IU Insider Blog: Must-win week?

Sitting with a 4-6 conference record with eight Big Ten games to play, the heat is getting turned up on the IU basketball program. If these aren't two games in the 'Must-Win' category this week against Penn State and Purdue, they are pretty close. This is a big week for Indiana basketball.

Indiana needs to come out of this week with a 16-9 record overall and a 6-6 mark in Big Ten play.

There, it has been said.

Plain and simple, It's a must-win week. An Indiana basketball team that is fighting to stay in the postseason conversation is walking on thin ice. A 4-6 record in Big Ten play through 10 games has IU at the very least in the danger zone.

So when the opponents for the week are Penn State at home and Purdue on the road, there is only one way you need to approach the week from a mental standpoint: Must-win.

If you ask the Indiana coaching staff, they would never allow themselves to agree for the record. They can't. Coaches aren't going to want to put their team in that mindset only because if it wasn't to happen then where would you be? But the reality is, after dropping a couple of games on the road that could and probably should have ended up in the win column, Indiana finds itself in a precarious situation with eight games to play in the Big Ten regular season.

Still, I completely understand the battle cry from inside the program regardless of the outcome of these games is going to be "there's still a lot of basketball left to played.''

And my answer to that comment is equally as simple.

Well, yes and no.

There are still eight games to be played in the Big Ten season but included in that run will be road games at Wisconsin and Michigan, and home games against Iowa and Ohio State. I know Wisconsin isn't Wisconsin as we have seen in recent years but the Badgers will still be extremely difficult to beat in Madison. Especially when the opponent already knocked them off once this season.

The same is true for Michigan. And since that game could very easily have Big Ten title implications for the Wolverines on March 8 in Ann Arbor that will just make that scenario that much more difficult in terms of trying to steal another road win.

Iowa and Ohio State? Iowa has played well all year and the Hawkeyes should looked good over the weekend against Michigan. So that will be a tall order. And the Buckeyes? That's an impossible one to gauge. Recently, Ohio State has lost at home to Penn State and Michigan, sandwiched around a couple of road wins including Iowa. Go figure.

But here is the key for Indiana. IU has eight games to play and you would think the Hoosiers would need to find a way to go at least 5-3 in that stretch. A 5-3 record would pull them back to even in Big Ten play at 9-9 and bring their overall record to 19-12 heading into the Big Ten Tournament. If you go 4-4 here, then you're under .500 in the Big Ten and having to do some major damage in the conference tournament to get a realistic look.

All of which brings us back to this week and games with Penn State tonight and Purdue on Saturday. If IU can find a way to win these two games, then all of a sudden you're back to 6-6 in the Big Ten heading into the final six games. And while that schedule will still be a little more than challenging, needing to go 3-3, for example, in the final six games will look a lot better than having to go, say, 4-2.

This is the place where Indiana basketball has arrived with just about a month to go before the Big Ten Tournament and five weeks until postseason play begins.

How will IU handle that pressure?

It's so hard to say with this team. Just when you think you begin to get a handle on what this team is capable of doing it surprises you.

I know I tend to say this a lot but … We'll know a lot more about this Indiana basketball team at this time next week. At that point, IU will have played three more games as the Hoosiers play host to Iowa on Tuesday.

Until then, IU needs to take it one at a time beginning with tonight against Penn State.

Stay tuned.

Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch


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