BLOOMINGTON -- Freshman Devin Davis wasn't recruited to Indiana to be a center/power forward. But if that's what it takes to get into the lineup and help the Hoosiers take down one more ranked team, bring it on.
With forward Noah Vonleh sidelined with an inflamed left foot, the 6-7, 221-pound Davis battled the likes of 6-11 Amir Williams of Ohio State and 6-10 Walter Pitchford of Nebraska.
He did well enough against Nebraska on Wednesday -- seven points, three rebounds in a Big Ten-high 15 minutes -- to earn praise from coach Tom Crean for his “warrior” mentality.
Can Davis duplicate that mentality tonight when the Hoosiers (17-13) play at Big Ten champ Michigan (22-7)? If Vonleh against can't go, is Davis ready for the rugged battles sure to come against the Wolverines' center combo of 6-10 Jon Horford and 6-9 Jordan Morgan?
“I would say it does come naturally,” he said. “In practice every day battling against Noah and with how physical practice, it does come naturally.”
Davis has spent most of the season as an off-the-bench after thought. He averages 8.0 minutes, just 5.9 in Big Ten play. He produces just 2.0 points and 2.4 rebounds a game. Until Nebraska, he hadn't score more than four points since late December.
But while his court time didn't show it, Davis was improving.
“I feel I've gotten a lot stronger,” he said. “I'm more athletic and smarter. I'm able to play personnel in the game and know who can do what, and be able to out-tough them.”
“We just need him to be more consistent. We're asking young guys like Devin to play considerable minutes and be very productive. He was giving up some size and did a nice job.”
Davis' impact tonight depends on whether or not Vonleh plays. If Vonleh can't, Davis will help replace him again along with Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Jeremy Hollowell.
“Noah being out hurts us,” he said. “We all wish he could be in the game. Me, Hanner and Jeremy know we have to step up and help the team.”
Vonleh remains a game-time decision. Crean said he thought Vonleh was set to play against Nebraska, and that didn't work out.
“We'll see,” Crean said. “He was in practice some (Friday). I fully thought that he'd be able to go the other day and he just wasn't. I know he wants to play. I'm not going to go out on a limb like the other day. I thought pretty much that he would. We'll have to wait and see.”
IU went unorthodox in defending Michigan last month in Assembly Hall and the result was a 62-53 victory. Swingman Will Sheehey defended Morgan. Despite giving up at least six inches, point guard Yogi Ferrell took on Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas. Vonleh went on the perimeter to guard the Wolverines' Glenn Robinson III. The Hoosiers switched ball screens to shut down the dribble drive.
It worked. Stauskas scored a season-low six points on 1-for-6 shooting and Michigan scored its season low for points.
Crean wasn't about to give away his strategy for tonight, but figure the Hoosiers will use the same approach until the Wolverines prove they can handle it. Also figure that Michigan coach John Beilein has figured out counter.
“I think they'll keep Stauskas in great movement,” Crean said. “They're so good with their spacing. We have some ideas of what they might try to do, but nobody we've seen has tried to guard them that way, so it's not like we've seen the adjustments they've made. I would imagine that they'll just keep Stauskas in movement a lot. I think they'll try to post us some. There's a lot of different things they can do. We just have to adjust.”
IU has won the last two meetings against Michigan, and three of the last four. The Hoosiers' dramatic 72-71 win at Michigan last year gave them the out-right Big Ten championship and prevented the Wolverines from sharing the title.
This year Michigan has already clinched the championship with a 14-3 record.
“There's a specific way you have to play Michigan,” Davis said. “We've been preparing for them since the Nebraska game. They have great floor spacing. We have to guard as a team and play with Indiana toughness.”
Meanwhile, the Hoosiers have new uniforms. They won't wear them at Michigan, but they will for the Big Ten tournament. The uniforms are a tribute to the “Hurryin' Hoosiers “ teams that helped former coach Branch McCracken win IU's first two national championships.
The phrase “Hurryin' Hoosiers” will appear on the jersey and on the shorts. The new uniforms come from IU's partnership with adidas.
“Particularly given that our current style of play is reminiscent of the "Hurryin' Hoosier" teams of the great Branch McCracken era, it is highly appropriate for our team to don these uniforms as a fun meld of our beloved and storied tradition with cutting edge design and uniform technology," IU athletic director Fred Glass said in a university release.
“It is no secret that we have shied away from special uniforms that depart dramatically from our traditional look. We are so appreciative to adidas for working with us to develop these fun and exciting, yet tradition-based uniforms.”