Since losing its first —and so far, only — game of the season to the University of Connecticut on Nov. 19, Indiana men’s basketball has started to find its stride. The Hoosiers have won three consecutive games, their last two being double-digit victories, and look to continue their winning ways Tuesday night against Michigan (4-4) in their first true road game of the season.
In its Big Ten opener against Maryland, Indiana started hot and didn’t look back, never trailing in the 65-53 win. After starting the season with matchups closer than expected, the Hoosiers looked prime for conference play in their first chance. As they look to get another win to start 2-0 in the Big Ten, here are three ways Indiana can leave Ann Arbor with a victory.
Get Kel’el Ware rolling, win the frontcourt battle
Sophomore center Kel’el Ware has been the star of the show for the Hoosiers. The big man produced a career-high 28 points against Harvard University on Nov. 26 and followed it up with an 18-point, 14-rebound performance against Maryland.
The 7-footer has the size advantage over anyone on Michigan’s roster, but the Wolverines still field a tall frontcourt and have limited big numbers from opposing post players this season. Ware has been Indiana’s most reliable weapon.
Sophomore forward Malik Reneau has been Ware’s partner in crime this season with 14.7 points per game. The duo feeds off each other in what head coach Mike Woodson calls “buddy ball” and has paced Indiana’s offense.
However, the Wolverines frontcourt of senior forward Terrance Williams II, graduate forward Olivier Nkamhoua and sophomore forward Tarris Reed Jr. could still present a challenge. Nkamhoua is an offensive-centric player and is second on the team with 16.9 points per game, both he and Williams II can score inside and out, and Reed Jr. provides an intimidating presence inside.
Shut down Dug McDaniel
Michigan sophomore guard Dug McDaniel has been one of the country’s priemere breakout players to start the 2023-24 season. McDaniel has increased his freshman season totals of 8.6 points and 3.6 assists per game to 20.3 points and 5.3 assists per game.
Like Ware’s role for Indiana, McDaniel has carried the load for the Wolverines, shooting 50.4% from the field and 41.2% from the 3-point line.
Beating Michigan can start with slowing McDaniel down on the perimeter. In losses to the University of Memphis and Texas Tech University, McDaniel scored 13 points on 33% shooting and 12 points on 41% shooting, respectively.
When McDaniel slows down, the rest of the team follows. McDaniel’s low-scoring contests were also Michigan’s two lowest scoring games this season.
The availability of Indiana senior guard Xavier Johnson could be key. Johnson maintains several responsibilities for the Hoosiers, one of those being the lead defensive guard on the perimeter. His high pressure, in-your-face style of defense usually gives opposing backcourts problems and could prove the same.
Prevent a shootout
Indiana has shown it can get the offense rolling at times, but never too consistently. Even when it does, like 89-point outings against Wright State University and Harvard, the 3-point line hardly plays a factor.
Tuesday’s matchup offers two completely different styles of play, and a high-scoring affair would favor the Wolverines. Michigan ranks first in the Big Ten with 76 3-pointers at a third-place mark of 38.2%. On the flip side, Indiana has made the fewest threes in the conference with 22 at a 25% clip.
Woodson’s hung his hat on Indiana’s defensive abilities throughout his tenure, and the Hoosiers will be tested against Michigan’s high-powered offense. The Wolverines have scored 83+ points in six of their eight contests compared to Indiana allowing 80 points once this season in seven outings.
Limiting damage from beyond the arc and slowing things down may be important factors for the Hoosiers. As exhibited this season, a scoring contest in the 60-70 point range is ideal for the post-centric Indiana squad. If Michigan’s offense finds a groove, the Hoosiers would need outside shots to fall to keep up.
The two teams tip off at 9 p.m. Tuesday in the Crisler Center. The game will be available to stream on Peacock with a subscription.