The possession that put into sharpest relief the current chasm between Michigan’s current state of affairs and Indiana’s took more than 45 seconds off the clock.
It started with a turnover in transition with 12:07 to go in the second half when IU freshman guard Trey Galloway tried to drive baseline and throw the ball into the middle of the lane to freshman forward Jordan Geronimo, but saw it deflected by Michigan’s Isaiah Livers into the hands of fellow wing Franz Wagner.
The Hoosiers defended well for 35 seconds, but when center Austin Davis missed a hook shot at the lane at the end of clock he got around IU center Trayce Jackson-Davis easily to get his own rebound. The Hoosiers were scrambled and Wagner ended up with a wide-open look on the left elbow from 3. He missed that, but Davis got an easy rebound in almost the same spot on the baseline. The Hoosiers were still scrambled and guard Chaundee Brown got another wide-open look from 3 in the corner. He missed that too, but with several Indiana players marking Davis and Wagner around the rim on the right side, Livers crashed from the right elbow through the lane to the left side of the bucket, caught the carom off the bucket and slammed it down with two hands before he returned to Earth.
The dunk sent a message that was already clear by that point with the Wolverines up by 17 points. No matter how hard Indiana tried and how much the Hoosiers put into certain stretches, Michigan could outlast them. The Wolverines had more size, more skill, more athleticism and more depth.
That’s the degree of separation between the two Big Ten stalwarts at the moment. Michigan is the No. 3 team in the country and going for a Big Ten title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and it looks the part. The Hoosiers are sitting at .500 overall and need a lot to go right in the regular season’s final week and the Big Ten tournament just to get in the Dance, and they also looked the part.
Michigan’s coach, Juwan Howard, will probably be national coach of the year. Indiana’s will have some lucky stars (and a buyout that currently runs eight figures) to thank if he’s still employed by April.
Michigan has played better games than it did Saturday and Indiana has played worse, and the result was about what you’d expect it would be considering. The Wolverines cruised to a 73-57 win on a muted Senior Day at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Their lead never dipped below nine in the second half and never got below 12 in the game’s final 10 minutes.
“Our guys competed pretty good,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “I thought our attitude was pretty good. And today we ran into a good team.”
When he says “good,” Miller means national championship good. The Wolverines are No. 3 at 18-1 overall, 13-1 in the Big Ten only because No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor are still undefeated. They have the nation’s fifth-most efficient offense and third-most efficient defense according to KenPom.com, which puts them No. 2 overall behind Gonzaga by that site’s metrics.
On Saturday the Wolverines stood out as usual on both ends, even without their best effort. Freshman center Hunter Dickinson and the rest of the Michigan frontcourt made life hell on IU sophomore center Trayce Jackson-Davis. The likely All-Big Ten pick and probably All-American was 3 of 12 from the floor. He scored 10 points, but went from the 8:36 mark of the first half to the 8:56 mark of the second half without a field goal.
The Hoosiers managed 30 points in the paint, but they made just nine of 24 shots classified by the live stats program as layups.
“I think they’re one of the most difficult teams to play against on the (defensive) side of the floor,” Miller said. “I mean, between Wagner, Livers and Big Hunter, you’re looking at 6-foot-10 to 6-9 to 7-2 across the board. … It’s tough to score with low post, back-to-the-basket moves against that type of size inside.”
The Hoosiers weren’t much better on the perimeter either. With sophomore guard and second-leading scorer Armaan Franklin out with a right foot injury, the Hoosiers were 4 of 15 from 3-point land and didn’t hit one from beyond the arc in the game’s last 19 minutes, finishing with seven straight misses. Senior Aljami Durham scored 15 points and point guards Rob Phinisee and Khristian Lander had seven each with Lander scoring his first two two-point buckets since the season opener against Tennessee Tech, but that wasn’t nearly enough.
The Hoosiers finished the game 20 of 52 from the field (38.5 percent) and didn’t have a field goal in the game’s last 4:56 and finished with .934 points per possession.
Michigan didn’t have its smoothest offensive performance but kept scoring enough to stay in control. The Wolverines were 8 of 21 from beyond the arc, taking advantage of an Indiana squad that struggled on close-outs. Livers at one point hit 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions. He hit four in the game, most of them wide open, to finish with 16 points.
The Hoosiers’ perimeter defense was its strength earlier in the season, but it ranks last in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage defense in conference games with opponents making 37 percent of their 3s
“I think our 3-point field goal percentage defense has really struggled because of our lack of smarts, effort and communication in transition over the course of the season,” Miller said. “Transition defense has been our biggest problem, and when you’re playing a team like a Michigan or you’re playing against some of the teams with really four shooters out there, we’ve really struggled with that element. … Three-point field goal percentage defense and our defense in general in conference play has really let us down.”
The Hoosiers also struggled with committing reach-in fouls, which is a big part of the reason why Wagner ended up with 21 points eight of his coming at the line. They couldn’t stop point guard Mike Smith on the dribble drive, and he ended up with 14 points on 4 of 5 shooting. The Hoosiers made life difficult on Dickinson early, but he still finished with 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting. The Wolverines shot 45.3 percent from the field, 50 percent in the second half, and walked away with 1.159 points per possession. That’s short of their 1.215 average, but still plenty enough to cruise against an opponent that hasn’t been nearly that efficient.
As unlikely as the Hoosiers (12-12 overall, 7-10 in the Big Ten) were to pull off the upset on Saturday, that was their chance to get a win that might have been enough to get them in the NCAA Tournament by itself. Now they have two games left, both on the road, both against teams they’ve already lost to this season with trips to Michigan State coming on Tuesday and Purdue on Saturday. Barring a miracle run in the Big Ten tournament, they probably need to win them both.
“I feel like we have to come out and play harder, play faster, play stronger than the other team,” Durham said. “Stick with the process. I feel like we will break through here soon. I got nothing but faith in my team and I feel like we will shock the world here soon.”
But soon has to be immediately, because the Hoosiers are almost out of chances.
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