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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 8:00 PM

Sunday’s meeting between #2 Indiana and #7 Michigan will have ramifications that go well beyond two rivals battling on a basketball court. The result will determine who wins the Big 10 regular season championship (Indiana outright, or a group hug), the result will determine seedings in the Big 10 tournament (important because of the rock-paper-scissors nature of matchups amongst the elite), and the result will play a large role in determining what seeds Indiana and Michigan will get in the Big Dance.

Heck, it will also shed light on what would happen in a neutral court meeting between these teams in the Big 10 tourney, or even in the Elite Eight or Final Four of the Big Dance.

What a great way to finish off college basketball’s regular season!

Even if you’re a bit tired from watching all of Saturday’s blockbusters, you know you’re going to be parked in front of the TV watching this thriller. Let’s run the game through our gauntlet to see how things may play out…

WON-LOST RECORDS

Indiana: 25-5 (13-4 in the Big 10)

Michigan: 25-5 (12-5 in the Big 10)

If you’re not in the mood to do that math…that’s 25-1 outside of Big 10 play! It’s easy to forget that these were seen as the best two teams in the country not very long ago. They play in a brutal conference, which has saddled each with some losses. Come late March, maybe these two will once again be seen as playing at a higher level than everyone else. So many mysteries to solve this year involving the best of the Big 10, the best of the Big East, Duke and Miami in the ACC, then Florida, Gonzaga, and Kansas as respected dangers as well. See if you see any weak links Sunday in Ann Arbor that might ultimately disqualify the Hoosiers or Wolverines from championship consideration.

COMPUTER RANKINGS

Indiana: #2 with Sagarin, #2 with Pomeroy

Michigan: #9 with Sagarin, #12 with Pomeroy

Both Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy had Indiana as the second best team in the country entering the weekend. Sagarin gave the #1 nod to Louisville, while Pomeroy had Florida. Michigan has fallen off the pace in both because of a recent slump in league play, and because last weekend’s 1-point home win over Michigan State grades out as a net negative because home court advantage is worth more than that. Was the early season rush from Michigan an illusion? Or, was the slump just a case of a mini-vacation before the team got serious again?

COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS

Indiana: #26 with Sagarin, #27 with Pomeroy

Michigan: #11 with Sagarin, #20 with Pomeroy

Michigan gets the nod from both in strength of schedule…thought it’s pretty close with Pomeroy’s methodology. Both teams are used to playing top competition. The concern now is whether or not that wore them down through the course of the season. Michigan has been trending the wrong direction…and Indiana’s recent losses to Minnesota and Ohio State could be hinting at the same thing. Wouldn’t that throw the Big Dance wide open if the Big 10 powers are too tired to play at peak performance?!

WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN’S TOP 50

Indiana: 9-5

Michigan: 9-4

Surprisingly, it’s actually Michigan getting the nod here. They have the slightly better record, which of course would flip flop if they lose this meeting on their home floor. Could Indiana still get a #1 seed in the Dance with SIX losses to top 50 teams? What if they suffer a SEVENTH in the Big 10 tournament. We don’t envy the Selection Committee this year. Whatever qualifiers you use…somebody’s going to catch some breaks while other teams get the shaft.

JOE LUNARDI’S BRACKETOLOGY

Indiana: projected #1 seed

Michigan: projected #2 seed

As of right now, Lunardi of ESPN still has the Hoosiers on the top rung, with Michigan right below them. Whoever loses Sunday is in danger of falling back one…particularly Michigan who’s barely hanging on to a #2 as we speak. Remember, the computers would have them as a three.

POMEROY’S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS

Indiana: #1

Michigan: #2

Moving now to the chess match. Pomeroy adjusts for strength of schedule and pace factor…and he shows these two teams having the best offenses in the country! That wouldn’t surprise you with Indiana…who often puts up big numbers with their potent attack. Michigan plays a much slower game, and isn’t as well recognized for having a great offense. The problem we have with the ranking is that Michigan really struggles late in close games vs. good defenses. They don’t play at all like an elite offense in crunch time…and it’s going to take crunch time performances to advance in March. You can’t just hope somebody hits a guarded long shot in the final seconds…and that appears to be Michigan’s approach.

POMEROY’S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS

Indiana: #17

Michigan: #59

Admit it…you had Michigan backwards! Once you adjust for tempo, Michigan’s defense isn’t anything special at all. Well, by tournament standards. With over 300 teams in the sampling, top 60 is fine. Once you’re talking playing for a championship…Michigan’s per-possession defense is much worse than that of other contenders. That could matter today against the Hoosiers…who are top 20. That will definitely matter in the later rounds of the Dance where many top 10 defenses will be waiting. The late season swoon for Michigan may have just been their defensive issues finally catching up with them.

POMEROY’S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS

Indiana: #88

Michigan: #237

Indiana is a fast team…and that style of play has worked well in recent Dances because attacking the basket is so hard for opponents to deal with in pressure situations. If you guard hard…you risk foul trouble. If you don’t, you allow a bunch of layups. Michigan isn’t quite as slow as some other top teams…but they’re slower than average. They will certainly try to slow down Indiana here because you can’t win a track meet against the Hoosiers. We’ve seen often this year that the home team generally controls the tempo. Michigan must emphasize that right out of the gate, or they’ll dig another early hole that will be hard to get out of.

BEST EXPECTATION

Indiana has been vulnerable on the road this season…and can be neutralized if you slow them down. So, the stage is set for a Michigan win. That being said…Michigan’s recent team hasn’t been playing to its full season standard. And, Indiana did win a big Sunday game at Ohio State not too long ago when a host didn’t take early control. Both teams have motivation in terms of the regular season title. Indiana is in a bounce-back spot with a chance to win it outright…which might carry more intangible weight.

JIM HURLEY has been crunching all the numbers with his staff of experts. He believes he’s found the key data that will determine how Indiana-Michigan will play out here on the final day of the regular season. Will that opinion qualify as a BEST BET for his paying customers? The only way to find out is to link up with NETWORK Sunday morning to get the top plays on the card. You can purchase our top daily plays with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you Monday to discuss that evening’s mid-major championship slate. Then Tuesday brings opening day action in the Big East tournament. Fasten your seat belts for the wildest handicapping week in all of sports! It’s THE ROAD TO MARCH MADNESS and JIM HURLEY IS IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT leading your RACE TO RICHES!

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