AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana should be getting used to all this.
Students lining up in chilly temperatures long before tip-off so they can see America’s No. 1 team play at Assembly Hall. A nationally televised game that will become the focal point of the college basketball universe for one day. And the Hoosiers vying again for the Big Ten lead.
On Saturday, it’s all about facing Michigan.
"It’s going to be a big game, and I really can’t wait for it," freshman guard Kevin Ferrell said.
Nobody in Bloomington can.
After stumbling in December against Butler and again early in conference play against Wisconsin, the Hoosiers (18-2, 7-1) have been trying to play their way back to the No. 1 spot they held through the first month of the season. A win Saturday might finally get them back on top, and Indiana is playing its best basketball of the season.
National player of the year candidate Cody Zeller broke out of his two-game shooting funk Wednesday night, dominating the middle against Purdue. Not surprisingly, his inside presence opened things up for the Hoosiers’ 3-point shooters, who knocked down a season-high 12 against the Boilermakers. Indiana’s vastly improved defense continues to play well, too, ranking 12th nationally in defensive field goal percentage (37.3).
The result: Indiana slugged it out with then-No. 13 Michigan State on Sunday before pulling away for a 75-70 victory, moved up four spots to No.
If they can beat a No. 1 team at home for the second time in 14 months, the Hoosiers will sweep their biggest week of the season.
"Everybody can play, they can run, shoot, play defense, they can do everything," Indiana guard Jordan Hulls said of Michigan. "So you know we’re excited for this opportunity."
Michigan is playing well, too.
Since losing at No. 15 Ohio State on Jan. 13, following their first perfect nonconference season since 1985-86, the Wolverines (20-1, 7-1) have won four straight -- including their last three by at least 14 points. Sophomore guard Trey Burke is averaging 17.9 points and 7.1 assists and, like Zeller, is a national player of the year candidate and a preseason All-American.
A win would allow Michigan to retain its first No. 1 ranking since 1992-93, the second season of the Fab Five, for a second straight week.
Plus, the winner would take sole possession of the conference lead at the midway mark.
"We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of hype. It’s going to be a really hectic crowd and atmosphere," Burke said. "I know guys are ready. Indiana’s a really good team. We’ll be ready for them. It should be a fun game."
And perhaps another milestone in a series that has had its share of memorable moments.
The only other time Michigan faced Indiana as the No. 1 team came Feb. 15, 1965, and the Wolverines won 96-95 in overtime over the eighth-ranked Hoosiers.
There was Indiana’s victory in the 1976 national championship game, the first of Bob Knight’s three national titles and the last undefeated season in major college basketball. There was Michigan’s 65-52 victory on Jan. 24, 1995, which ended Indiana’s 50-game winning streak at Assembly Hall. And, of course, there was the early 1990s rivalry between the Indiana teams led by Calbert Cheaney and Damon Bailey and the Wolverines teams with the Fab Five. Indiana went 3-1 in those two years.
Historically, though, things have not gone well for the Hoosiers in these contests.
Indiana is 2-5 all-time against No. 1 teams in Bloomington and a win Saturday would make these upperclassmen the first players in school history to beat two No. 1 teams at home and the first to beat No. 1 teams in two straight regular seasons. Indiana beat Michigan State at home on a last-second shot in January 2001 and Duke in the 2002 NCAA tournament. Christian Watford hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to upset No. 1 Kentucky last season.
The Hoosiers have only faced a No. 1 team twice before when they were ranked No. 3: Losing at Iowa in January 1987 and beating UNLV in the Final Four two months later.
Indiana understands what it’s up against this time, too.
Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas are all averaging double figures and are ready to prove they really are America’s best team.
"We know they’re a talented team. They’re on top of the Big Ten," Zeller said.
The question is will the Wolverines have everyone on deck?
Forward Jordan Morgan, Michigan’s second-leading rebounder, missed Wednesday’s game against Northwestern with a sprained right ankle and his status for Saturday remains uncertain.
"He’s going to try and do some things with us today," coach John Beilein said. "We won’t know until he moves out there a little bit."
But the Hoosiers aren’t worried about injuries, the buildup or the outside influences.
If they’ve learned anything over this past season and a half, it’s this: Be themselves.
"It’s a great opportunity," Hulls said. "It’s going to be a fun atmosphere and we’re definitely excited about it."