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March 8, 2014
IU gives Michigan plenty to play for
The Michigan Wolverines (22-7, 14-3) have wrapped up the regular season title so what can motivate them tonight in the regular season finale at Ann Arbor? How about the Indiana team that narrowly wrestled away a share of the conference crown from them a year ago and took one from the Wolverines last month in Bloomington?
So yeah, plenty of motivation for Michigan today.
Indiana's 63-52 win over the Wolverines on February 2nd was the third straight win for the Hoosiers in the series and fourth in the last five meetings. It was a nightmare game for the visitors as John Beilein's team shot a conference low 40.0 percent from the floor and gave up 53.5 percent shooting to Indiana. That remains the Hoosiers highest field goal shooting during the Big Ten season.
Michigan failed to handle Yogi Ferrell throughout that loss. The sophomore point guard had one of the best performances of the conference season by any player, hitting 7-for-8 from beyond the arc and 8-for-10 overall in a 27-point effort. Freshman Noah Vonleh also contributed a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. His work helped Indiana outboard the visitors by 10 rebounds.
Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Nik Stauskas (17.3 ppg) was held to a conference low six points in that game, making just one of six shots from the floor.
"We just guarded him well, and we did a good job of limiting his touches and didn't give them a lot of great open looks. If they get open looks, then they are really good," said Indiana coach Tom Crean yesterday.
Really, really good is what Michigan was Tuesday night at Illinois. The Wolverines knocked down an amazing 16-for-23 from 3-point range. Stauskas led the way with 7-for-9 from that distance but Caris LeVert and reserves Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht all hit at least a pair from downtown.
Many expected Michigan to fall off from last year after losing Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA and center Mitch McGary to a season-ending back injury. But Stauskas and LeVert have taken big leaps this year as sophomores. LeVert has especially been good of late, averaging 18.0 points over his last five games.
"He doesn't try to do what he can't do, much improved ball handler and shooter and I think he's one of the better driving guards in the league because he really drops his shoulder and really pounds the ball and never over dribbles and really drives it with a fierceness," said Crean. "He also can see and makes passes. He is long and athletic so he can see over top of people and he looks like he would be a lot of fun to coach because he looks like he just continues to improve."
The center tandem of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford has helped absorb the loss of McGary. Both check in at 250 pounds and combined score 10 points and grab nine boards per game. Morgan, whose field goal mark of 67.4 percent is among the nation's best, has been hobbled by a back injury this week but yesterday John Beilein was optimistic about his status.
"He fell on his back and got a pretty good bruise, but he's a warrior, and nothing's stopping him from being able to play in his last game," Beilein said. "Pain would be the only thing that would keep him out of there, or if we see that he's not moving well."
Morgan is Michigan's only senior.
Indiana has a similar issue with its center, freshman Noah Vonleh. The 6-foot-10 starter has missed the last two games with a left foot injury.
"He was in practice some today, so we'll see," said Crean yesterday. "I know he wants to play. We'll just have to wait and see tomorrow."
As Big Ten champion Michigan is locked now into the No. 1 seed for next week's Big Ten Tournament. Indiana, with its current 7-10 conference mark, seems ticketed for the 8/9 seed game on Thursday. If the Hoosiers were to pull that out it would mean another game against the Wolverines on Friday in Indianapolis.
Just one more reason on top of many for the Wolverines to come out with plenty of motivation tonight.
"They beat us here last year on Senior Night. And they got us pretty good," said Beilein this week. "They led from wire to wire at their place this year. So, I think there's a strong sense of urgency for our guys now, that this is the way they'd like to finish the season."
This is an ESPN broadcast that tips at 6:00 p.m. Bob Wischusen and Dan Dakich will have the call.
For more on Michigan, check out the Hoosier Game Day page.
Projected Michigan starters and key reserves with current year stats: