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March 10, 2013It's only been March for 10 days, but the Madness is already beginning.
After a wild Big Ten race, which has captivated the country as the top teams in the best conference in America duke it out on a nightly basis, it all comes down to Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines and Hoosiers will square off in Crisler Center. With a Michigan win, at least three teams (Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State) will share the regular-season conference crown (and Michigan State can join the fold with a win over Northwestern this evening).
With an Indiana win, the Hoosiers will sit alone atop the standings.
"It's all for the marbles right now," junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. said. "We're playing with our hearts and just playing Michigan basketball right now, trying to get a piece of the Big Ten Championship. It's going to be tough. We know they want to be outright championships, and we know a lot of our rivals are counting on us, so they can get a piece of it, too. It's going to be a challenge, but hopefully we come out with a victory.
"The intensity is definitely there. It just all comes down to our preparation today and tomorrow, how we handle our scout team. Coach Beilein instructed the scout team to be very physical with us the next two days, just to get us prepared for what we're going to see on Sunday."
At this point in the season, Michigan and Indiana know each other quite well.,
The two teams played in Bloomington in early February - and each has 30 games of footage on the other.
The Wolverines know exactly what the Hoosiers are going to want to do - and vice versa.
"It comes down to knowing personnel at this point," Hardaway said. "You can't really go over plays, because everybody knows tendencies and the plays the other teams run. It comes down to knowing personnel, what the other player does well on the court and trying to lock it down. They're ready, and we're ready, it's going to be a fun one to watch.
"It makes it fun to play, because we know each others' tendencies and everybody has counters know. You're going to play defense to shut down what you know they want to do. Overall, it's going to be a great game. The Big Ten title is on the line - you can't ask for more."
Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke has seen an extra boost in his team's step in the last few weeks.
Ever since the Wolverines inexplicably dropped a game at Penn State, the team is 2-0 with big wins over Michigan State and at Purdue.
Although he hates to lose, Burke sees the positives out of that embarrassing loss.
"Our mindset after the Penn State loss, after calling that last team meeting, we all hold each other accountable," he said. "We all know what we have to do. It's too late in the season to still be teaching intensity, and still be teaching toughness.
"That was definitely the blessing in that loss. You learn from every loss, but that was the biggest loss of the year that we've learned the most from, losing to Penn State.
"Just seeing how those guys played in the last 10 to 15 minutes, how they stuck together even though they were down 15 points. That was a lesson we took from that game, that we got from them. It's definitely good that we got to regroup and refocus from that loss."
"We know we have one more game left, one more game to accomplish that. That's been our goal since the beginning of the year, and we're proud of that. We've made it to this point. We know this is it, really."
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