On Sunday, the Indiana Hoosiers went on the road for the fourth time this season to face the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor. It would be the first of two ranked matchups for the Big Ten on Sunday afternoon. The Wolverines were undefeated coming into the game and the Hoosiers were hoping to play spoiler.
Early on, Michigan came roaring out of the gates. And it was a group effort. Jordan Poole had 12 points in the first half and Charles Matthews added 16 of his own. Much of Michigan’s early success also came as the result of Indiana’s mistakes after both Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan were forced to the bench after some early foul trouble.
In the second half, Indiana came back, but it wasn’t enough. Michigan ended up grabbing a 74-63 win over Indiana at home to improve to 15-0 on the season. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers fell to 12-3 overall.
So, what did we learn?
What We Learned:
1. The Wolverines can dial it up when needed.
Although this game was relatively competitive in the second half, Michigan never trailed during the course of the afternoon. The Wolverines were up by nearly 20 at points in the afternoon and probably could have kept it around there if the team remained focused.
Simply put, this was another solid win for Michigan.
What’s significant, however, is that this performance came after a relatively underwhelming stretch for the Wolverines. Fans were wondering if the team had regressed and many in the media were pretty critical of the Wolverines. Well, Michigan just faced one of the hottest teams in the nation and won by double-digits. That’s nothing to overlook.
The takeaway is that this Michigan team can “dial it up” when needed. Cracks are certainly there, but this is a top five unit and can play like it when the opponent requires it.
2. Michigan’s bench is starting to come together.
Ever since Michigan’s hot start to the season in November, fans have felt pretty good about the starting group. Charles Matthews and Zavier Simpson had proven to be productive players on a Final Four team, Jordan Poole and Jon Teske had solid track records, and Ignas Brazdeikis entered as a massive recruiting prospect. All five spots seemed pretty solid.
However, the question was what the team would get outside of those five. Michigan had lost a lot of depth in the offseason and would be searching for answers. It would be the question that determined how far the Wolverines could go this season.
And while results were mixed early on, Michigan’s bench had a huge performance on Sunday afternoon. To start, Eli Brooks continued his hot play and players like Austin Davis and David DeJulius got on the floor. Michigan needs all three to continue to develop.
However, it was Brandon Johns that made a mark. He only played about four minutes in the first half, but he had two points and four rebounds in that playing time. If Michigan is going to make it back to the Final Four, it needs Johns to continue to grow and Sunday was a big performance for the true freshman.
It’s also worth noting that these performances came without Isaiah Livers, who missed his second straight game due to injury. Michigan’s bench is starting to come together, which should be a scary thought for opponents going forward.
3. The Hoosiers are going to be flawed until the team gets healthy.
Look, Sunday was a rough outing for the Hoosiers. It was the team’s first matchup since Butler in early December and fans had hoped to see some significant progress. Unfortunately, Indiana faltered out of the gates and found itself with a double-digit deficit heading into the second half. Not exactly a best case scenario.
And while Hoosier fans are probably tired of hearing excuses, we can’t evaluate this game without mentioning the injury to Rob Phinisee. He was a key factor in Indiana’s early success and missed his third straight game on Sunday afternoon. His absence had a huge impact on the game as Indiana’s turnovers and struggles to initiate offense really hurt its chances.
Phinisee may not be Indiana’s best player, but he’s a huge part of this team. Indiana simply isn’t the same without him and will be a flawed squad until he returns. And it’s not excuse making, it’s simply reality. The Hoosiers aren’t ready to go on the road and beat top five teams like Michigan without players like Phinisee.
4. Indiana is still in great shape for the postseason.
After reeling off seven straight wins, Hoosier fans undoubtedly had dreams about winning the Big Ten and heading into the Big Ten Tournament with a high seed. And while that’s all still possible, Sunday’s loss is certainly a big blow to those dreams.
However, even if Indiana suffered a hit to its Big Ten hopes, it’s still in great shape moving towards the postseason. The Hoosiers are still 12-3 and two of those losses are on the road against top five Duke and Michigan teams. That’s not exactly a bad resume. And if Indiana continues to improve, it should still be in contention for a great seed in March.
Sunday was a marquee matchup for both teams. And while Indiana fought valiantly down the stretch, Michigan was able to remain unbeaten. Nonetheless, both look like quality units capable of some major things in the postseason.
Indiana will now prepare for a road game against Maryland on Friday and Michigan will prepare to travel to face Illinois on the road on Thursday.