Going into today's game in Bloomington, the Michigan Wolverines were without their two of the team's best scorers: Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr. As a team that is floating around the middle of the Big Ten conference standings, this would have been a big win to jump start a vitally important rest of the season for John Beilein's team.
For Indiana, the Hoosiers were coming off a double-digit loss at Wisconsin. James Blackmon, Jr. returned after sitting out the game in Madison with an ankle injury. Though Indiana has made a justifiable case for an NCAA tournament bid thus far, a loss at home to Michigan would have put the Hoosiers back a step.
Indiana kept a decent lead over Michigan for the majority of the battle, allowing the Wolverines within a possession at some points in the second half. However, it did end up coming down to the wire after Indiana's six straight missed field goals put the Wolverines down by three with 14 seconds on the clock. Michigan had a good look for a corner three but came up short, sealing Indiana's 70-67 victory.
So, what did we learn from today's game in Bloomington?
What We Learned
James Blackmon, Jr. is Vital for Indiana
Although he only scored four points for the Hoosiers in the second half, James Blackmon Jr. was a force to be reckoned with in today's first half, scoring nine points. After sitting out the Wisconsin game with an ankle injury, Blackmon came out shooting .417 from the field with eight rebounds and two assists. Blackmon's quiet second half was evened out by statement performances by Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams, and with Blackmon, all of the pieces to Indiana's NCAA tournament puzzle look to be fitting into place. Averaging 16.5 points per game, the freshman Indiana native is the second leading scorer among Big Ten freshmen behind Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell.
Michigan Needs Defensive Stops
With its top two scorers out with injuries, Ricky Doyle and Zak Irvin stepped up offensively in today's game. Doyle, who averaged six points per game coming in, sunk 15 points for the Wolverines, while Irvin contributed 23, compared to his usual 13.2 points per game. However, it is on the defensive end where Michigan struggled to stop Indiana. The Michigan defense was no match for James Blackmon Jr. and Yogi Ferrell driving in the paint. Had they kept the defense tighter and forced even two or three stops more stops earlier in the game, then this game could have turned out differently. A tighter Michigan defense would have cut the deficit when Michigan had a scoreless streak late in the second half and may have turned the tables on the Wolverines' three point loss.
Indiana's Advantage in Bloomington
Coming off a loss at Wisconsin, Indiana needed a trip home to get back on a winning track. Michigan has not beaten the Hoosiers in Bloomington since 1999. This includes a matchup two years ago when the top ranked Wolverines could not handle Indiana's Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. With the tightness of the Big Ten standings coming down to the wire, home court advantage is vital in games like this, and Indiana used its advantage over Michigan to continue its fifteen year streak.
This game could have gone either way, but Michigan's inability to stop Indiana's driving force came back to haunt them in a down to the wire loss in Bloomington, giving the Wolverines their fourth loss in five games. Coming off a loss at Wisconsin, Indiana was happy to be back at home and have James Blackmon Jr. back in its lineup in a race to finish off the season with a trip to the NCAA tournament.