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Breaking Down Big Ten's Outlook After Epic Michigan vs. Indiana Matchup

Lee SchechterContributor IIIFebruary 5, 2013

Breaking Down Big Ten's Outlook After Epic Michigan vs. Indiana Matchup

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    After Saturday's powerhouse matchup between the Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan Wolverines, one team sits at the top of the Big Ten standings.

    The top-ranked Hoosiers stood their ground on their home court at Assembly Hall to push their record to 20-2 overall and 8-1 in the conference.  

    While Indiana now controls the top spot of the standings, the field is still wide open in an extremely tight conference.  

    The competition in college basketball's best conference is deep.  Any team can win on any given night.  The last team standing at the end of the season will need to hold serve at home and steal a few wins on the road.  

    Though Indiana is in control at the halfway point, how does this past weekend's battle of conference heavyweights impact the outlook of the Big Ten for the balance of the season?

Indiana Hoosiers

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    The Indiana Hoosiers reclaimed the AP poll's No. 1 ranking with the big win over the then-top-ranked Wolverines.  

    Everyone knows that the inside presence of preseason All-American sophomore center Cody Zeller and the all-around contributions of guard Victor Oladipo can take the Hoosiers a long way this season.

    But Indiana changed its position in the Big Ten against Michigan by asserting its defensive prowess.  The Hoosiers showed that they now have the defensive unity to take control of an extremely competitive conference.  

    According to Matt Giles of ESPN.com (Insider membership required), "The Hoosiers held Michigan to just 1.01 points per possession, one of the very few occasions when UM has been held that close to the one point mark."

    Seeing as how Michigan averages 1.22 points per possession, the Hoosiers clearly got the job done and limited the Wolverines' potent offense.  

    Indiana is going to continue to pound the ball inside to Zeller and rely on spot-up shooting from guards Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell and forwards Will Sheehey and Christian Watford.  

    But it's the Hoosiers defense that will carry them to a Big Ten title.  

    Giles also notes how Indiana is truly handcuffing teams in the halfcourt, holding opponents to just .67 points per isolation play and .78 when a team attempts a jump-shot.

    By winning the half-court battles with tight man-to-man defense, the Hoosiers are forcing more turnovers and limiting opponent's scoring chances. 

    Giles discusses the turnover rate and coach Tom Crean's commitment to the relatively unknown statistic of deflections:

    IU is generating more turnovers—20 percent turnover rate during Big Ten play—and the squad is doing well causing deflections, a stat Crean and his coaching staff track each game as a way to help measure defensive pressure. The ability for each IU defender to stay with their respective 'man' means there are less gaps for opponents, and fewer chances to have the defense caught out of position.

     

    Indiana's defense has improved, but with road games against Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan, the Hoosiers are bound to slip up.  

Michigan State Spartans

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    Michigan State has worked itself back into contention for a Big Ten title.  

    With a conference record of 7-2, the Spartans are in the same position as other top contenders like Ohio State and Michigan.  Michigan State has solid wins over Illinois and Ohio State but still has the bulk of their schedule remaining.  

    Head coach Tom Izzo has his team focused on the road ahead and knows his team's potential.  

    Freshman Gary Harris is the key to a conference title for Izzo's team.  Harris has put up back-to-back solid performances against Illinois and Indiana, with 14 and 21 points, respectively. Harris needs to continue to assert himself offensively.

    Keith Appling will keep on scoring, but the Spartans deep runs over the years have been on the backs of elite guard play.  Players such as Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green, who played more at point guard than forward, led Michigan State to Big Ten titles.

    This season, Izzo has the backcourt talent to lead the Spartans to a conference championship.

    He also has an extremely resilient team.  Michigan State can never be counted out, and the Spartans are an especially tough team in the second half of games, as noted by ESPN Stats and Information following the team's recent win over Illinois:

    Michigan State outscored Illinois 53-38 in the 2nd half tonight. In the 3 games this season when MSU has trailed at home at the half, the Spartans have outscored their opponents in the 2nd half by a combined 45 points while shooting 63 percent.

