Indiana-Michigan Preview

BY foxsports • February 1, 2016

Extended absences from pivotal players haven't prevented Indiana or Michigan from contending in the challenging Big Ten.

Both will have that resiliency further tested when the resurgent Wolverines host the No. 22 Hoosiers on Tuesday night.

Indiana (18-4, 8-1) enters this key matchup tied with fifth-ranked Iowa for first in the conference despite losing James Blackmon Jr. to a season-ending knee injury just prior to the league opener. Michigan (17-5, 7-2) sits one game behind despite leading scorer Caris LeVert having missed the last eight because of a lower left leg injury.

Blackmon's absence hasn't slowed the Big Ten's top offense. The Hoosiers have shot 40.6 percent from 3-point range and averaged 79.7 points with the sophomore sidelined.

Yogi Ferrell has helped fill the void by averaging 19.3 points and hitting 55.3 percent of his long-range attempts in conference play - both league highs - and Indiana has also received a big lift from freshman center Thomas Bryant.

Bryant was the difference Saturday against Minnesota with a career-high 23 points on 11-of-13 shooting and eight rebounds in a 74-68 win. The heralded recruit's inside presence helped the Hoosiers overcome a season-worst 2 of 18 effort from beyond the arc.

"It was one of those games that you have to find a way to win, no matter what," coach Tom Crean said. "And he did a lot of things in the game that impacted the game."

The Wolverines have won four straight and six of eight without LeVert's 17.6 points per game and senior leadership, an area where juniors Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. have each stepped up.

"Zak is out there telling it like he's on a soap box. He's telling what he believes," coach John Beilein said. "Derrick is like Trey Burke; when he has something to say, we'll know about it through his actions. Necessity is the mother of invention. They have really changed their personalities."

Each has made an impact on the court as well. Walton has averaged 16.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists over a five-game stretch, and Irvin has put up 14.7 points over his last six. Irvin scored 20 in Saturday's 79-72 win over Penn State at Madison Square Garden, while Walton finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

Michigan tied a season low with six 3-pointers but ranks sixth in Division I with 10.6 per game - slightly ahead of Indiana's 10.0. The Hoosiers, winners in 13 of 14, also stand second nationally in field-goal percentage (51.7) and third in 3-point percentage (43.2).

The Wolverines have held opponents to 26.4 percent from 3-point range during the win streak, though none of those opponents boasts Indiana's offensive credentials.

Michigan has lost 10 of 12 to ranked teams but has won the last two such matchups at Crisler Center, including last month's 70-67 victory over No. 4 Maryland behind Irvin's season-high 22 points.

Irvin scored 23 in a 70-67 loss at Indiana on Feb. 8, 2015, that was Michigan's fourth in the past five meetings. Both LeVert and Walton missed that game with injuries.

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