Michigan-Indiana lives up to the hype as both programs continue rise
The anticipation was building -- and through 40 minutes of spectacular basketball, the shaking rarely seized.
Top-ranked Michigan and No. 3 Indiana duked it out in one of the sport's greatest arenas, a top-five matchup with top billing in the nation's top conference on the line. The stage was set, and the teams delivered.
The Wolverines (20-2) lost 81-73, dropping them to 7-2 in league play and giving Indiana (20-2, 8-1) a one-game lead in the Big Ten. But it was a game of high theater, all of which was underscored by the league and national implications.
"Sometimes in these situations, when there is so much attention and hoopla and hype surrounding a game, it can't live up to it," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "This one did."
Michigan and Indiana are relevant again. The Wolverines are considered national title contenders, after years of bad basketball on the court and scandal away from it -- and few can appreciate that rise better than Crean.
It was, after all, just five years ago when he took over an Indiana program that was hit with sanctions. The Hoosiers' roster was ransacked by all forms of attrition, and Crean went 6-25 in his first season 2008-09.
In 2009-10, Indiana hosted Michigan in this building on Dec. 31. The Hoosiers were 6-6, on their way to a 10-21 finish. The Wolverines were 6-5, en route to 15-17.
Four years later, they played for first place in the nation's best conference, and a possible road through Indianapolis as No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
"I’m really excited for John Beilein," said Crean, a former Marquette coach who faced Beilein regularly while he was at West Virginia. "I know how good of a coach he is, and I know some of the issues he walked into at Michigan. I saw first-hand what he did at West Virgina, and we may be competitors and rivals and all that stuff, but I’m excited for him and what he’s doing with that team.
"His wife and my wife talk now and then. There’s a mutual respect. But you get in a game like this, I mean, I was uptight enough the past couple days and I wanted to enjoy it too. Our fans were fantastic. Sometimes you smell momentum."
These programs are the Big Ten's heavyweights, and will meet once more March 10. The final day of the regular season.
It will be tough to live up to the drama of this one. But with a possible Big Ten title on the line for one or both teams, the stakes surely will be high.
"It was two pretty good teams playing," Beilein said. "Someone was going to win the game, and we didn't. The kids held their own. It wasn't 90-50. We held our own.
"Now it's time to move on to the next one."
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