Coming off perhaps its worst two performances of the young season, Indiana faces a much tougher test on Tuesday night when Pittsburgh visits Assembly Hall as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. It's Pitt's first visit to Bloomington in 73 years.
Thanksgiving week was supposed to be little more than a breeze for the Hoosiers with two non-power conference teams on the schedule. But the week raised more concerns than it did positive vibes.
The Hoosiers (5-1) emerged from the week with one loss to Eastern Washington and one less-than-satisfying win over UNC Greensboro. IU allowed 98 points in the second halves of those two games.
Ready or not, though, Pittsburgh is coming to down, and the Panthers (4-2) promise to test the Hoosiers unlike they've been tested to this point.
“Every game they play, they’re gonna be hard nosed, tough, physical, aggressive, and they’re not gonna beat themselves," Indiana coach Tom Crean said Monday. "That’s what Jamie Dixon’s blueprint has been there. They are tremendous at execution, they have a dominant rebounding mentality on both ends of the court, they get up into you, they are very aggressive defensively.
“I really love how they play, and I have for a long time.”
Dixon doesn't have one of his better Pitt teams, but the Panthers are certainly no slouch. Despite losing top shooter Durand Johnson for the season due to suspension, they went 2-1 in the Maui Invitational last week, including a 23-point win over Kansas State.
Young, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound sophomore, grew an inch and dropped 15 pounds over the summer and has looked like a different player through six games. He's averaging a team-leading 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds, including 4.3 offensive rebounds per contest.
“Michael Young is a hard matchup for anybody, but especially for us," Crean said. "You could see in previewing them this summer that Michael Young was on the cusp of being a great player.
“The big thing for him is his shooting. He’s on the offensive boards all the time now. You can see freshman Michael Young vs. sophomore Michael Young just in how hard he goes every possession. It is a progression for players. He got a chance to play, and he got a chance to earn it.”
Hanner Mosquera-Perea has yet to see a player with the offensive ability and size of Young, and he will have a very difficult time defending him based on how he's played on that end this year. Crean will likely use the zone in long stretches to help neutralize Young given Pitt's struggles with perimeter shooting.
But when the Hoosiers do play man, it will have to be more than just Mosquera-Perea defending Young.
Crean was asked Monday about the role freshman Emmitt Holt would play in Tuesday's game. Holt has played well in short stretches during his limited action following a suspension to open the year.
"He's been practicing very well," Crean said of Holt. "We're going to need him in there. There's no question he'll be out there. And at the same time, we need Hanner to do everything he's capable of doing. We need more from our front line, and we need more awareness from our front line."
A surprising bright spot about that front line has been the play of sophomore Collin Hartman, who was Indiana's center down the stretch against UNC Greensboro on Friday night. With the game on the line, Crean went with Hartman over Mosquera-Perea inside, and the Hoosiers won the game.
Hartman, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward, is coming off ACL surgery and is still somewhat limited in practice, according to Crean. But he's provided a stability inside that no other IU player, regardless of size, has been able to.
"The Collin Hartman you're watching right now post knee surgery compared to the Collin Hartman that was playing a year ago, the only thing that looks the same is their face," Crean said. "The body's changed. The mentality has changed. The ability to go get loose balls. I mean, we're talking about a guy that really shouldn't be playing at the athletic level that he's playing because he's coming off this knee surgery. But he's just got this will and this hustle. That's what it looks like when you go against it every day. Collin is one of those guys that could do whatever we need him to do right now defensively.
"He's a smart player, good player, but his body has changed. He's become physically stronger and he had to work extremely hard. There's a test of wills when you're going through the rehabilitation process like that, to come back from a injury like that. When you look at his body, his body has changed completely. That's what it means to go from a freshman to a sophomore."
The Hoosiers opened as 1-point favorites on Pitt and the line has already jumped to 3.5 points, as of 1:15 on Monday afternoon.Tidbits: Tom Crean's connections to Pitt
A closer look at Pitt
Column: Long way to go for young, small IU