National television presents a difficult dilemma in college basketball.

Play well in front of a large audience, and the attention could garner praise from the media, coaches and the powers that be on the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

Conversely, a poor performance gets magnified because of the extra sets of eyes fixed upon televisions.

Unfortunately for Michigan, the latter has been the reality time and time again this season. The Wolverines are just 1-6 in nationally televised games, with that lone victory coming against lowly Miami (Ohio) on Dec. 7.

The Maize and Blue can impress a broad audience tomorrow afternoon when it faces No. 24 Indiana at Crisler Arena on ESPN.

“It always makes a difference when the game is on national television,” senior Dion Harris said. “Everybody wants to perform well and get a win in front of the world. No matter what people say, it makes a difference if the game is going to be on ESPN or not on television at all.”

But when the Wolverines (5-6 Big Ten, 17-9 overall) have had the chance to impress, they haven’t just lost; they’ve lost big. Michigan’s average margin of defeat is more than 17 points.

Among those nationally televised debacles was a 15-point loss courtesy of the Hoosiers in Bloomington on Jan. 27. In that game, it wasn’t Indiana star forward D.J. White who hurt the Wolverines. He was held to 15 points.

While Michigan was concerned with White inside, Indiana (7-4, 17-7) put on a shooting clinic from the perimeter. The Hoosiers hit 10 3-pointers and shot 50 percent from beyond the arc.

If the Wolverines want a shot at an upset tomorrow, solid perimeter defense will be a must. Michigan can’t be slow rotating or double-teaming on defense, or it will risk leaving Indiana’s dangerous shooters like guards A.J. Ratliff and Roderick Wilmont wide open again.

By comparison, the Wolverines hit just two trifectas in that January game. But at least in that case they could rely on their interior offense. After scoring just 44 points in Tuesday’s loss at Michigan State, offensive production is no longer a certainty – not by a long shot.

The Spartans constantly forced Michigan to set up its offense too far away from the basket, resulting in several shot-clock violations and numerous desperation heaves as the shot clock expired.

To make matters worse, the dreaded turnover bug returned, as the Wolverines reverted back to their old ways and committed 20 turnovers.

“We thought we overcame that – where we turned the ball over down the stretch and didn’t finish well,” Harris said. “Those are typical things that we’ve always gone through and that’s not good for us now going down the stretch.”

Theoretically, the Wolverines could force their way back into NCAA Tournament bubble talk, despite Tuesday’s latest setback.

But this year’s Michigan squad has yet to show the ability to defeat a quality opponent, which doesn’t bode well given the quality of its upcoming foes.

Saturday’s game gives the Wolverines a national audience to show themselves as a legitimate threat. Or it could turn into just another example of the mediocrity that has defined this season.

“It’s a must win,” senior Courtney Sims said. “It’s as simple as that. We have to get the win at home. (Indiana) is a good team, a ranked team, so we have to get that win at home.”

Indiana at Michigan


Indiana 17-7; Michigan 17-9

When: Saturday 4 P.M.

Where: Crisler Arena

TV/Radio: ESPN

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