Big Ten play is back in full swing and one of the conference’s bigger rivalries takes center stage Sunday inside Crisler Center when #2 Michigan (14-0, 3-0 B1G) hosts #21 Indiana (12-2, 3-0 B1G) in a battle between conference co-leaders. Michigan is coming off a 68-55 win over Penn State on Thursday. Indiana defeated Illinois 73-65 at Assembly Hall that same evening. Sunday’s game marks Michigan’s first game vs a ranked opponent since playing Purdue on December 1.
“Indiana is gonna give us great challenges… They have impressive wins in Butler and Louisville, but they have a more veteran time than you would think.” surmised Michigan coach John Beilein. “They got five guys that have been around, either fifth-year guys or guys who are juniors, and that is rare today, to have five guys that are juniors or seniors that are all gonna play.”
Leading that group of veteran players is 6’8 senior Juwan Morgan. The Hoosier captain was a preseason All-Big Ten selection and is living up to that billing, averaging 16 points per game and pulling down almost 8 rebounds per game. Morgan had 24 points against Michigan in the teams’ lone meeting last season at Crisler Center. He will be looking for a similar performance Sunday.
“He’s playing the five-man more, last year he played a lot of the four-man. I have to watch more of him, he’s really good, I don’t think he is a good matchup for everyone.” Beilein said when asked about Morgan, he also praised Indiana’s coaching staff for Morgan’s development since arriving on campus in 2015.
The Hoosiers also feature one of the most dynamic freshmen in the country in guard Romeo Langford. The New Albany, IN native leads his team in minutes per game (33) and scoring average (18.6 points per game.) Both Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews will likely be switching on and off Langford to keep him at bay. Langford is shooting 51% from the floor, but is not a threat from downtown, averaging only 21.6 percent from 3PT and shooting only 3-5 attempts from beyond the arc each game. If Michigan can key on Langford defensively, the Wolverines should take care of business.
On the opposite side of the court, Michigan’s fantastic freshman, Ignas Brazdeikis, is looking forward to another challenge in the Big Ten. Brazdeikis played 38 minutes in Thursday’s win over Penn State and collected his first career double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
“I love playing big matchup games, big teams, I live for those games,” Brazdeikis said on Friday. “I feel like most of the players on our team do as well, and I feel like we’ll be real ready for it. Just being in the moment, just focusing, and trying to be the best team, and always being hungrier than the other team.”
One of the x-factors for Michigan will be the availability of sixth man Isaiah Livers. The sophomore forward missed Thursday’s game vs. Penn State with back spasms and is questionable for Sunday. “There doesn’t seem to be any damage. Some nerves are obviously giving him pain, and so how’s that happening and how can we reduce that as quickly as we can?” Replied Beilein regarding Livers status.
The coach said Livers undergo treatment leading up to the game as the medical staff continues to monitor his status. If Livers is not able to play, the Wolverines are preparing to use freshman forward Brandon Johns Jr. in a limited version of Livers role. While Livers return would be a boost, Beilein sees it as another challenge his undefeated team can embrace. “Moe Wagner had the sprained ankle last year for two games, made (Jon) Teske better.” Beilein referenced when discussing the challenge. “Somehow this is gonna make some of us better or make us experiment really. This whole idea of Brandon playing more or Charles playing as a four-man will really make us better.”
Sunday presents Michigan’s first major challenge since escaping the team’s challenging three-game gauntlet just over one month ago where the Wolverines defeated North Carolina, Purdue, and Northwestern. So long as that Michigan team shows up Sunday as opposed to the team that has looked sluggish out of the gates against Penn State, Binghamton, and other non-conference foes, the Wolverines should be able to ride their strong defense and functioning offense to a win. Penn State’s defense gave Michigan fits in the first half on Thursday, as did a number of bad turnovers. Michigan will need to limit those against an Indiana team that now ranks 25th in defensive efficiency per KenPom, which is the same ranking Penn State occupied when the Nittany Lions played in Ann Arbor. If Indiana gets out to a strong start on both ends of the floor, Michigan must keep its composure and limit turnovers if the Wolverines are to move on to 15-0. John Beilein surmised that mistake-free basketball will give Michigan its best shot to remain undefeated.
“We’ll have to play better than we did last night (vs Penn State,) but if we play defense how we did last night, we’ll probably have a chance.” Beilein said plainly.
Sunday’s game tips off at 4:30 PM inside Crisler Center and will be broadcasted on television by CBS with Spero Dedes & Clark Kellogg at the announce table. Radio audiences can hear Matt Shephard and Terry Mills call the game locally on 950 AM/102.9 FM or Channel 81 on Sirius/XM satellite radio nationally.