Analysis: IU-Butler a Perception Game

Indiana needs a quality win. Butler is favored. And both teams need a victory simply to win the perception battle in this backyard rivalry. Here are my thoughts on why this one is so important to IU.

There is just 11 days remaining before Indiana will open the Big Ten season on the road New Year’s Eve against Nebraska.

The Hoosiers (8-2) have three games to prepare for that conference opener.

Two are on neutral sites (Indianapolis and New York) and the other at Assembly Hall.

But let’s make something very clear here. We’re going to learn a lot about Indiana basketball Saturday afternoon with how the Hoosiers fare against Butler.

This game is a perception game as much as anything – for both programs really.

Beating top quality teams like North Carolina and Georgetown certainly vaulted Butler into the national spotlight, but knocking off Indiana would just cement the Bulldogs’ lofty status. A loss to IU, following the loss last week at Tennessee, would likely drop Butler out of the top 25.

As for IU, it’s just a game that Indiana needs to win. When you beat teams like Lamar, UNCG and Grand Canyon, it may look good on the stat sheet, but in the back of your mind you always wonder just how much those games mean in the long run.

What you do accomplish is you get your young players some playing time at this level. They get used to playing together and have an opportunity to showcase their skills.

But until the bright lights are turned on you don’t really know for sure what you’ve got.

They were on for both SMU and Pittsburgh, and IU survived both of those tests. The only problem was that both games were in Assembly Hall. That doesn’t tarnish the victory but it also doesn’t elevate you the way winning a game away from Bloomington would do.

The bright lights were also on for the neutral site game against Louisville. That one didn’t go nearly as well. IU did a lot of good things early but couldn’t make the plays late and got beat by 20.

You hope that was a learning experience that IU can draw on against the Bulldogs.

But this is clearly a perception game. If Indiana wins all will be right in Hoosier Nation for the weekend and probably all the way through next Saturday when the Hoosiers will play Georgetown in Madison Square Garden. Yes, there’s a game in between, but New Orleans isn’t one of those opponents that worries you either.

No, beating Butler, a team that has been favored all week, in Indianapolis, would be a good step in the right direction for IU. If it can do it by not turning the ball over, hitting the boards hard and knocking down open perimeter shots that would be that much better.

Still, the only thing that really matters Saturday is to leave Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the late afternoon with a ‘W’.

It’s all about perception.

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