Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY

Indiana begins toughest part of Big Ten schedule with road game at Michigan

A backloaded schedule allowed Indiana to reach the midway point of the conference season at 8-1. Now, the most challenging portion begins with a key road matchup at Michigan.

Despite missing senior guard Caris LeVert due to injury for nearly half of Big Ten play, Michigan (17-5, 7-2 Big Ten) has managed to put together a solid conference season so far. 

John Beilein's Wolverines sit half a game behind Maryland for third place in the conference. A win over Indiana (18-4, 8-1) Tuesday night would give them a boost in the conference standings. 

It makes for a very dangerous team as Indiana starts its most challenging portion of its Big Ten schedule Tuesday at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

"There is no doubt they are a very good basketball team," Indiana head coach Tom Crean said. 

LeVert, Michigan's leading scorer, has not played since injury his ankle at Illinois on Dec. 30. However, his status was upgraded to day-to-day by Beilein this week. 

In an interview on The Dan Dakich Show on Indianapolis radio station 1070 The Fan, Beilein said that LeVert did more Sunday than he's done at all since the injury. 

Should he play Tuesday, his 17.6 points per game would be a big boost for Michigan and a challenging defensive matchup for Indiana, which would be facing an athletic 6-foot-7 guard. 

Crean said Indiana is preparing for LeVert as if he is going to play Tuesday night.

"And then if he isn’t out there, then he’s not out there," Crean said. "They are good across the board because they have shot makers." 

Those shot makers stepped up in LeVert's absence to make Michigan the top 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten with 233 3-point field goals made. Overall, the Wolverines have the third-best field goal percentage at 48.6 percent. 

Michigan's starters, without LeVert, have shot between 41 and 57 percent from the field. 

"Michigan has that high-powered offense and they have shooters in their whole starting five, and they have drivers," Indiana senior guard Yogi Ferrell said. "We have to have a mindset to take away what they want to get, make their shots hard, stop the penetration, and fly up and down the court.”

The only player who has been away from the Michigan program longer this season is IU grad transfer forward Max Bielfeldt. Bielfeldt wasn't re-offered a scholarship after graduating from Michigan with a degree in sports management last spring, and as a reult elected to look elsewhere for his fifth and final year of eligibility. 

He ended up transferring to Indiana, where he's completing completing a master's degree from the Kelley School of Business and has developed into a sixth man of sorts for the Hoosiers. averaging a career-high 8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in 17.1 minutes off the bench. 

As the team departed for Ann Arbor, Mich., he tweeted he was excited to be heading back and had nothing but four years of great memories. He acknowledged it will be different but is looking forward to it. 

“I couldn’t be more grateful for my time at Michigan," Bielfeldt said. "Completing my degree in sports management, the friendships, and my experiences on and off the court are things I will always be appreciative of."

Bielfeldt was part of the Michigan team which fell to Indiana in early March 2013, with the Hoosiers winning the Big Ten title outright as a result. The games in recent seasons haven't carried as much signifance as that spring game three years ago, but Indiana's matchups with Michigan have typically come around the crucial midway point of the season. 

Around the same time last year, the Hoosiers defeated the Wolverines 70-67 at home. But then Indiana went 2-5 in its final seven Big Ten games. The year prior, IU closed out the second half of the conference season going 3-6. 

The stretch after the Michigan game has typically been challenging, and this conference season is no different. After Tuesday's road game, Indiana will face Michigan State, Iowa and Purdue in the month of February. 

With those matchups looming and last year's game decided by three points, it should make for an exciting primetime game at the Crisler Center. 

"It will be an incredible atmosphere," Crean said. "We will have family around and it will be good to see them and we are looking forward to it.”

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