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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, January 26, 2017 12:14 pm

Pregame: Indiana (14-6) at Michigan (13-7)

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The last time Indiana visited the Crisler Center, Michigan's fans watched in disbelief as the Hoosiers scored 28 unanswered points en route to an 80-67 victory. That came Feb. 2, 2016.

"Of course we remember that one," IU sophomore center Thomas Bryant said. "But you can't have your head stuck on that. It's a good thing that we had that, but they're a totally different team."

Bryant and the Hoosiers are back in town and going for their first four-game win streak since starting 8-1.

Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. Here are three main things to keep an eye on:

1. Who's going to start and finish stronger? While the Hoosiers rank 10th in the country in average first-half scoring margin (plus-8.8), the Wolverines aren't that far behind (plus-7.2). Having a senior point guard in Derrick Walton Jr. increases Michigan's ability to set and control the tempo, but Indiana often succeeds at the start of games thanks to Robert Johnson's hot starts -- he's averaging 7.1 points in the first half. Tonight the Hoosiers must keep that up to provide early confidence on the road against a Michigan team that is 11-2 at home.

The key, obviously, is the second half. The Hoosiers are No. 28 in average second-half scoring margin (plus-5.7). Michigan is actually barely in the positive (plus-1.4). But the Wolverines rank in the top 20 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio, whereas Indiana's 146th, so a mistake here and there from the Hoosiers in the final stretch could be the breaking point.

2. Johnson vs. Zak Irvin: The Wolverines' senior small forward has made a leap so far this season. He's picked up his scoring, rebounding and passing from last season to 14.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He can drive or step back for the jumper, so Johnson will have his hands full.

"Zak Irvin is on a real tear right now," Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. "I don't think there's any question about that."

One thing Indiana will have to be especially aware of is getting back on D quickly. Irvin likes to play off Walton when Michigan is in transition. The speedy Walton, who's averaging 12.6 points, is always a major threat.

3. Defending the arc: Coach John Beilein has made the Wolverines a free-wheeling, floor-spacing offensive juggernaut. Their jump-shooting bigs force defenses to make difficult choices when defending pick-and-roll plays.

What Indiana should do is stay at home on Michigan's shooters and run them off the 3-point line when possible. If Walton gets into the paint, or if switches allow Michigan's power forwards and centers to get quality looks on the block, I think the tradeoff is worth it.