Friday, February 1, 2013

Indiana, Michigan, Bald Heads and Sex ... Sort Of

By now you know Indiana will play Michigan tonight in a battle that will determine first place in the Big Ten and, perhaps, decide the fate of the world economy.

Yeah, it’s that big.

Michigan is ranked No. 1. IU is No. 3. This will be the first top-three battle in Assembly Hall history. The previous ranking best came in 1993, when No. 1 Indiana edged No. 4 Michigan 93-92.

ESPN’s GameDay will be in town. No, that will not include Bob Knight (unless the Grim General pulls off the surprise of the decade), but it will include Dick Vitale.

Let the impressions begin, baby!

This is the kind of game to restore youth to an old man, hair to a bald one, laughter to a sad one, sexual vigor to …

Sorry. Sometimes, for big games, we get carried away.

Anyway, if the Hoosiers want to win the Big Ten title and earn a No. 1 NCAA tourney berth -- and you know they do in the worst way -- they have to beat the Wolverines. They just have to. They’ve lost once at home. They can’t afford another.

To understand why, let’s look at the schedule.

February is an absolute beast. You’ve got Michigan at home, then trips to Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State and Minnesota.

Yes, Illinois is fading -- again -- to the point where it might not make the NCAA tourney. Apparently new coach John Groce borrowed an unwanted page from old coach Bruce Weber’s coaching handbook. Still, if the Illini get hot from three-point range (and no conference team launches more from beyond the arc), they can beat anybody. They had Michigan State in big trouble Thursday night at the Breslin Center, and that’s very hard to do.

In the end, the Spartans won, the Illini lost and Big Ten order remained undisturbed.

Anyway, IU is a good bet to beat Illinois. The other three February road games are less certain. And to fully understand the situation, let’s add the March 10 road game at Michigan in the regular season finale. That means the Hoosiers’ final four road games will be against the No. 11, No. 13, No. 23 and No. 1 teams in the country.

Nobody will win out against that.

Realistically, IU’s best scenario is to go 2-2 in those games. If it does, if it wins the rest of its home games, it can finish 15-3 in the Big Ten. That almost certainly would win the conference title and guarantee a No. 1 NCAA tourney seed no matter what happens in the Big Ten tourney.

Yes, we know, there are no guarantees anymore, but it’s time once again for dangerous sports writing.

A 14-4 record might win the Big Ten title. Heck, 13-5 might do it, as happened last year, given how strong the league is top to bottom.

But Indiana can’t count on that, which is why beating Michigan at Assembly Hall is absolutely vital. The Hoosiers can't afford to give the Wolverines an edge they might never regain.

Speaking of that, Indiana cannot let Wolverine superstar point guard Trey Burke penetrate into the lane. Let’s repeat that. Burke cannot get into the lane. The best person to stop that from happening is Victor Oladipo. The second best is Will Sheehey, although some will argue for freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell, who defends beyond his years.

It’s certain coach Tom Crean will mix things up defensively. Christian Watford, all 6-9 of him, might get some cracks at Burke. But Burke will get lots of Oladipo, especially at the end of the game.

Does this mean we’re telling Crean how to coach?

Well, we did lead a youth basketball team to ONE victory while subbing for the head coach more years ago than we care to admit, but this is no time to boast or demand a $3.1 million a year salary.

Anyway, the best thing for the Hoosiers will be for Burke to get into major foul trouble, as Michigan State’s Keith Appling did last week in Assembly Hall. Appling played just 19 minutes and had three points, no assists and four turnovers.

Keep in mind, Appling is one of the Big Ten’s best players and is a HUGE part of the Spartan attack. IU totally neutralized him and still only won by five, which tells you how good Michigan State is and how big a win that was for the Hoosiers.

Can Indiana do the same thing to Burke? The Hoosiers will try. They’ll use lots of ball movement and penetration. They’ll attack the rim and try to draw fouls. They are, in so many ways, the nation’s best in doing that. If they could foul out Burke and a few other Wolverines, life would be a lot easier.

And if that seems obvious, well, did we mention we are 1-0 as a youth basketball coach?


BET THE HOUSE, PART II: For those of you who might have forgotten, we assured everybody to bet the house on IU beating Wisconsin in Assembly Hall a few weeks ago. The Hoosiers, of course, didn't win, which research shows was part of a conspiracy that reached to the highest levels of the government and Donald Trump's bachelor pad.

Anyway, we have addressed those issues, spent big bucks on gypsy fortune tellers and have established that, without question, you should bet the house on IU beating Michigan tonight. No way the Hoosiers lose. No way.

So bet the house, the kids college fund and your retirement account on a Cream 'n Crimson victory. And if, by some strange twist of fate, the Hoosiers DO lose, well, we'll get back to you.

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