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March 9, 2013Michigan has been one of the Big Ten's best offensive teams, but the Wolverines' defensive struggles have kept them from winning the Big Ten outright. They can still capture a share against a team that did plenty of damage off the dribble in the first meeting.
The finishes weren't the problem in the loss in Bloomington - it was the residuals. Indiana sophomore big man Cody Zeller racked up offensive rebounds and dunks at an alarming rate after his guards and wings drew help after beating their men off the dribble, something that has to change if U-M is going to capture a piece of a second straight title.
"It had a lot to do with individual and help defense. It was not very good," head coach John Beilein said. "It's been that way all year long, and there are a lot of reasons behind it - schematic, personnel, matchup - there are a lot of things involved with playing defense. They got downhill all night - it's hard then to defend them without fouling. You've got to keep them in front."
Or be smart when you help. Having redshirt junior Jordan Morgan back and healthy will make a difference; he missed most of the first meeting with an ankle injury that slowed him considerably for weeks.
"Angles are so important for a five man," Beilein said. "Mitch [McGary], Jon [Horford] and Max [Bielfeldt] are still learning, but Jordan has it down pretty good. He makes people score over him without them dropping it for dunks. He's a second ahead of the other guys, and he talks. Somebody has to tell you when a ball screen is coming.
"But we need to stay out of help defense; don't help uphill. There are a lot of things that can keep you with your man, but Zeller was incredible. Our general defense has to get better. It wasn't a matter of blocking out, it was two men on the ball."
There's a buzz on campus there hasn't been for years, and Beilein has felt it grow each of the past few seasons. The empty seats in the rafters have been replaced by rabid fans, making Crisler Center a tougher venue for an opposing team than it's ever been.
Nothing, though, is guaranteed. Few saw it coming when Indiana lost at home to Ohio State to give the Wolverines one last shot to win a title. The Hoosiers, too, have been very good on the road, knocking off both Michigan State and OSU in hostile environments.
The opportunity is there, though, to do something special and capture back-to-back championships. Beilein has been adamant there are no "must wins" as long as there's a mathematical possibility of a title. Sunday is make or break.
"We've been playing with our back to the wall for a while, the month of February," he said. "I go back when somebody asked before Arkansas or N.C. State, 'is this make or break?' These games are now. A lot of teams are watching this with what's on the line. We'll approach it the way we do with everything - it's going to be a struggle and a battle. We've got to have courage and effort to get it."
Prediction: Michigan 75, Indiana 71
It's been a great partnership, Beilein said.
"He's been great, and we change what we do to suit him, as well," Beilein said. "We countered to put him in best poositon for him and Michigan, but we lean more on the point than we ever have before. The game has evolved in that time, as well the point guard is even more important than was even five years ago."
Burke is a finalist for the Wooden Award given to the nation's top player. He is also a finalist for the Oscar Robertson Player of the Year Award, averaging 19.1 points per game overall, and has increased that output in conference play to a Big Ten-best 20.2 per game. He is the only player in the Big Ten to score 15 points or more in every conference game and is the only Wolverine to have scored in double figures in all 30 games.
Burke could become the first Big Ten player to average over 17 points and seven assists since Magic Johnson, who averaged 17.1 points and 8.4 assists during Michigan State's national title season of 1978-79.
The John R. Wooden Award Player of the Year presented by Wendy's will be announced on ESPN during the Final Four Weekend in Atlanta. The Wooden Award All American Team, consisting of the nation's top 10 players, will be announced the week of the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament.
John R. Wooden National Player of the Year Finalists:
Anthony Bennett, UNLV Trey Burke, Michigan Erick Green, Virginia Tech Shane Larkin, Miami (Fla.) Doug McDermott, Creighton Ben McLemore, Kansas Victor Oladipo, Indiana Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga Mason Plumlee, Duke Otto Porter, Jr., Georgetown Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State Jeff Withey, Kansas Nate Wolters, South Dakota State Cody Zeller, Indiana.