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.
Normally, you wouldn't expect a walk-on to be featured as a player to watch for an Indiana basketball game in mid-February. But with the news of the arrest and eventual indefinite suspension of Hanner Mosquera-Perea on Friday, all of a sudden Indiana is particularly thin up front. And Jeff Howard could very easily be a player that is looked upon to fill some of Mosquera-Perea's minutes. It's not like Howard isn't completely battle tested this season either. He had a three-game stretch in the Big Ten earlier that included games with Northwestern, Michigan State and Illinois where he played 14, 19 and 14 minutes in succession. He has shown to be a scrappy player that can provide the team with a lift at times. His career scoring high was four points earlier this season on the road at Penn State and he even started a game this season back in November against Evansville. The big difference now, however, is that in the past Howard was just a player that was earning a few minutes here and there in Tom Crean's rotation. Now, he may be looked upon as a player who can give Noah Vonleh a few breaks in the action and will be counted on to be productive during that time. And a question I posed in my IU Insider Blog today looms here as well. What happens if Vonleh were to get two quick fouls? One would think Howard would be one of the primary candidates to get the bulk of Vonleh's minutes off the floor.
Adding to the difficulty of a smooth transition for Howard back into the lineup, though, is simply the fact that the 6-8 forward from Westfield hasn't played much of late. He hasn't played at all in the last two games against Minnesota and Penn State. And in the previous two games against Nebraska and Michigan, Howard played a total of 5 minutes. So from 5 minutes total in the previous four games, Howard could be asked to step into the spot light today and give the Hoosiers a lift on the front line. Asking too much? With Howard, you never get that feeling. He is one of those kids who will run through a wall to get something accomplished. The reality today though is this is exactly when the senior walk-on may be asked to do against Purdue. And how he fares could have a major impact on whether Indiana has a chance to come out of Mackey Arena later in the day with a victory. No pressure there.
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch