BLOOMINGTON -- So who wins a basketball track meet between Indiana and Michigan?
We're about to find out.
The No. 3 Hoosiers host the No. 1 Wolverines tonight and the last thing you're likely to see is slow-it-down drudgery.
Both teams like to run. Both have the athletes to do it. Specifically, they have the point guards who can do it -- Yogi Ferrell for Indiana, Trey Burke for Michigan.
The Hoosiers are the Big Ten's highest-scoring team, at 84.0 points. The Wolverines are second, at 78.0. They rank 1-2 in scoring margin, IU at 23.5 points, Michigan at 19.4 They are the two best three-point shooting teams.
In other words, the outright conference lead (both teams are 7-1 in league play) is likely to come down to fast-break fury, which leads to the obvious question:
Can any visiting team outrun the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall?
Clues are everywhere if you know where to look. Jay Bilas does. He's the ESPN broadcaster in town as part of its "GameDay" crew. He knows a good fast-break team when he sees one.
“Michigan is an underrated transition team,” he said. “They are very efficient when they run. They don't run as much as some teams. They're not up there (nationally) in pace of play, but when they run, they run. Their lanes get filled fast with speedy guys on the wings. Burke makes it go. When he gets to half court, he makes good decisions.”
Good decisions are easier when you have Tim Hardaway, Glenn Robinson and Nick Stauskas filling those lanes. Still, it comes down to Burke, and everybody who plays the Wolverines knows it.
“The key is, can you corral him in transition and slow him down,” Bilas said. “Can you stay in front of him? Once he has an angle, it's over.
“They're an excellent half-court team, but if you limit them in transition and corral Burke and slow him down a little bit … That's easier said than done. It's a great plan, but as Mike Tyson used to say, everybody has a plan until they get hit.”
IU coach Tom Crean understands the challenge.
“Michigan is tremendous at running on misses and turnovers,” he said. “They really run. If they're not the best running team in the Big Ten, they're as good as there is in the country. They get out and want easy buckets. They're creating them with defense.”
Forget risk-reward defense. Michigan is too good, Crean said.
“We want to be solid. This cannot be a risky, risk-taking, let-me-go-for-a-steal type of play. You have to be very sound in what you try to do.”
Both teams come in hot. Michigan (20-1) has won four straight, the last three by at least 14 points. IU (19-2) also has won four straight and is coming off Wednesday's 97-60 blowout win at Purdue.
Beyond that, this is the first time two top-three teams have ever played at Assembly Hall. The previous best came in 1993, when No. 1 IU beat No. 4 Michigan 93-92.
The result is a buildup not seen since last season's Kentucky game.
“When you go around campus, you can feel the buzz,” guard Jordan Hulls said. “The fans are great. We'll need them in full force.”
That buzz hasn't distracted the Hoosiers, or at least Hulls, from one-game-at-a-time perspective.
“It's a little bit different because of 'GameDay,' ” Hulls said. “We've never had that experience, but it's still another game, the next one on our schedule. At least, that's the way we're looking at it.”
Rebounding is a major point of emphasis. Indiana has the Big Ten's best offensive rebounding team (40.3). Michigan is the conference's best defensive rebounding team, holding opponents to 29.2 boards.
“Rebounding is the big key to the game,” Hoosier forward Christian Watford said.
“We know they'll send guys to the glass. We have to keep bodies on them. Controlling the glass is definitely something we want to do. That lets us get out on the break and control that tempo.”
Tempo is another word for pace, and that, Crean said, is all about perspective.
“Beauty is in the eye of beholder, but it has to fit your team. Michigan can score a lot. They're good at half-court. It becomes what your execution is. Are you getting good looks or shots?
“It will be a game of momentum changes. How you gain momentum will have a lot to do with the pace of it. You read pace as the game goes on. Against the best teams, it's always a game of adjustments.”