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IU men's basketball faces crucial test at No. 2 Michigan Sunday afternoon


Freshman guard Romeo Langford drives to the basket against Illinois on Jan. 3 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers defeated the Fighting Illini 73-65. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

At 12-2, Archie Miller’s second season in Bloomington is off to a hot start.

The Hoosiers sit at 3-0 in Big Ten play and boast non-conference victories over Butler University, University of Louisville and No. 16 Marquette University.

Yet when IU was pitted against then-No. 3 Duke University on Nov. 27, 2018, the Hoosiers were throttled 90-69 in a game that was over by halftime. 

IU gets another crack at another top-five team when it visits undefeated No. 2 Michigan Sunday at 4:30 p.m. in Ann Arbor.

“They're elite defensively, and offensively they're skilled and play with great spacing like they always do,” IU Coach Archie Miller said. “But without question, they have a way about them right now, a confidence, a swagger that they can beat you with both sides of the ball.”

Offensively, the Wolverines are a diverse bunch.

Senior guard Charles Matthews is the veteran leader of the group. Matthews, a University of Kentucky transfer, sits second on the team with 13.9 points per game along with 5.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists. He has already notched four 20-point games this season.

Alongside Matthews are freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis and sophomore guard Jordan Poole. Brazdeikis leads the team with 16.4 points per contest and has scored 16 points or more in 10 of Michigan’s 14 games this year, while Poole sits third with 13.8 points per game.

Poole netted 19 points and three rebounds the last time Michigan and IU met Dec. 2, 2017, a 69-55 Wolverines win.

Junior guard Zavier Simpson has also been a stellar backcourt contributor, averaging 6.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists per contest.

“I've always said as I watched them, Zavier Simpson is the MVP of that team,” Miller said. “He's unbelievable on defense, and he's unbelievably efficient for them on offense in terms of how he attacks the basket and gets guys involved.”

Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers and junior center Jon Teske have been solid frontcourt contributors, but Livers will be a game-time decision after sitting out against Penn State Thursday night.

For the Hoosiers, Sunday marks the second straight game they will be without starting freshman point guard Rob Phinisee, who is sidelined with a concussion.

Though he won the prized gold jersey for best practice performance before the Illinois win, junior guard Devonte Green rather inconsistent against the  Illini. This led Miller to rely on freshman guard Romeo Langford as his primary ball handler in the second half of the victory.

Langford responded by scoring 19 of his career-high 28 points in the frame.

“We wanted him to be more aggressive,” Miller said of Langford postgame. “Sometimes you have to get the ball in his hands against a team like this because he's traditionally not bringing it up. But we allowed him to bring it up a lot more. Get the ball before we crossed half-court a lot more, which allowed him to play with it in his hands.”

With Phinisee still battling injury, Green will likely get another shot to run the point against the Wolverines. However, if he displays his turnover-prone nature that has plagued him throughout his time in Bloomington, Langford could again shoulder the load.

The date with the Wolverines begins a crucial and daunting month for the Hoosiers. Of its eight January games, IU will be on the road for six of them – including stops at Purdue, Maryland, Northwestern and No. 8 Michigan State.

“We have to remember how we've gotten here,” Miller said. “And if anything slips through the cracks or we have any slippage on either side of the ball, we're not improving, we're not continuing to play hard, now those 50/50 games, they become a little bit harder to win, especially when you mix in the road.”

Tip-off from the Crisler Center is set for 4:30 p.m.

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