With each game this season we'll put the spotlight on an Indiana player that we believe is someone to keep an eye on for that particular game.
If you were to just look at the season statistics for the first 20 games, you might not notice Austin Etherington. He is 10th on the team in scoring at 2.4 points per game. That puts him behind a player like Hanner Mosquera-Perea or the recently transferred Luke Fischer. For the season, he is averaging 10.2 minutes per game. But Indiana basketball fans know differently when it comes to Etherington's contributions of late. In the last five games, his playing time average is up to 19 minutes per game. In fact, he has played a little bit more with each of those five games. Beginning with the Jan. 11 contest at Penn State, Etherington has played 17, 18, 19, 19 and 21 minutes in those last five games. And his numbers have been good. He has made 7-of-12 shots from the field in that run, 2-of-3 from 3-point range and 7-9 from the free throw line. He also has 17 rebounds and five steals. He has scored 23 points, nearly five points per game.
I asked Tom Crean in the teleconference with the IU media Wednesday if he was surprised with Etherington's progress and if he would like to see him shoot more from the perimeter. "On both accounts, not surprised,'' Crean said. "It's fun watching his confidence grow. But I think what happened, I've used this analogy before, so I'll use it again. When things aren't going your way, you can either get sad or get determined and I thought he continued to practice and prepare and persevere throughout when he didn't get a lot of time and when he was playing sparingly. He just continued to battle in practice. He didn't like it, but he battled. You don't ever want anyone to like that they're not playing in the way they would like to play, or the amount they would like to play, because then they are not as competitive. But you can't be sad about it. You can't get down. You have to continue to be ready. I think the fact that he has worked so hard and when his name was called, and he was prepared all week after the Michigan State game to go in, and be ready the next game especially going into Penn State and the bottom line was it's working. And it's because he's doing the little things that matter, and a lot of big things, the blockouts, the getting to the boards, the running the court, the moving without the basketball, making simple plays.''
Crean said he would be fine with Etherington shooting more from the perimeter within the flow of the game. "He's a very great shot fake guy. He's a guy that can move the ball; he's gotten so much better. I think the one thing that has really improved with him in the last couple weeks in playing is how well he has moved without the ball and how much he has improved as a rebounder. Because that's something that was frankly keeping him off the court - was his lack of rebounding, lack of blocking out, and keeping people off the glass. And that's what he is doing such a great job of now. So if he's open and that ball is swung and it's an inside-out type of situation, knock it down. And I think he'll continue to gain confidence. Absolutely."
Etherington continues to be a big piece of the puzzle for this team if that confidence continues to grow. He has always been a good outside shooter and Indiana fans are well aware that this is something that is missing on this team. If Etherington can knock down a few shots from the outside it could make this team much more dangerous in the coming weeks, beginning tonight against Nebraska.
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch