The team that started the season as number one will soon be returning to that place. Cody Zeller led five Indiana players in double figures in a #3 vs #1 Big Ten game in Bloomington, while Michigan realized that celebrating their number one ranking doesn’t mean they’re actually the best team in College Basketball.
It wasn’t such a bad night for the Wolvernies, losing 73-81 in the first meeting with the Hoosiers this season, a preview to the regular season ending a month from now. Trey Burke had one of his best games this season, scoring 25 points, and he did get help from Tim Hardaway, scoring 18 points, but that was pretty much it for the Wolverines.
Being number one hasn’t really worked out for teams this season. Indiana began the year as the number one team, but after the loss to Butler on December 15, the AP throne has exchanged quite a few hands: Duke, Louisville and Michigan. Kansas, the number two team in the nation, lost to Oklahoma State and will fall down the rankings as well.
This was all about the Hoosiers starters, as Cody Zeller (19 points and 10 rebounds) teamed up with Christian Watford (14 points and 10 boards) in the double-double achievement section, while Victor Oladipo added 15 points. It was Zeller’s fifth double-double of the season in Big Ten games, tied for most in the conference alongside Trevor Mbakwe of Minnesota. Zeller is averaging 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this season, leading the best offense in College Basketball (83.8 points per game).
Indiana usually win games again Michigan when both teams are ranked inside the top 10; this was the first time they did it in more than two points. This makes four consecutive wins over Michigan when it comes to top 10 games, and the first since 1993, when the teams met twice while being in the top 10 of the AP Poll.
The number one doesn’t mean much to Tom Crean. He cares about improving, and building momentum towards the more important part of the season.
I think they truly are learning that those things are nice, but playing to improve, to win games like this, to face some adversity and fight through it, that’s what matters. When we were not No. 1 in December they heard those things. Were we any worse because we lost by two? We didn’t play very well that day.
Indiana never fell behind since an early 2-3 lead for Michigan. There were runs by the Wolvernies, mostly led by Burke, who hasn’t scored less than 15 points in a conference game so far this season, but every time Michigan made comeback noises, Indiana clamped down on defense and took over, creating enough separation to finish their rivals off.
We felt the defense we played last year was what Michigan remembered and we wanted to give them something different because we wanted to prove that we could defend that well against a team that really is that good and they are. Let’s hope we’re all playing again at the end of the season for something really big.
For Michigan, it wasn’t the first time (second Big Ten loss of the season) when their Freshman didn’t really stand the pressure: Glenn Robinson III and Nick Stauskas have been extremely bad in the two losses to Indiana and Ohio State, combining for 7-27 from the field in those two losses.