It had better if the fading Hoosiers (15-10 overall, 5-7 in the Big Ten) are to rally and earn a NCAA tourney berth.
“It comes down to details,” guard Robert Johnson said. “Digging down deep and recognizing that when the game is on the line, everything matters. It’s a matter of being connected.”
IU has six remaining Big Ten games and every one is criticial, especially after the NCAA Selection Committee showed no love to the conference on Saturday when it released its early top-16 tourney seeds.
No Big Ten team made the list, not even No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 16 Purdue, which suggests what the committee thinks of the league as compared to the other power conferences. For instance, five ACC teams made it. Villanova of the Big East was considered the No. 1 overall seed.
That is not the Hoosiers’ immediate focus. Not when they’re trying to bounce back from Thursday’s home loss to Purdue, and four losses in the last five games.
They will face a Michigan team that pounded them 90-60 last month.
“We couldn’t have defended much worse than what we did,” coach Tom Crean said. “We never rebounded at a good enough level. We’re extremely anxious to go”
As far as containing the Wolverines’ offense, Crean said, “It’s more about not letting them have clean looks at the rim.”
It’s also a formidable follow-up after Purdue.
“With Purdue and Michigan,” Crean said, “that’s two of the hottest-shooting teams we’ve ever faced here in nine years.”
IU freshman forward De’Ron Davis, who was knocked out of the Purdue game in the second half after getting hit in the face, is making a fast recovery, Crean said.
“He’s better. We did very little with him (Friday). He was much better (Saturday).”
Forward Juwan Morgan is playing with a foot injury that isn’t fully healed. He said he’s not as explosive as he normally is, but “I’m progressing. I’ll be ready to play.”
Like Indiana, Michigan is on the NCAA bubble. It is 15-9 overall and 5-6 in the Big Ten. Coach John Beilein is pushing for more down-the-stretch consistency.
“Like we tell our kids, good is the enemy of great,” he said. “We sometimes have success and then let back. Our guys practice hard, but they have to practice harder.”
A huge Hoosier challenge will be containing guard Derrick Walton, who has played as well as any guard in the conference over the last four games, when he’s averaged 22.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists. He had 21 points, five assists and three rebounds in the first game with Indiana.
“Walton is playing at a high level, at an extremely confident level,” Crean said. “He has the benefit of guys making shots.”
For his career, Walton has 1,224 points, 493 rebounds and 400 assists. For the season he averages 14.3 points and 4.7 rebounds, and has 90 assists against 39 turnovers.
Zak Irvin,a former Indiana Mr. Basketball, averages 12.9 points and 4.5 rebounds. However, he’s really struggled in the last three games, going just 3-for-23 from the field for eight total points in that stretch.
“It’s important that guys like Derrick and Zak get rest,” Beilein. They did nothing for two days. Just lift weights. We think it will be helpful for both of them.
“The last three games were very disappointing for him. You’d love for him to have a good game down there in his home state, but Indiana will have something to say about that.”
The Wolverines ranks fifth in the nation at fewest fouls per game (15.2) and lead the Big Ten in free throw shooting at a school-record 79.3 percent.
Michigan has lost two of its last three games since routing Indiana, but is coming off an 86-57 win over rival Michigan State.
The Wolverines have lost six straight at Assembly Hall.
“Assembly Hall is one of the more difficult places to win in the league,” Beilein said. “We are a good-shooting team. The big question is — can we finish possessions at the other end?”
UP NEXT: Michigan at Indiana
TIPOFF: 1 p.m. Sunday
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