For 14 games in the Big Ten season, Indiana fans wondered when they'd see the Hoosiers they thought they'd see this season. The Hoosiers that run the court without stopping, scoring baskets in transition that no other teams around the country seem to score. The Hoosiers that use their athleticism to their advantage more than their youth works to their disadvantage.
For at last one night, those fans saw that Indiana team, and they saw it for a full 40 minutes. The Hoosiers ran No. 20 Iowa to death, and picked them apart when they got numbers that were in their favor.
It was a game the Hoosiers desperately needed (aren't they all anymore), and they got it.
Indiana 93, Iowa 86. NCAA Tournament hopes are still on life support."That's what the program's been built on," Indiana coach Tom Crean said of his team's uptempo pace. That's what we try to be. Sometimes teams just want to take the air out of it and sometimes we haven't been good enough defensively."
Iowa is a very good team, one capable of making a lot of noise next month. But the Hawkeyes are the perfect matchup for this Indiana team -- and Indiana teams over the last several years -- because what they like to do is exactly what Crean and Indiana likes to do.
Iowa is the nation's fourth-most offensively efficient team, but it struggles defensively. And it really struggles defensively against teams that can run, like Indiana.
Will Sheehey got out and ran like Cody Zeller had for two years at IU. Yogi Ferrell and others found him repeatedly. Stanford Robinson pushed the tempo but didn't force it like he had in games prior. The freshman guard scored 17 points on only six shot attempts. That's the definition of efficiency.
The Hoosiers (16-12, 6-9 Big Ten) won a game in which Ferrell and Noah Vonleh combined for 12 points, a few of which came in the closing seconds of the game. They won a game in which they turned the ball over 17 times because the pace was one that favored them. And they won a game against a very good team in late February in the midst of a tough stretch of games.
"We just finally said let's play our game," Robinson said. "The way coach Crean has been wanting us to play since day one. They're a good running team, so we decided to just run back with them. Good things happen when we run."
The question now is, can the Hoosiers find enough running opportunities against teams that don't want to do the same? Can they score in transition against an Ohio State team on Sunday that will want to play a game in the 50s?
The fact of the matter is, this team struggles in the half court. I mean, really struggles. It's not built to score that way consistently because the lack of perimeter shooting.
But if the Hoosiers can find ways to force turnovers or get stops enough, they can create their own running opportunities against teams that want to play slow. They can speed teams up. They can dictate the tempo.
With only three games left in the regular season, it's perhaps the perfect time for the Hoosiers to see what can happen when they use their natural abilities and do things others can't. Sure, this team has its weaknesses, but maybe now it can learn to play more to its strengths.