There's just one game between Top 25 teams on the schedule tonight, and it should be a good matchup of teams looking to further cement themselves as Big Ten title contenders. #12 Indiana (13-1) is 10-0 at Assembly Hall this season, and their wins over Kentucky and Ohio State are the most impressive pair of victories that any team in America can claim.
But #13 Michigan (12-2) offers up a challenge unlike either of those contests for Tom Crean's team due to the system that John Beilein runs. Indiana is familiar with what the Wolverines like to do but that doesn't make the task any easier, as the Wolverines have adjusted well to life without Darius Morris.
A big reason why: freshman point guard Trey Burke. Burke (14.0 ppg, 5.0 apg) has done a good job of balancing his ability to score with the need to get others involved. Of course in Michigan's system up to four players on the court can handle the basketball at any given time, so this helps out some. But Burke could easily get overly aggressive and try to force things, but he hasn't done that and the Wolverines have benefitted greatily.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (15.6 ppg, 2.8 apg) is the go-to offensive option when considering pure scoring ability, but Michigan has six players averaging at least seven points per game. That will be the challenge that Indiana will have to deal with, and it's a task they haven't been faced with on many occasions this season. The Hoosiers will need to remain honest defensively not just because of that balance but also the fact that Michigan is so reliant on the three-point shot, scoring 36.5% of their points from deep (2nd in the Big Ten behind Northwestern).
Indiana's opponents have scored just 22.5% of their points from beyond the arc, and Indiana has limited teams to 31.1% shooting from three. One guard who will have a big impact on the perimeter defense for Indiana is sophomore Victor Oladipo (12.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg), who ranks among the best defenders in the Big Ten. One would think that he would match up with Hardaway Jr. tonight, but with guards such as Stu Douglass and Zack Novak also at Beilein's disposal all of the Indiana guards will need to be at their best defensively.
The Hoosiers have a slight edge in the frontcourt, with freshman Cody Zeller (14.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and senior Christian Watford (12.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg) leading the way. Zeller has been a steady offensive force inside for the Hoosiers, which has allowed Watford to play more on the perimeter in what is a more comfortable spot for him. Watford knocked down the game-winning three against Kentucky and he's been playing more confidently all season long.
Michigan counters with Evan Smotrycz (10.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Jordan Morgan (7.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg), but they need more consistent play from Morgan if they're to be a contender for a Big Ten title. Morgan's scored in double figures in just two of Michigan's last nine games but to be fair he did grab 12 rebounds in the win over Minnesota. Smotrycz has the ablity to step out and knock down perimeter shots, as he's hit 54.5% of his three-point attempts.
On the glass these two teams are about even but Indiana's been the more efficient offensive team, likely a byproduct of Michigan's reliance on the perimeter shot. Jordan Hulls and Verdell Jones III will be players that Michigan will need to account for defensively, and the fact that Indiana forces an average of 17 turnovers per game should also be a concern. The winner will have to be considered a Big Ten title contender after tonight.
Two teams that need wins in a big way will also be on display tonight, as Pittsburgh visits DePaul and UCLA hosts Arizona. Tray Woodall likely will not play for the Panthers due to injury, which place more responsibility on the shoulders of Ashton Gibbs not to mention freshman guard John Johnson. But if Nasir Robinson, Lamar Patterson and Dante Taylor can step up the Panthers should be in decent shape. The key against the Blue Demons: be smart with the basketball. Oliver Purnell's team will want to speed things up to an uncomfortable tempo, and in Cleveland Melvin they've got one of the better players in the Big East.
As for UCLA, it's tough to figure out if the Bruins have the pieces required to be a factor in the Pac-12 despite the poor nature of that conference. Joshua Smith can be a factor when he wants to be, but against Arizona's quick frontcourt the sophomore could get exposed in a big way if he isn't thoroughly invested in the action. Also of note will be the maturation of Arizona's young guards especially Nick Johnson, who would likely be the early favorite for Pac-12 Rookie if the Year honors if not for Washington's Tony Wroten.
In the CAA, George Mason visits ODU in a key matchup for both teams if they're going to contend for the regular season crown. Paul Hewitt's team is definitely talented with the likes of Mike Morrison and Ryan Pearson, but for whatever reason the Patriots tend to make games far more difficult that they should be. That could be a recipe for disaster against the Monarchs, given how tough Blaine Taylor's teams can be defensively.
