited the Dec. 31 victory to emotion, as the team was playing its first game without star freshman guard Maurice Creek.
IU coach Tom Crean isn’t buying that.
“We executed. We earned the victory,” Crean said.
It will take similar execution and a solid defensive effort for the Hoosiers to prevail as “the victors” this time around, especially playing on the road at Crisler Arena.
Michigan is good enough to win on most nights, but it hasn’t exactly done that. And while it has an excellent one-two punch in junior guard Manny Harris and senior forward DeShawn Sims, there is not a whole lot else.
John Beilein’s team gets little offensive production from its bench, and its best reserve, freshman guard Darius Morris, is more of a defensive stopper.
Michigan doesn’t have the personnel to compete at the highest of levels day in and day out, or at least it hasn’t shown that in the first half of the season. But the Wolverines do have weapons.
When Harris and Sims were slowed by foul trouble versus IU two weeks ago, sophomore guards Stu Douglass and Zack Novak picked up much of the slack. The Indiana natives went for 16 and 18 points, respectively – and the duo combined to shoot 8-of-15 from behind the 3-point line.
Since the loss to IU, however, the duo has combined for just 9-of-30 from outside, or 30 percent, and as of Sunday the team as a whole was ranked No. 261 among Division I teams in 3-point shooting.
But as Crean said before the teams’ first meeting, “They can get hot at any time.”
Michigan’s fifth starter, sophomore guard Laval Lucas-Perry, recently showed just that.
Despite posting a doughnut at Assembly Hall and having been kept scoreless in three of the team’s last four games, Lucas-Perry hit four 3s and scored 16 points to help pace the Wolverines past Penn State on Thursday.
Although IU could have its hands full with any of those three, it still comes down to stopping the Harris-Sims duo.
The Detroit natives, who average 37 points and 13.9 rebounds combined per game, are both versatile in their own rights and have played well since the IU loss.
Sims, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, averaged 23.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in the three games since Michigan’s trek to Bloomington. Harris, meanwhile, posted 20.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, four assists and three steals in that same period.
While both were kept in check by the Hoosiers the first go-around, combining for 25 points, four rebounds and nine fouls, they are unquestionably the biggest threat to IU.
Junior guard Jeremiah Rivers did an excellent job limiting the athletic and aggressive Harris last game, but the IU guard is anticipating a different Harris in game two.
“He missed some of the shots he usually makes, so I’m sure next game he’s going to come even harder and more determined to score and win the game,” Rivers said. “We’re going to have to be ready for that.”
Sims, meanwhile, though playing the role of power forward as the only big man in the Michigan starting lineup, can step out and shoot, hit pull-up jumpers and drive to the basket.
The dilemma IU faced last time was that it stopped Harris and Sims for the most part but left Novak and Douglass open for too many shots. Michigan missed 18 of its last 23 3-pointers but could hurt IU if it gets a lot of open looks this time.
Further, Michigan is among the nation’s best with a + 4.3 turnover margin and a 1.49 assist-to-turnover ratio. Facing a team that makes minimal mistakes, it will be critical for the Hoosiers to take care of the ball, challenge Michigan’s shots and box out and grab the long rebounds from missed 3s.
While rather obvious, oftentimes IU has struggled with the basic elements of winning basketball games. Furthermore, it is imperative for the Hoosiers not to come out flat like they did in their last road contest.
IU beat Michigan once, but I don’t like their chances away from home.
Cohen’s prediction: Michigan 69, IU 65