No. 1 Michigan, No. 3 Indiana to meet in program's biggest game in decades

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By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 31, 2013

All week, Michigan players and coaches insisted that they were taking one game at a time, not looking past Wednesday’s Northwestern game and ahead to the looming matchup at Indiana on Saturday.

Michigan coach John Beilein even said on Tuesday that the only reason he knew the Hoosiers game was approaching was because he had to approve the flight schedule.

But after the top-ranked Wolverines blew past the Wildcats, 68-46, and Indiana rolled through Purdue hours later, the prizefight between two of the nation’s top-three teams is set for Saturday night, where Bloomington’s esteemed Assembly Hall will serve as center stage.

“It’s going to be crazy,” said sophomore point guard Trey Burke. “A lot of guys have us as underdogs in this game. Indiana being No. 1 coming into the season, it’s kind of like we’re playing the No. 1 team in our minds.”

The game, full of both NCAA Tournament seeding and Big Ten championship implications, is likely the biggest regular-season matchup in any Michigan sport since the second-ranked Wolverine football team fell to No. 1 Ohio State in 2006. It’s perhaps Michigan’s most momentous regular-season basketball contest since the fourth-ranked Wolverines lost, 93-92, at No. 1 Indiana on Feb. 14, 1993. This year’s meeting will replace that one as the highest-ranked matchup in Assembly Hall’s 42-year existence.

And if No. 1 vs. No. 3 wasn’t big enough, ESPN’s College GameDay crew will be broadcasting live from Assembly Hall on Saturday morning and in the hour leading up to the 9 p.m. tip-off. Unlike football’s version of GameDay, where show producers select the biggest game of the weekend just a week in advance, this game was picked months ago, but obviously turned out to be the right selection. Since GameDay visited Ann Arbor last year, a new analyst — Fab Five member Jalen Rose — has been added to the set, adding yet another storyline to the build-up for the game.

Three of Michigan’s freshmen — point guard Spike Albrecht and forwards Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary — hail from the Hoosier state, making the game all the more meaningful.

“I just can’t wait to play in there,” Robinson said. “I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like.”

But with all the build-up surrounding the game, the Wolverines (7-1 Big Ten, 20-1 overall) need to be wary of duplicating the result of their only loss of the season, which came on the road in Columbus. In that game, Michigan fell behind by 21 before its comeback effort fell short. The deficit was largely due, as Beilein likes to say, to the Wolverines’ attempts to hit home runs, or in other words, trying to do too much.

“That’s something we’ve gotten better at over the last couple weeks,” Burke said. “Coach says, ‘There’s no such thing as a 20-point shot.’ We just have to continue to hit singles, make the right play (and) hit the open man. I think that’s the biggest thing for us.”

While no team ever wants to lose, players and coaches have insisted that losing provides more growth and teaching opportunities than a 20-point win. Because of the loss to Ohio State, Burke believes the team may be better equipped to handle the hostile environment headed its way.

“We picked up a lot,” he said of the Jan. 13 loss. “Just being a young team on the road, we know that it’s really critical to just come out very strongly and respond to the first punch, try to keep the crowd as neutral as possible, try to keep the runs as limited as possible.”

The biggest question mark leading up to Saturday’s game will revolve around the status of redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan’s right ankle. Morgan — who injured the ankle while landing awkwardly in Michigan’s win at Illinois on Sunday — has yet to practice since and missed Wednesday’s game. It’s uncertain whether he’ll be available on Saturday.

Though the Wolverines got steady contributions from Morgan’s replacement in the starting lineup, redshirt sophomore forward Jon Horford, Michigan would miss the experience Morgan provides both with the ball screen and as the last line of defense.

Northwestern, not a team known for its interior presence, was able to capitalize on several low-post breakdowns, and hung with the Wolverines on the glass. Morgan’s absence could turn into a major issue, given the size and talent of Indiana (7-1, 19-2). Preseason All-American Cody Zeller, a 7-foot forward, leads the Hoosiers in both points per game (16) and rebounds per game (8.1), while reigning Big Ten Player of the Week Victor Oladipo is averaging 13.9 points, six rebounds and 2.5 steals per game — vaulting himself into the National Player of the Year discussion alongside Burke.

But regardless of which team winds up being the favorite before the ball tips off, Burke insists that his team will show up focused and with something to prove.

“It’s very important to keep a chip on our shoulders, just because the target (of being the No. 1 team) is so big,” Burke said. “Like (assistant) coach LaVall (Jordan) says, ‘Once you get off the bus, you’re down 10 on the road.’ We’re just trying to do what we can to keep the crowd out of the game, keep their runs limited. We’ll be ready on Saturday.”