Wednesday night turned out to be only a formality for the top two teams in the Big Ten.
If anything, two easy victories against overmatched conference opponents for Michigan and Indiana showed neither teams are having jitters for one of the biggest games of the regular season. Michigan dispatched Northwestern 68-46, and Indiana followed in the nightcap with a 97-60 win over Purdue.
Neither had the look of two programs days away from a showdown between teams hungry to end Big Ten title droughts.
And that’s not the only way the Hoosiers and Wolverines are enjoying parallel seasons:
• Both are 7-1 in the Big Ten heading into Saturday’s game in Bloomington with the conference lead on the line. The winner would have an edge to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
• Both are balanced offensive teams, who can drive to the basket, score down low and shoot the three-pointer. Indiana is second in the nation in scoring (83.3 points per game), while Michigan is 12th (78.5).
• Both jump start that offense as two of the best teams in transition in the country.
Altogether, not a bad setup for the Super Bowl.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Michigan probable starters
Indiana probable starters
Game-defining matchup: Michigan’s Trey Burke vs. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo
In Michigan’s only loss this season, Ohio State’s Arron Craft gave the Wolverines point guard trouble. Burke scored 15 points in the loss to the Buckeyes, but he was 4-of-13 from the field. Granted, Burke was playing in his hometown, and nerves may have been a factor. Oladipo is a National Defensive Player of the Year candidate who could be matched up with Burke to disrupt the explosive Michigan offense.
Players we’re watching: Michigan’s Nik Stauskas and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell
The headline matchups will be between the stars, but one interesting subplot may be the play of key freshmen for both teams. The Hoosiers’ point guard Ferrell is playing some of his best basketball of the season. He’s averaged 12.3 points in the last three games, including 11 points in 19 minutes against Purdue. Stauskas is one of the most efficient guards in the country, converting 49.7 percent of his field goals, 49.5 percent of this three-pointers and 81.8 percent of his free throws.
Stat that matters: Offensive efficiency
Tempo-free stats are coming into more regular use in college basketball, so let’s highlight one here: Michigan and Indiana rank first and second nationally in points per possession: The Wolverines at 1.22 points per possession, followed by Indiana at 1.2.
How Michigan can win: Defend
Anonymous coaches have suggested Michigan’s Achilles’ heel is in the defensive end of the court -- the Wolverines are tied for fifth in the Big Ten in points allowed per possession (0.92). Between Indiana’s ability to score on the fast break and to score from inside and out, Michigan will have a chance to prove or disprove that assessment.
Related: Michigan new No. 1 in our weekly power rankings
How Indiana can win: Cody Zeller plays like top player in the game.
The Hoosiers center hasn’t always played like the national player of the year this season. At times, he hasn’t even been the best player on his own team. In two games against Penn State and Michigan State, Zeller was a combined 2 of 11 from the field with 11 points and rebounds. He broke out of that funk Wednesday against Purdue with 19 points and 11 rebounds. But that was in a 37-point win against an overmatched Boilermakers team. Will Zeller start playing at his top level down the stretch for the Hoosiers? He’ll face another center who can run the floor in Michigan freshman Mitch McGary, who may continued to see an increased role as Jordan Morgan nurses an ankle injury.
Prediction: Indiana 78, Michigan 73
WEEKEND ON TAP
All times Eastern
Syracuse at Pittsburgh (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
Syracuse had the week off after its surprising overtime loss at Villanova. The Orange have not shot the ball well in Big East action (31.4 percent from three, 45.7 percent from two), but have done a great job on the glass and have defended well. Pittsburgh is only 2–2 at home in the Big East, with wins over UConn and DePaul and losses to Cincinnati and Marquette.
Related: NCAA Tournament Report: Kentucky
Miami at NC State (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
The Hurricanes are the first team other than Duke or North Carolina since 1981 to start 7-0 in the ACC, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Jim Larranaga’s club has been outstanding on defense and has the size to match up with NC State’s formidable frontcourt. The Wolfpack have the talent to reach the Final Four, but not the focus. NC State has defeated Duke and North Carolina but lost to Wake Forest and Virginia.
Kansas State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
This is a key game between two teams jockeying for position in the middle of the Big 12 standings. Kansas State won its first four league games but lost to Kansas at home and at Iowa State over the weekend. After feasting on a relatively soft early slate in the Big 12, Oklahoma is in the midst of a grueling stretch that features two games with Kansas, trips to Baylor and Iowa State and this home date vs. Kansas State.
Related: College basketball's villains: Where does Henderson stand?
Ole Miss at Florida (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Marshall Henderson takes his traveling road show to Gainesville in what might be the game of the year in the SEC. Ole Miss has been one of the nation’s biggest surprises, but Florida might be the best team in the country. The Gators won their first seven SEC games by an average of 28.3 points, after a 75-36 rout of South Carolina on Wednesday. Florida’s focus will be to slow down Henderson, who is averaging a league-best 21.3 points in SEC games.
Baylor at Iowa State (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2)
This is an important game for Baylor after a loss to Oklahoma earlier this week. The Bears are 5–2 in the Big 12, but none of the five wins came against a team with a winning record in the league. Iowa State needs to protect its homecourt to remain in the NCAA Tournament discussion. The Cyclones still have to play at Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma.
Marquette at Louisville (Sunday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Despite its 6–1 record in the Big East, not many people truly believe Marquette is a threat to win the regular-season title The Golden Eagles can change some minds with a win at Louisville on Sunday. The Cards have struggled of late, but they are still arguably the most talented team in the league. This is huge game for both teams.
Wisconsin at Illinois (Sunday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network)
No one expects Wisconsin to win the Big Ten title, but Bo Ryan’s club will be a factor in the final six weeks. The Badgers have an efficient offense and a stout defense, but they’re coming off an odd game against Ohio State in which they didn’t attempt a free throw shot