Indiana Basketball: 10 Things We Learned from Win over Michigan
As Jordan Morgan's putback of a Trey Burke layup came to a complete stop on the Crisler Center rim, the stakes of Michigan vs. Indiana in the regular season finale came into stark relief.
Big Ten tournament seedings, potential NCAA tournament seedings, a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship—it's not hyperbole to claim that entire season's rode on that shot.
When the shot fell away harmlessly to the floor, Indiana's players, coaches and fans were finally free to celebrate an outright Big Ten title for the first time in two decades. The victory was not without its warts, but there were also causes for optimism headed into tournament season.
Here are 10 takeaways from the season's scintillating end.
Free-Throws Are Always Key
Michigan came into Sunday's game shooting 71.1 percent from the foul line, fourth in the Big Ten.
Entering the final minute, the Wolverines were 6-for-9 on free-throws, only to suffer a mighty attack of the yips. Glenn Robinson III split a pair, then veteran leaders Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke left one-and-ones begging.
Robinson and Hardaway are both above 70 percent from the line on the season, and Burke shoots almost 80 percent himself.
With those five points left on the table, Indiana was able to get two interior baskets and a pair of those pesky free-throws out of Cody Zeller.
For Burke especially, those shots were a bitter end to a 15-point second half.
Big Ten Player of the Year: Nothing Is Settled
Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo came into the game as the primary candidates for Big Ten Player of the Year. At times, viewers would be forgiven if they had asked the other eight players to clear the court so the two stars could play one-on-one for all the marbles.
When the final horn sounded, Oladipo's team had emerged victorious and both players had accrued impressive numbers. Burke led Michigan with 20 points, four assists and three steals, while Oladipo produced 14 points, a game-high 13 rebounds and three assists of his own.
The tipping point of the entire argument may center around the things that didn't show up on the stat sheet. Oladipo spent large portions of the game facing up on Burke. Some of those possessions went by with Burke touching the ball once, if at all.
The Wolverines' offense is point guard-dominated, which is what makes some aspects of Burke's season as impressive as they are. However, the fact that Oladipo was occasionally able to write Burke out of the script may tip the scales in the Hoosier's favor.
For his part, Oladipo has his own choice as to a deserving winner:
Oladipo on Zeller winning B10 Player of the Year: "If ya'll don't give it to him, there's somethig wrong with ya'll." #iubb— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) March 10, 2013
Erratic Substitution Is Best Done Early
At halftime, CBS Sports' Doug Gottlieb was highly critical of Indiana coach Tom Crean's substitution patterns. The use of rarely-seen freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea caused some head-scratching on Twitter, as did the minutes played with Zeller, Oladipo and Yogi Ferrell all on the bench.
After halftime, though, Crean tightened up the rotation and rode with his six best men, aside from five solid minutes by freshman Jeremy Hollowell and two forgettable ones from Remy Abell.
Minutes do have to be found somewhere for the Hoosiers' stars to rest, and it's best to give those players a breather early, before the onset of crunch time.
Still, Crean needs to spread out those breaks a bit, because the Hoosiers struggle mightily to score with no Zeller or Oladipo on the court, or even Ferrell there to run the offense.
IU's Bench: Fashionably Late
The complaints alluded to on the previous slide would not have occurred had the likes of Perea and Abell been playing well in the first half.
The IU bench accounted for three turnovers, eight missed shots and nary a point before the intermission. After the break, the first man to show up was not the pictured Will Sheehey, it was Jeremy Hollowell.
The freshman carded five points and three rebounds in the span of two-and-a-half minutes, then Sheehey produced a couple of baskets as the lead see-sawed back and forth.
Without those two players producing as they did, the game could have gotten out of hand in the second half. If the bench had made plays earlier, though, those interested in an IU victory would have been saved a great deal of stress.
Save for a couple of 3-pointers in the final minute against Minnesota, Indiana has been unable to count on recent production from the usually reliable Christian Watford.
Over his last four games, Watford has made only 8-of-30 from the floor (26.7 percent). Against Michigan, he missed six of seven, making only a single 3-pointer late in the first half.
