Night Line: Michigan, Indiana Set Stage For Game of the SeasonPosted by BHayes on January 30th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
For those of you who noticed the basketball game scheduled for 9:00 PM Saturday night in Bloomington, Indiana, Wednesday night followed script in a most beautiful way. All too often, we watch as titanic clashes are lessened by careless losses in the days leading up to the big one, but tonight, both Indiana and Michigan made sure they would not be caught looking ahead. Top-ranked Michigan went out and pounded Northwestern by 22 at home, while the third-ranked Hoosiers one-upped the Wolverine dominance by going into Mackey Arena and hanging 97 on a Purdue team that before tonight had a winning Big 10 record. Two impressive efforts that stood to only further whet the appetite of basketball fans across the country, because let’s be real: Saturday night’s match-up is shaping up to be the game of this college basketball season.
Purdue’s solid start to the conference season was in part due to a friendly early schedule, but the Hoosiers still went on the road and beat an average team by 37 tonight. The IU depth was there for all to see again this evening, as all five starters scored in double figures led by Cody Zeller’s 19. Much has been made of Zeller’s reticence to dominate games this year, but what many have considered a lack of production simply hasn’t been needed most of this campaign. Zeller is but one of a number of skilled offensive players Tom Crean has at his disposal – this luxury best evidenced by a stunning four Hoosiers ranking in Ken Pomeroy’s top 125 nationally for offensive rating. This may (and focus on the may here!) be the best offensive team in the land (#3 right now according to KenPom’s metrics), and their efficient outburst in West Lafayette tonight has to have them feeling ready for Michigan.
If Indiana is not the best offensive team in the land, it’s quite likely that the group the Hoosiers will welcome to Assembly Hall on Saturday is that squad. Michigan’s significantly slower tempo (#258 in D-I) means they have not posted as many eye-popping scoring outputs as the Hoosiers, but the Wolverines are the single most efficient team in the country on the offensive end, according to KenPom’s metrics. In a statistical note that may be even more impressive than the quartet of Hoosiers found near the top of the O-rating, three Wolverines are among the top 17 in the category. Trey Burke is tops, but the off-the-chart efficiency of teammates Nik Stauskas (#7), Glenn Robinson III (#8) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (#275) is a direct reflection of Burke’s play-making mastery. There has been no better point guard in the country so far this season, and it’s also quite plausible to believe that there has been no better player.
So the stage is set. In the nation’s best conference, two of the top three teams (and offenses) in the country will do battle, three legitimate NPOY candidates (in Burke, Oladipo and Zeller) will tangle, and it will all play out in one of the finest venues in college basketball. Both teams have plenty at stake, with the inside track to the Big Ten title looming as the tangible benefit, but far grander implications are poised to reverberate well outside of Big Ten country. The game of the season always has a little something extra on the line, and Saturday night should be no different.