Sunday was the best game of the season for Indiana. Not only because it came against one of the best teams Indiana has played this year or that the win came after an embarrassing road loss to Nebraska, but because Tom Crean showed what he can do for the Hoosiers.
It's one thing to beat a team off something flukey or beat an equally matched team off some crazy shot, but it's another to beat a better team simply because you out-schemed them. Indiana out-schemed Michigan on Sunday and it was the biggest reason that they sent the Wolverines home with a loss.
What is perhaps so impressive about this fact is that John Beilein is regarded as one of the best "x's and o's" coaches in the nation. Even fierce rivals of Michigan respect what he has accomplished over his career and the kind of offense and plays he has developed for his team. Not only has he built a pretty solid program in Ann Arbor that does not lose all too often, but they almost never lose because he is out-schemed. Sure, his teams have issues now and then, but it is not often due to something directly from the coaching staff.
On Sunday, Crean came up with an excellent plan on how to slow down Michigan's offense that was rated #3 on KenPom entering the game. This was not the offense from a bad or even an average team. Michigan's offense has been very good. Entering Sunday's game with Indiana, Michigan had scored at least 75 points in its last 5 games, at least 70 for its last 7 games, and at least 60 for every game this season. On Sunday, a reeling Hoosier team not only beat Michigan, but they held their offense to just 52 points. Michigan has already played Arizona, Duke, Florida State, Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Stanford, and Wisconsin and not one of them could hold Michigan to even 60 points. Indiana held them to 52.
How did they do it? What made Indiana so special? Indiana's defense is pretty good, but it's not like the Hoosier defense is better than Arizona's defense. The key thing here were the matchups that Crean used to slow down Michigan's offense and primarily Nik Stauskas. For the past few weeks, Stauskas has been tearing apart the Big Ten. He scored just 6 points against Indiana.
The biggest part of this gameplan was to put Yogi Ferrell on Stauskas. Not only did Ferrell slow down Stauskas, but he virtually took him out of the game. Stauskas only attempted 6 shots. That's the lowest of his season during conference play. Sure, he was not making shots when he got opportunities, but the big thing was that he wasn't even getting looks. When you don't even let a guy like Stauskas get a look, it's a huge bonus to your team. Ferrell was able to keep him in front of him and used his foot speed to ensure that Stauskas could not get around him and into the lane. Maybe Michigan should have tried to push here a little more, but they just never got him the ball.
The second part of this strategy was the use of Noah Vonleh. Not only would Indiana put Ferrell on Stauskas, but they would also bring out Vonleh to use his length. Indiana did get burned on this a couple of times when Stauskas got it inside with a pass, but overall, it kept Stauskas from taking good looks because of Vonleh's height advantage. When you can't get into the lane due to Ferrell's speed and can't shoot due to Vonleh's length, it's hard to really make an impact, even if you play like Stauskas. If you do not believe Indiana was doing something special, just listen to Beilein's postgame comments:
Beilein said no opponent has guarded Michigan the same way Indiana did today in his seven years at U-M— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) February 2, 2014
There were many effects to this, but none greater than forcing other guys to handle the ball. Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton were forced to take big roles in the offense and frankly, they just could not quite get enough to beat Indiana, especially when Ferrell is playing insanely at the other end. Add in that Michigan could not get it inside to guys like Jordan Morgan or Jon Horford who had a mismatch when Vonleh went outside and it is easy to understand why Indiana had such defensive success.
There are going to be a lot of people who give all the credit for this win to Ferrell. There's no doubt that he was on fire. If he isn't hitting all of those threes, maybe Indiana does not win, but there is one thing for sure. If Crean had not made these defensive adjustments, Indiana probably is not even in this game. To put the brakes on Michigan's offense like that cannot be undervalued in the game's outcome. If Crean can continue to make these kind of adjustments, maybe the Hoosiers have just enough to make it to March.