BYU's trip to LA to take on Loyola Marymount can be a tricky game for the Cougars simply for the fact that you never know which LMU team will show up. But it's tough to see the Lions being able to matchup up with Brandon Davies and company in the frontcourt, which could mean a long night for the home team.
There's also a big game in the Big Sky with Weber State visiting Eastern Washington. The Eagles have been one of the best teams in the country at taking care of the basketball, and Colin Chiverton and company will need to continue that if they're to beat Damian Lillard and company.
And in the MAAC two teams who hope to fit in right behind Iona and Fairfield match up in Baltimore, as Manhattan visits Loyola (MD). Steve Masiello's done a very good job with the Jaspers in his first season at the helm, but keep in mind that Marist won their two December league games last season and still finished in the bottom half of the league.
Top 25 Games
9:00 PM (13) Michigan at (12) Indiana (ESPN2)
10:00 PM (17) UNLV at Cal State Bakersfield
10:00 PM San Diego Christian at (25) San Diego State
NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM George Mason at Old Dominion (CSN)
7:00 PM New Hampshire at Hartford
7:00 PM Fordham at Massachusetts
7:00 PM Wagner at Fairleigh Dickinson
7:00 PM Citadel at Furman
7:00 PM Western Carolina at Chattanooga
7:00 PM Boston University at Vermont
7:00 PM Pittsburgh at DePaul (ESPN2)
7:00 PM UIC at Cleveland State
7:00 PM Stony Brook at Binghamton
7:00 PM Saint Francis (PA) at Central Connecticut State
7:00 PM Georgia Southern at Elon
7:00 PM Louisiana-Monroe at Florida Atlantic
7:00 PM Albany at UMBC
7:00 PM Mount St. Mary's at Monmouth
7:00 PM VMI at UNC Asheville
7:00 PM Davidson at UNC Greensboro
7:00 PM Western Illinois at Oakland
7:00 PM High Point at Presbyterian
7:00 PM Long Island at Sacred Heart
7:00 PM Quinnipiac at St. Francis (NY)
7:00 PM Canisius at Saint Peter's (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Radford at Winthrop
7:00 PM Robert Morris at Bryant
7:00 PM IUPUI at IPFW
7:05 PM Loyola (IL) at Youngstown State
7:30 PM Campbell at Charleston Southern
7:30 PM Manhattan at Loyola (MD)
8:00 PM North Texas at South Alabama
8:00 PM Morehead State at Jacksonville State
8:00 PM Louisiana-Lafayette at Western Kentucky
8:00 PM Purdue at Penn State (BTN)
8:00 PM USF at Villanova (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Appalachian State at Samford
8:00 PM Southeast Missouri State at Tennessee-Martin
8:00 PM Tennessee State at Tennessee Tech
8:00 PM Charleston at Wofford (ESPN3)
8:05 PM North Dakota State at Oral Roberts
8:05 PM Denver at Arkansas State
8:30 PM Alabama State at Jackson State
8:30 PM Alcorn State at Prairie View A&M
8:30 PM Middle Tennessee at Troy
9:00 PM Washington at Colorado (ROOT RM)
9:00 PM South Dakota State at Southern Utah
9:00 PM Washington State at Utah
9:00 PM Saint Mary's at San Diego (ESPNU)
9:00 PM Weber State at Eastern Washington
9:00 PM Pepperdine at Gonzaga (ROOT NW)
9:00 PM BYU at Loyola Marymount (BYU TV)
9:00 PM Stanford at Oregon (CSN NW)
9:00 PM Southern University at Texas Southern
9:00 PM Alabama A&M at Grambling State
9:05 PM Montana State at Idaho State
9:05 PM Fresno State at Utah State (ESPN3)
10:00 PM California at Oregon State
10:00 PM UC Irvine at Pacific
10:00 PM UC Riverside at UC Davis
10:00 PM Cal State Fullerton at UC Santa Barbara
10:05 PM Cal Poly at Long Beach State
10:05 PM Northern Arizona at Portland State
10:30 PM Arizona State at USC
11:00 PM Arizona at UCLA (FSN)
11:00 PM Santa Clara at Portland (CSN NW)
11:05 PM Nevada at Idaho