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Michigan-Indiana matchup is this weekend’s ‘other’ big game

Indiana's Cody Zeller (40) reacts during second half an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan State Sunday Jan. 27 2013

Indiana's Cody Zeller (40) reacts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Michigan State Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana defeated Michigan State 75-70. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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Updated: March 3, 2013 6:15AM



BLOOMINGTON — It’s almost too appropriate, Saturday’s matchup between No. 1 Michigan and No. 3 Indiana. A prelude to the most-watched — and most-hyped — sporting event of the year, Michigan-IU will pit the Super Bowl coaches’ brother-in-law against Jim Harbaugh’s alma mater.

ESPN’s College Gameday is in town, adding to the hype. That was scheduled before the season began, but both the Wolverines and Hoosiers have lived up to — in Michigan’s case, even surpassing — preseason expectations.

Ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll, the Wolverines were the last Division I team to lose a game, opening 16-0 before a 56-53 loss at Ohio State. Michigan rebounded to win four straight, and this week took over the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press poll for the first time since Nov. 30, 1992.

The Hoosiers opened the season at No. 1, but an 88-86 overtime loss to Butler on Dec. 15 dropped them from the top spot. IU’s second loss came exactly a month later, a 64-59 setback to Wisconsin at Assembly Hall. It snapped an 18-game home winning streak for the Hoosiers, who have also won four in a row since.

“They are humming along,” Michigan coach John Beilein said Friday. “It’s a big challenge (but) every game is a big challenge, I don’t differentiate things.”

Beilein wasn’t sure if junior forward Jordan Morgan would be able to play today or not. Morgan missed the win over Northwestern on Wednesday due to an ankle injury. He was averaging 5.1 points and 6.0 rebounds in conference play. Jon Horford could start in Morgan’s place, although Chesterton’s Mitch McGary should see plenty of playing time as well. He leads the Wolverines, averaging 6.5 rebounds per game.

Whoever’s in that spot will have plenty to contend with in Cody Zeller, who snapped a two-game scoring funk with a 19-point, 11-rebound performance at Purdue on Wednesday.

Of course, he also let Purdue freshman A.J. Hammons score a career-high 30 points.

That doesn’t necessarily mean a big game for Michigan’s big men, as the Wolverines will continue to rely on Trey Burke (18.1 ppg in Big Ten play) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (15.0 ppg) as the top threats.

“We can’t let them become something they’re not,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said on Thursday’s Dan Dakich radio show when asked about defending Michigan. “They don’t shoot a lot of free throws, so we don’t want to put them in that situation.

“Their best offense is your bad shot.”

Beilein knows the focus can’t be on Zeller alone.

“It’s not like he’s got a bunch of stiffs working around him,” Beilein said.

The winner of this game — the first at Assembly Hall featuring two Top-3 teams — will stand alone atop the Big Ten standings with an 8-1 record. The loser will have to wait until March 10 in Ann Arbor for revenge.

“It’s an away game, a huge crowd … we know it’s exciting to be in that atmosphere,” Beilein said. “This is what we signed up for.”



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