A player who had put up 16 straight double-figure games before the trip to Minnesota, Watford is averaging only seven points per game in his last four. He is 5-of-11 from the arc in that span and averaging 4.5 rebounds per game, but the Hoosiers need him to remain an offensive weapon wherever he is on the court.
The Indiana offense, similar to Duke's, is easier to frustrate when its ace stretch-four is unproductive.
Maybe Michigan Should Cancel Senior Day
In each of the past two seasons, the Michigan Wolverines have lost exactly one home game.
Both have been the final home encounter, both have come on Senior Day and both have come against the Big Ten's Hoosier state contingent.
Last year, UM fell to Purdue in its home finale, and this year Indiana ends the dream of a perfect home slate.
Senior Day may be a jinx.
Finally, the Hoosiers Rebound
The victory over Michigan was the first time in five games the Hoosiers have outrebounded their opponents. An overwhelming 53-30 advantage on the glass should usually lead to a comfortable win, especially when a team rips 24 caroms on its offensive end.
IU pulled down a ludicrous 57 percent of its missed shots, and those were turned into 17 second-chance points.
Indiana is one of the top 60 offensive rebounding teams in the nation, and in this game, they looked like number one. The bad news is that this is the fifth consecutive game in which the Hoosiers made less than 45 percent of their shots.
It's not easy to count on 50-percent shooting or offensive rebounding, but IU could be in for some struggles if it can't manage one or the other.
Every Play Should Run Through Zeller
In the kind of performance most observers were expecting when they named him a preseason All-America favorite, Indiana center Cody Zeller finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds. He dropped in the final six points of the game, including a pair of free-throws similar to the ones that the Wolverines left begging.
The Indiana offense was most effective when Zeller at least found a touch close to the basket. Michigan left only one defender on him until he began working on post moves, and only Jordan Morgan seemed able to slow him even occasionally.
All seemed lost in the late going when Yogi Ferrell threw away an entry pass and Zeller was whistled for a travel, but the Wolverines left the door ajar with the misses on their end. From there, the Big Handsome went to work.
Just because the national discussion has painted Indiana's games as a non-stop Victor Oladipo highlight reel, no one should be prepared to forget about Zeller and his impact inside.
Defensive Pressure Lacking
Another statistic that misleads regarding this dramatic game is the second-half turnover figure.
Michigan had none. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis. I could go on, but I would hope that by now, you get the point.
Play the entire second half without turning the ball over and you're usually cruising to a comfortable win, especially against a team that thrives off of opponent errors.
The Hoosiers entered the game forcing turnovers on 21.5 percent of opponents' possessions, second-most in the Big Ten. In this game, the rate was 9.4. Michigan wasn't even helping out by putting up a terrible array of shots, either, making 43 percent in the second half. That's mediocre, but not ugly.
Perhaps it's to be expected against a Wolverine squad that boasts the nation's second-best turnover percentage. Still, a team featuring defensive aces like Oladipo and Ferrell should be able to force at least a handful of mistakes in a 20-minute span.
Any More Contenders for Midwest No. 1?
Last week, we examined the likelihood of other candidates to beat IU to the wire and snag the NCAA tournament's overall top seed. At this point, No. 1 overall isn't even the prize, as Hoosier Nation just wants to be able to take a one-hour pilgrimage up Highway 37 to Indianapolis.
Now that Indiana has finished the sweep of Michigan, there may only remain one team strong enough and close enough to rate a trip to Indy: the Louisville Cardinals.
As noted here, Louisville's resume isn't that different from Indiana's, with the primary separator being IU's array of major wins against conference foes.
However, if Indiana doesn't come to play in the Big Ten tournament and Louisville makes its second straight sweep to a Big East title, the committee will have a dilemma on its hands.
One win should be enough to cement the Hoosiers' top-line status. That win, however, will have to come against either Illinois or Minnesota, both of whom have gotten the better of IU once this season.
It never gets any easier, eh?
For more from Scott on college basketball, including this week's players to watch at every conference tournament, check out The Back Iron.