Not one Big Ten team was included when the NCAA Tournament selection committee revealed its current top 16 seeds on Saturday afternoon.
Consider that another alarm for teams like Indiana and Michigan.
When the Hoosiers and Wolverines meet Sunday afternoon at Assembly Hall, they’ll continue the fight for their NCAA Tournament lives. Both teams are hovering around the bubble as the conference season grinds into the final full month. For a Michigan team that hasn’t won a single true road game this season, a victory at Assembly Hall would help solidify its resume.
Meanwhile, the Hoosiers have their backs against a wall with only two more home games left on the regular season schedule.
“We’re anxious to play,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “These guys are extremely anxious to go.”
Indiana hasn’t defeated a team ranked in KenPom.com’s top 50 since beating North Carolina on the final day of November. A victory over Michigan State aside, that was the last time the Hoosiers claimed a win of note. With six games remaining, including four on the road, Indiana simply needs to get wins where it can find them.
Getting one against Michigan won’t come easy.
IU’s 90-60 loss in Ann Arbor on Jan. 26 was its worst performance of the season — and one of the worst margins of defeat in Crean’s nine seasons as coach. So the Hoosiers should have some added motivation to play well and erase the taste of that night against the Wolverines.
“We couldn’t have defended a lot worse than what we did,” Crean said. “It’s amazing when you shoot 60 percent at halftime and you’re down 15, but we never defended at a high enough level in that game and we never rebounded at a good enough level in that game.”
That was also the game where James Blackmon Jr. injured his leg, forcing him to miss the team’s next three games. After suffering the injury with less than three minutes remaining in the first half, Blackmon didn’t attempt a single shot over his final 15-plus minutes.
Returning from the injury for Thursday’s loss to Purdue, Blackmon was clearly not yet in a rhythm after a two-week layoff. He finished with 11 points, while going 3-for-14 from the field.
Crean and the rest of the Hoosiers will hope Blackmon is a bit closer to his normal level by tipoff at 1 p.m.
“He wasn’t that sharp. Not at all,” Crean said of Blackmon’s performance against Purdue. “It’s tough. We can’t expect that he would be after missing that kind of time, but he wasn’t nearly as himself as he’s gonna have to be, and as he will be when he’s healthier. … In the (first) Michigan game, he hurt himself. He tried to play through it and it just wasn’t there. We need that. It’s hard when you’re coming off the weeks and you haven’t practiced much. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or you’re an upperclassman. When you miss practice time, when you miss the rhythm of it, it’s hard. Hopefully he’ll be much better (today).”
Indiana is also hoping De’Ron Davis will be able to play after he took a shot to the face while battling for a rebound against Boilermakers forward Isaac Haas. Davis was unable to return to Thursday’s game, but Crean said he has shown progress in recent days.
After a limited practice on Friday evening, Davis appeared to be much better in Saturday’s practice, according to Crean.
Michigan is 0-6 in road games this year and comes to Bloomington on the heels of whooping the Spartans on Tuesday.
Point guard Derrick Walton has scored at least 20 points in each of his last four games, averaging 22.5 points during that stretch. He’s also seven rebounds away from becoming the first Wolverine to score 1,000 points, grab 500 boards and dish 400 assists for his career.
“He’s definitely playing at a high level right now,” IU guard Robert Johnson said. “He’s their point guard, so he’s basically the engine that makes them go. It’ll be important to not let him get going.”
While Indiana’s struggles with ball security continue, Michigan leads the country in fewest turnovers per game (9.5). The Wolverines are also fifth in the nation in fewest fouls per game (15.2).
And just like the Hoosiers, they’ll be looking for an important win on Sunday afternoon.
“Here we go,” Crean said.