The Preseason NIT kicks off tonight in Ann Arbor for the Michigan Wolverines, who will hope to reach the Madison Square Garden to battle for the tournament title with two victories over the next two days. Michigan welcomes the Jaguars of Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis to the Crisler Center at 9pm (ESPNU) this evening in both teams’ first-round matchup. The winner of the game will face the winner of the Bowling Green-Cleveland State game that tips off at Crisler three hours beforehand. With the first Division I matchup finally arriving, here are three things to look for against IUPUI:
- Big Ten Opponent: No, IUPUI is not a Big Ten team (they are in the Summit League), but they do have one player that used to play in the Big Ten in former Purdue Boilermaker John Hart, the Jaguar’s now-starting point guard. While Hart was never a key player for Purdue, he will be expected to be a major contributor right away for his new squad, and in one game so far he has looked the part, scoring a team-high 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting (3-of-7 3-pt) to go along with four assists, three rebounds, two steals, and a block in a 67-54 home win over the Utah Valley Wolverines. Hart did turn the ball over four times as well, however, and IUPUI turned it over 14 times as a team. John Beilein will certainly look to take advantage of some of that sloppiness against a lesser opponent and turn some of those turnovers into fast-break buckets. Standing 6’2” and weighing 205 pounds, Hart should be able to at least do a decent job guarding Trey Burke, but his teammates will be called upon to stay with the rest of the Michigan team, who will be significantly more athletic as a whole.
- Hardaway’s Hot Start: We all saw what Tim Hardaway, Jr. is capable of when he’s feeling it in last Friday’s opening-night victory over The Rock, when he went off for 25 points and 10 rebounds. Tonight, IUPUI’s senior two-guard Sean Esposito will be tasked with slowing Hardaway, but giving up three inches height-wise and a couple more inches in athleticism to Hardaway, Esposito could find himself in a world of trouble. If Tim comes out hot again the Jaguars could be in for a long game; look for him to get his patented pull-up three off a couple times over Esposito if his shot is falling and pay special attention to Hardaway’s rebounding numbers again.
- Streakiness: IUPUI finished last season 14-18 overall and 7-11 in conference play, but the numbers themselves don’t the whole story. The Jaguars were one of the streakiest teams in the country a year ago, winning six straight games at one point and six of seven later on in the season, but they also got icy cold at times, losing eight of nine games from mid-November to mid-December and seven straight in January. If IUPUI comes out guns ablazin’ they could stay in the game for a half or a bit longer, but if second-year head man Todd Howard’s team comes out clanking shots off the rim and turning the ball over, Michigan will run away within the first 10 minutes.
Prediction: Tim Hardaway, Jr. will have another big game, going for 20 more points, but Mitch McGary will be the star of the show with his first career double-double, including a couple monster throwdowns. Michigan wins 83-54 and goes on to face the Vikings of Cleveland State tomorrow night.