Originally written on The Detroit Sports Site  |  Last updated 2/2/13
During every basketball season, there always exists watershed moments, where everyone learns about the mettle of players and teams. Such will be the case Saturday night, as the Michigan Wolverines make the trek south to take on the Indiana Hoosiers in perhaps the best college basketball game of the season. Both teams are highly ranked with dreams of Big Ten titles and Final Fours dancing in their heads. Whoever comes away with a victory will be full of confidence and primed toward a major second half run. Who will survive? How will they get it done? Wolverine Walkthrough readies you for perhaps the biggest college basketball game of the winter thus far. How Michigan Can Win: Limit the turnovers. Fortunately, the Wolverines are one of the more adept teams in the nation at doing this, so Saturday’s game against Indiana might be more of a fair fight than the Hoosiers’ last fight against the turnover prone Spartans. Wednesday against Northwestern, Michigan only tossed the ball away two times. The Hoosiers depend on turning teams over for easy points and quick change momentum shifts, especially at home. On the road, Michigan has to take care of the ball and make every possession a quality one. They need to attempt to attack Cody Zeller inside and get as many Hoosiers as possible in foul trouble. How Indiana Can Win: Lock down the guards. If one of Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr. struggle, Michigan’s chances of winning usually take a dramatic hit. Burke, being one of the best point guards in the country, is going to get his, given he’s averaging nearly 18 points per game this year. Given that, Indiana probably needs to lock down Hardaway and limit the damage of role guards Spike Albrecht and Nik Stauskas. In Michigan’s only loss, Burke and Hardaway combined for 27 points on 9-28 shooting. That’s not good enough to get a road win. The Hoosiers must swarm Michigan’s guards and panic them into bad decisions. Locking them down will help, given the Wolverines’ interior presence likely isn’t capable of keeping up with Zeller and company. The X-Factor: Nik Stauskas. Shooting 50 percent from three point range, Stauskas will be the equalizer against Indiana. If he can knock down some big buckets to answer Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and company, Michigan will stay in the game and have a great shot of winning. On the other hand, if Stauskas disappears, the Wolverines will have to count on Burke and Hardaway both putting on a show while someone else steps up. Bet on Stauskas to have a good game, however. The freshman hasn’t looked intimidated yet, and as Chantel Jennings alluded to on this week’s Detroit Sports Show, he believes he’s the best three point shooter in the country. Given that, count on him to make a unique impact on this game. Most Important Michigan Math: 13, representing the number of turnovers Michigan sustained in a road loss to Ohio State. This “Jeckyll and Hyde” Wolverine team cannot continue to appear nervous on the road and capable at home. If Michigan wants to win a big game and win the Big Ten, they need to be more in control under tough circumstances. If the Wolverines kick the ball around 13 times or more again Saturday night, they won’t escape Assembly Hall with their dignity, much less a win. Intangibles: The crowd and a “big game” feel. Teams think they know how to contend with the atmosphere, but until they actually hit the court at Assembly Hall, it’s impossible to prepare. Michigan is still relatively young, so will their players be fazed by some of the toughest surroundings in the Big Ten? In a similar ferocious atmosphere in Columbus, the Wolverines wilted under early pressure before settling in and coming back, and have lost several other big games in the past. Saturday night, a better start will be needed if Michigan wants to win. They need to feed off the crowd and answer Indiana big play for big play. Extended runs often bury teams in Bloomington due to the noise factor, so the Wolverines must play confident. With a win, Michigan could take a major step forward as a team to be feared nationally, and end the notion they can always be beaten away from Ann Arbor. Prediction: It’s tough to win on the road in the Big Ten, but even tougher to win in Indiana. The crowd and the environment does make a difference, and it helps pull the Hoosiers to another close win. Watch for Michigan to look more like the team which nearly came back on Ohio State against all odds. Still, Indiana makes a handful of plays to put them over the top at home. This close defeat will be no knock on the Wolverines, who will continue to learn and grow, remaining near the upper crust of the Big Ten and the national rankings. Indiana 76, Michigan 69 Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax
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