The No. 13 Michigan basketball team is 2-0 in conference play and undefeated at home, but Thursday night against No. 12 Indiana, the Wolverines will experience their first road test of the Big Ten season.
Michigan has really only had one true road game this season (a 70-58 loss to Virginia). In that game the Wolverines shot well (44 percent) but just couldn’t close out the game on the road. Assembly Hall, home of the Hoosiers, is known for being a tough venue. If Michigan wants to come away victorious these are three keys the Wolverines need to focus on.
1. Contain freshman forward Cody Zeller. He’s the Hoosiers leading scorer and rebounder. Michigan State was able to keep their game close for so long because they got Zeller into foul trouble -- his limited playing time allowed Zeller only enough floor time to score four points and grab three rebounds. (But junior forward Christian Watford exploded for 26 points for Indiana.) If Zeller comes out and scores big against a depleted Michigan post contingent, the Wolverines will struggle mightily.
And don’t let the fact the 6-foot-11 Zeller weighs only 220 pounds fool you because he’s a force in the paint. Redshirt sophomore forward Jordan Morgan may have 30 pounds on Zeller, but loose rebounds are going to be quite difficult for Morgan to get his hands on. So if the Wolverines can contain Zeller, their chances to win are much higher.
2. Drive the lane early. Indiana doesn't have a huge rotation so if the Wolverines can even get even two of the Hoosiers’ starters in foul trouble early, Michigan’s offense could experience much more success against a less- experienced group of Indiana players. Freshman point guard Trey Burke and sophomores Evan Smotrycz and Tim Hardaway Jr. have attacked the paint well this season, and if they could draw a few fouls on the Hoosiers it could give the Wolverines some favorable matchups.
3. Don’t turn the ball over. Indiana forces about 17 turnovers every game. If Michigan wants to win at Assembly Hall it needs to try and keep that number closer to 10. Mental mistakes and silly turnovers are what gets the crowd into the game and helps Indiana go on runs that put away opponents. The Wolverines average 12 turnovers per game. Burke will be tested this game in how well he can handle the ball in tough situations. Michigan coach John Beilein has said how impressed he is with the freshman’s poise. Assembly Hall will produce a situation where he really needs that poise if the Wolverines want a shot to win.