Indiana, the nation's top team in the preseason, fell before working its way back to No. 3. Now, the Hoosiers were hosting the current No. 1, Michigan, for the Big Ten lead. ESPN's "College GameDay" visited Assembly Hall, adding to the anticipation.
Then, it got bigger. Second-ranked Kansas lost at home against Oklahoma State earlier in the day, essentially making Saturday night's prime-time matchup a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game.
Indiana delivered. Cody Zeller had 19 points and nine rebounds to help the Hoosiers beat Michigan 81-73 in a game that met the highest of expectations.
"Sometimes in these situations, when there's so much attention and hoopla and hype surrounding a game, it can't live up to it," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "Well, this one did, I think."
Indiana now likely will regain the No. 1 ranking. The Hoosiers say they plan to aggressively defend it.
"Play with a chip on our shoulder," said Victor Oladipo, who scored 15 points. "We've been having a chip on our shoulder since I got here."
Christian Watford had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell added 14 points and five assists for the Hoosiers (20-2, 8-1 Big Ten). Indiana won its fifth straight and took sole possession of first place in the conference standings.
Trey Burke had 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds for Michigan (20-2, 7-2). Tim Hardaway Jr. had 18 points, and Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary each scored 10 points for the Wolverines. Glenn Robinson III, who entered the game averaging 12.1 points, finished with two on 1-of-6 shooting from the field.
Michigan allowed Indiana to shoot 52 percent from the field, and the Wolverines' constant fouling gave the Hoosiers a chance to make 22 of 25 free throws. Michigan finished 6-for-7 at the foul line.
Indiana outrebounded Michigan 38-29.
"You've got to learn from this," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "These will be things you learn to win a Big Ten championship. You're going to have those same decisions back."
The Wolverines will find out how much they've learned soon enough. They host the Hoosiers on March 10 in the regular-season finale. The Hoosiers now know what to expect in that game.
"We knew Michigan was really good, but after being on the court with them for a couple of hours, they're better than I even thought as a coach," Crean said.
Indiana crushed rival Purdue 97-60 on Wednesday night, and the Hoosiers looked no different in the early going against the Wolverines. Indiana led by 15 in the first half but settled for a four-point lead at the break.
Burke's 3-pointer in the opening minutes of the second half cut Indiana's lead to 38-37.
With Indiana ahead by three, Jordan Hulls fouled Stauskas on a 3-pointer, and Stauskas made all three free throws to tie the score at 40.
A three-point play by Oladipo put the Hoosiers back up by five, and a 3-pointer by Hulls bumped the Hoosiers' lead to 49-40.
The lead reached 11 before Michigan rallied again. Hardaway made a 3-pointer to make it a 53-49 game.
Two monstrous putback dunks by Zeller gave Indiana a 61-55 lead. A three-point play by Burke made it a three-point game, but Hulls came right back with another 3-pointer, and the Hoosiers remained in control the rest of the way.
Indiana made its first six shots from the field, including four 3-pointers, to take an 18-7 lead, and the Hoosiers extended the advantage to 26-11 on a breakaway layup by Zeller.
Michigan started to find its footing midway through the first half. Hardaway made a layup to cut Indiana's lead to 28-17, and later, McGary scored in close on a lob by Stauskas to make it 28-21. A dunk by Jon Horford made it a five-point game with 5:37 left in the first half.
Michigan knocked its deficit down to five again on another basket by McGary, but Zeller scored on a thunderous putback dunk on the other end with 37 seconds left in the first half. Burke hit a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut Indiana's lead to 36-32 at the break.
Burke led the Wolverines with 14 points at halftime. Indiana might have led by more if not for 10 first-half turnovers.
Beilein said he won't let his team settle for being happy with making a game of it after looking as if it might get blown out.
"We can't be patting each other on the back with moral victories and things like that," he said. "We're very disappointed, but we can't dwell on it."
Crean believes there may be more than one meeting with Michigan on the horizon. The teams could meet in the Big Ten tournament, and possibly in the NCAA tournament.
"They truly are that good," he said. "They're going to continue to have a great season. Let's hope we can meet at the end of the year, and we're playing for something really big."
NOTES: Michigan was off to its best start in program history. ... It was just the second meeting between the schools with both ranked in the top five. ... Michigan was the first team in the nation to reach 20 wins. ... Indiana's Oladipo went for a dunk at the buzzer and missed. He worried that he might have offended the Wolverines. "It was no disrespect to Michigan," he said. "I apologize to their team, I apologize to their coaching staff."