Indiana stands 20-2 against Michigan at Assembly Hall since the late 1980s. That's a tall order for any team, even a No. 1-ranked squad, but U-M head coach John Beilein is interested only in going 1-0 on Saturday night.
Beilein waved off talk about the record, and instead focused on the opportunity this week. The 9 p.m. showdown between the No. 1 Wolverines and the No. 3 Hoosiers is what college basketball is all about, he argued.
"Most teams are not going to have a winning record at an away place," he said. "Whether it's 2-26 or 12-12, I don't think it makes a big difference. It's an away game, with a huge crowd.
"Those guys weren't there, I wasn't there, for most of those. The coaching staff just knows it's exciting to be in that atmosphere. This is what we all signed up for, is the message you say to the team.
"The coach at Michigan, the coaches, the players
you came for these types of atmospheres. To be in Crisler the other night. To be in Crisler at any time. To be at Assembly Hall. This is what we signed up for."
The Wolverines have to sign on to face an extremely experienced group of Hoosiers, Beilein noted. Indiana features seniors in forward Christian Watford and guard Jordan Hulls, along with junior guard Victor Oladipo, as well as strong young talent in 7-0 center Cody Zeller, a sophomore, and freshman guard Yogi Ferrell.
"If you look at the seniors on this team, they won six or seven games when they were freshmen," Beilein said. "They have learned, just like many of our guys have learned, how to improve, how to keep getting better, and how to stay with the program, stay with the coaching staff.
"That's the biggest thing. They've been through this thing so many times. Our guys, this is their first time, and they don't know any different. They've handled it pretty well, but this group right here really has experience."
Handling the situation Saturday night is no small task, Beilein noted. Avoiding digging a big hole early - like the Wolverines did in a road loss at Ohio State - ranks high on the priorities list.
"It's really hard," Beilein said. "Last year, we got down 12 or 13, and we battled back. You can't turn the ball over, and you can't have shot turnovers, where you decide, 'Well, I'm going to be a hero today, and I'm going to score 1-on-3.'
"That's a shot turnover. It doesn't show up, but we have to have that type of mindset in this game, that we're going to take quality shots, protect the ball, but we run pretty well, too. That's the sweet spot that we're learning, that everybody is adjusting to every day."
Opposing teams have to adjust to a decided free throw discrepancy at Assembly Hall, but Michigan is one of the best teams in the nation at keeping foul totals low. That will be a focus, with an emphasis on still defending hard, Beilein said.
In addition, he stressed, limiting Indiana's ability to create turnovers and score in transition will be crucial.
"They're really good at it," Beilein said of Indiana's ability to draw fouls. "They're downhill so much. Defending that is not as easy as people think, especially given their quickness at a few positions, and their ability to shoot. They stretch you, and then they drive you.
"Zeller is great at getting to the foul line as well. We've had this before, maybe at Minnesota, where they were going to the foul line like crazy and we weren't sending people to the foul line like crazy. It's a battle of two wills.
"At the same time, we don't want to play like wimps and let them score because we don't want to foul. We've got to be very mindful of that."
Beilein is also mindful of Oladipo, who averages 2.4 steals per game and can be a very disruptive force on defense. Oladipo generated a number of transition buckets in Indiana's recent win over Michigan State.
"He anticipates very well," Beilein said. "You have to see that. Sometimes, when guys really anticipate, that defense can create offense for either team. It creates offense for them, but it can create offense for us.
"They're averaging seven and a half steals a game. We're up to six right now, which I'm really happy with. They can feed off that transition game, and the best way to get transition is to turn people over.
"That's another thing we don't do. If we keep our numbers low, then you eliminate five or six times down the floor. In transition, they are probably going to score or get fouled. If the numbers are right - 4-on-3, 3-on-2, 5-on-4 - they're going to score."
Bottom line, Beilein said - from venue to opponent, Michigan has its hands full.
"They have not had too many close games, and they're really a terrific team," he said. "It's a big challenge. Every game is such a huge challenge for me, I don't differentiate, but it certainly is a very talented team."
• Beilein said redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan was going to attempt to practice today, and that it would signal his availability for the Indiana game.
"We won't know until he moves out there a little bit," Beilein said. "He has really worked hard at it. He has had a tremendous attitude, whether it's rehab, weight room, workouts, everything, to be in shape. We'll see what he can do.
"If Jordan cannot go today, then it's obvious he wouldn't start. I want to do what's best for the team and what's best for him. You're looking long range, but at the same time, you never know when he can give us a few minutes."
• Beilein noted that fifth-year senior guard Corey Person got the nod to try and imitate the pesky Oladipo in practice.
"He really can go out and guard people," Beilein said. "He gets in passing lanes. He probably leads the scout team in steals, if we ever took that stat. He's a tremendous athlete."
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