Big Game Preview: No. 1 Michigan at No. 3 Indiana

It is not often that we devote serious attention to regular season NCAA games, but this weekend is different. We’ve got Zeller 2.0 plus the sons of former NBA stars Glenn Robinson and Tim Hardaway all on the same court when the No. 1 Michigan Wolverines play the No. 3 Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington, Indiana.

If I predicted this would happen, say, three years ago, the only people who might have agreed that they could see this coming would have been John Beilein, Tom Crean and their respective coaching staffs.

My prediction for the game is below.

Michigan hasn’t been ranked No. 1 in the nation since the start of the 1992-93 season, the second season it featured the Fab Five. The Wolverines have struggled to get back into the national conversation ever since, but have certainly re-arrived.

Indiana went through tumultuous times of its own, most notably from the middle of the 2007-08 season through the 2010-11 season. After buying out former coach Kelvin Sampson’s contract in February 2008, Indiana underwent a rough stretch. Coach Crean’s first three seasons were tough to watch, as the squad went 28-66 during that span. Christian Watford’s buzzer beater against No. 1 Kentucky helped to signal a rebirth for the historic program:

As both of these revitalized programs prepare to face each other Saturday night, they’re certainly aware that there is so much and so little at stake all at once; it’s a prime time national TV appearance for two programs on the upswing, yet it’s impossible for either team to win the Big Ten or NCAA Championship in one evening.

In the meantime, while you wait for the showdown, here are three key points to watch for during the game, which tips Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN:

Indiana’s Ball Pressure vs. Michigan’s Trey Burke: Can freshman Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and junior ballhawk Victor Oladipo take the ever-consistent-and-composed Trey Burke out of his rhythm? Or will Burke be able to set up the Wolverines’ offense at will? In all likelihood Ferrell and Oladipo will take turns guarding Burke to ensure that each player is fresh. While Ferrell is very quick, Oladipo is quick and possesses a 6-4 frame, which could help to disrupt Burke as he tries to get the offense in rhythm on the road in a hostile environment.

Last week in a win over Michigan State, Oladipo had seven steals. There is no denying his game-changing presence at the defensive end. Whether he guards Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. or Nick Stauskas (or all of the above), he will be a disruptive force.

If Burke, who sports a 3.7-to-1 assist-turnover ratio, can navigate the Hoosiers’ pressure defense –  which has struggled at times this season – he will ensure Michigan a chance to win the game. In their lone loss at Ohio State, Burke had an uncharacteristic four turnovers and shot just 4-of-13 as a result of Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott’s pressure defense. This aspect will be a huge key in determining the winner of the game.

Michigan’s Interior Defense vs. Cody Zeller: As everybody knows, Michigan coach John Beilein is willing to play zone defense at any moment.

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