Michigan’s final regular season game comes against the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday at the Crisler Center. On paper this game means very little for the Wolverines, who clinched an outright Big Ten championship with a dominating win at Illinois on Tuesday. But finishing the season on a five-game winning streak would put Michigan in prime position to ride a hot streak into postseason play.
Indiana could have put itself in position to steal an NCAA Tournament bid with a winning streak to end the season, but Nebraska beat the Hoosiers in Assembly hall on Wednesday to virtually extinguish their chances to earn an at-large bid. Their only hope at this point is to win the Big Ten Tournament, and Tom Crean’s squad will look to get the momentum going today.
Here are three keys to consider during the final game of the regular season.
Put the Hoosiers in their place: Despite receiving a preseason top-25 ranking, Indiana played dreadful basketball during the majority of the Big Ten season. In fact, Indiana lost to all four of the worst teams in the conference, including an 82-64 waxing at Purdue on Feb. 15.
But on Feb. 2, when Michigan visited Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers put on a shooting clinic, shooting over 61 percent from three-point range. The 63-52 final gave Indiana its third win in a row over Michigan, which lost two close battles with the top-5 Hoosiers in early 2013.
Michigan surrendered a six-point lead with under a minute to play in a heartbreaking senior day-loss to Indiana last season, when a potential share of the Big Ten title slipped from the team’s grasp. This season, the Wolverines must make sure to write a different story.
The outright Big Ten champions boast a much more talented team than Indiana does this season, so Saturday offers the perfect chance to end this losing streak to Indiana. Michigan can put Indiana in its place on the final game of the regular season and avenge not only this season’s loss, but also the one that soured senior day for so many Wolverines in 2013.
Take the drive away from Yogi Ferrell: Michigan fans remember Yogi Ferrell for the unbelievable stroke he demonstrated in the first matchup February. The sophomore guard recorded his best shooting percentages of the season both overall (80 percent) and from beyond the arc (87.5 percent).
The numbers expose Ferrell’s impressive shooting against Michigan as an outlier. In the eight games since the unbelievable performance, the Hoosiers lost all three games in which their starting point guard shot double digit three pointers. Ferrell shot a total of 67 longballs in those games and connected on just 22 of them (32.8 percent).
Ferrell rarely stepped inside the three-point line against the Wolverines, but his real value does come inside the arc. He’s shooting a much higher percentage from short range in his past five games (50 percent), and when he gets to the free throw line he is one of the best shooters in the conference at over 81 percent.
Michigan allowed Ferrell and Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble to catch fire from three-point range during its first two Big Ten losses, but that doesn’t mean that the Michigan guards should overcommit to Ferrell as a shooter on Saturday. As one of the lowest fouling teams in the country, Michigan neutralizes the youngster’s automatic stroke from the charity stripe. If he struggles to connect on his first few three point attempts, the Wolverine defenders can erase any memory of the 27 points he recorded back in February.
End the senior night woes: The Crisler Center has posed one of the most difficult places for opposing basketball teams to play during the past two seasons. In 2012, Michigan held a perfect home record going into the final game in Ann Arbor, only to fall to an unranked Purdue team during Zack Novak and Stu Douglas’s senior night celebrations.
Last season No. 2 Indiana provided a much more formidable test, but the results were the same as Michigan suffered its only home loss of the season on senior night. This season, Jordan Morgan hopes to reverse that unfortunate trend.
Morgan’s five-year journey as a Michigan Wolverine takes another step closer to the end as he plays his final home game on Saturday. His leadership and willingness to do whatever the team needs made him a strong leader for Beilein throughout the reconstruction of this basketball program.
Michigan lost two tough games in Ann Arbor over the course of the season, so the pressure to polish off a perfect home slate has long since evaporated. If the Wolverines play at a level anywhere near that of their conference-clinching demolition of Illinois Tuesday, senior night should take care of itself and Morgan will walk off the court with career win number 114.
Prediction: Michigan 80 – Indiana 67