     

    But Michigan State still has to play half of its remaining games on the road, including back-to-back games against Ohio State and Michigan.  The Spartans have to play Indiana right before, which means the Spartans play the other three top contenders in the Big Ten in three straight games.  

    Tom Izzo will have his team ready to make a run for the Big Ten title, but the competition will prove to be too stiff. 

    The prediction here is that the Spartans will lose two of the three games in that tough stretch against Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan. If the Spartans want the title, they will realistically need to win all three games.  

    Right now, the Spartans are within striking distance, but the Big Ten is too strong, and the Spartans outlook for a conference title is grim.  

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Ohio State is locked up with Michigan State and Michigan in a tie for second place in the Big Ten with a record of 7-2.

    With a big win over Michigan, the Buckeyes are set up to make a strong run.  Now Ohio State has Round 2 with the Michigan Wolverines, with the chance of beating them twice this season.  

    So far this season, the Buckeyes have won the games they were expected to win but have lost a few close games against ranked teams, including Duke, Kansas, Illinois and Michigan State.  

    The Buckeyes ride forward Deshaun Thomas through thick and thin, but Thomas needs help to win big games. He may be able to find that in junior guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. 

    Smith is coming off a 21-point performance against Nebraska but has been virtually nonexistent in big games.  Against Duke, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan, Smith averaged only 5.0 points per game—not enough to support Thomas.  

    Five of the Buckeyes' remaining nine games are against ranked teams, including Tuesday's throw down with the Wolverines in Ann Arbor and two games against currently No.1-ranked Indiana.  

    Ohio State will struggle down the stretch and fall short of a Big Ten title, due to the lack of support for Thomas and the Buckeyes' intense Big Ten schedule.  

Michigan Wolverines

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    Michigan is coming off of a tough loss on the road to the Hoosiers, but the Wolverines can quickly get back on track with a win at home at the Crisler Center against the rival Buckeyes.  

    Dating back to last season, Michigan has a record of 28-1 at home, so they're counting on a win against Ohio State.

    The Wolverines cannot afford to get behind in this upcoming game. ESPN.com's recap addressed Michigan's slow start against the Hoosiers:  "But the biggest problem was that Michigan spent virtually the entire night trying to play catch-up after Indiana jumped to a 20-7 lead just 5:02 into the game."

    The Wolverines also went down on the road to Ohio State, trailing by as many as 21 points, before rallying in the second half to tie the game.

    Michigan fought back in both road losses, but ultimately the holes they dug in each game were too deep.  

    Freshman forward Glenn Robinson III struggled in the loss to Indiana and freshman guard Nik Stauskas struggled in both games.  Against the Hoosiers, Robinson III scored two points on 1-of-6 shooting and was virtually a non-factor.  Stauskas also struggled with his shooting, going 3-of-10 from the floor, including 1-of-5 from three-point land.

    Michigan is a very young team and needs its youngsters to step up. And they will.

    After being tested in their two losses, Michigan's younger players gained some big-game experience that will go a long way. 

    The Wolverines have the necessary offensive talent, defensive toughness and elite point guard play.  Add to those things the fact that the Wolverines are getting significant contributions from the bench.

    Junior forward Jon Horford and freshman forward Mitch McGary are two reservers who have been providing Michigan with quality minutes.  The duo adds depth to the front line with their rebounding and intense play.  

    In his last three games, McGary averaged 7.3 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game. He also gives Michigan the energy up front to complement the team's fast guard play.

    The Wolverines also have a favorable schedule in comparison to some of the other contenders in the Big Ten.  

    Michigan has two true road tests remaining: the Wisconsin Badgers, who are always tough at home, and the Michigan State Spartans.  

    But, with winnable home games against Ohio State and Indiana, the Wolverines are in very good position to steal back the top spot in the Big Ten and take home the regular season conference title.

    Indiana controls its destiny and looks poised to win the conference, but the Wolverines have the best outlook, even after losing at Indiana.

    Michigan will take home the Big Ten regular season title.

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