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No. 1 Michigan and No. 3 Indiana take center stage

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No. 1 Michigan and No. 3 Indiana take center stage

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) 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. 3 in Monday's AP poll and then handed Purdue its worst ever home loss, 97-60.

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.''

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NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

The Hart Trophy is given to the player judged to be the most valuable to their team. With the Caps currently struggling in almost every aspect of the game, consider this: Just where would they be without Alex Ovechkin?

Washington ranks 10th in the NHL in goals per game with 3.05. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals with 36. He has scored an incredible 19-percent of his team's goals. No one on the Caps is within 20 goals of the Caps' captain.

That's not a typo. Evgeny Kuznetsov ranks second on the team with 16 goals. No other team in the league has a larger separation between its top two scorers. In fact, only three teams have a difference that's in the double digits: Vancouver (11), San Jose (10) and New Jersey (10).

Ovechkin is almost singlehandedly propping up Washington as a top-ten offense. If you think about just where this offense would be without him, there's a pretty strong case to be made that Ovechkin is as valuable to his team this season as any other player in the league.

SEE THIS WEEK'S 2018 NHL AWARDS TRACKER HERE

Here are the Caps' hopefuls for awards this season:

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

Carlson is fifth among all defensemen with 45 points, but his case goes beyond the numbers. With a blue line that has featured two rookies the majority of the season, an aging veteran in Brooks Orpik and that had to deal with an injury to Matt Niskanen, the Caps have asked a lot of Carlson this season and he has always been up to the task.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

Few players, if any, are as important to their team's offensive production and therefore its success than Ovechkin has been this season.

Check out who the top candidates are for the league's major individual awards in this week's 2018 NHL Awards Tracker!

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Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

On a roll

The Wizards have some serious momentum going right now. With an impressive win over the Cavs on Thursday, they have now won three straight games and eight of 10 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. They had a week off due to the All-Star break, but didn't show any rust at all in their first game back.

The Wizards are now 34-24, 10 games above the .500 mark. They are fourth in the East and could move into third on Friday if they win and the Cavaliers lose. Even with Wall out, things continue to look up for Washington.

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Hornets have had their number

The Wizards haven't done so well against the Hornets so far this season. Charlotte has taken both meetings and that includes a 24-point win on Jan. 17. That game featured Dwight Howard taunting the Wizards late in the fourth quarter.

Howard has killed the Wizards through two games with averages of 22.0 points and 14.0 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb (20.0 ppg vs. Wizards) has been a big factor as well as All-Star Kemba Walker (21.5 ppg vs. Wizards).

The last time these teams played about a month ago frustrations boiled over in an incident that got Tim Frazier ejected. Michael Carter-Williams picked a fight with Jason Smith and Frazier went off:

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

Hornets coming in hot

The Hornets are outside the playoff picture at the moment at eight games below .500, but they have won two straight games and Walker and Howard are coming off huge games. In a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Walker dropped 31 points and Howard grabbed 24 rebounds.

Those guys will be riding a high coming into Washington on Friday. But it should be noted that Howard complained after the game how tired he is at this point in the season. That exhausion could affect him more in the second game of a back-to-back.

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