COLUMN: Indiana needs this Troy all the time

There's good Troy Williams and there's bad Troy Williams. When he's good, Indiana is tough to beat. The Hoosiers need good Troy to show up on a more consistent basis.

If Indiana had this Troy Williams every game ...

That was a thought I kept having on Saturday afternoon, a day Williams spent high above the rim. If he wasn't dunking the ball, he was outworking every Ohio State player to rebound it. Time and time again.

Final stats: 15 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers.

It was the athletic sophomore at his finest. It was Good Troy.

If you've watched Indiana basketball for any period of time, you know exactly what I'm talking about. There's Good Troy and there's Bad Troy, and the Hoosiers' chances to win a given game depend heavily on which one shows up.

When he's good, like he was in the Hoosiers' 69-66 win over the No. 22 Buckeyes, he's virtually unstoppable. Williams glides down the court effortlessly, draws the defense, and finds the open man with a pinpoint pass. He attacks the glass relentlessly and refuses to be denied a rebound.

When he's bad, like he was in a 70-50 beatdown loss at Michigan State last week (0 points, 1 rebound), he's unwatchable. Williams hurries down the floor out of control, and either turns it over or misses an acrobatic shot. He lets the other team's physicality deter him from attacking the basket, and instead settles for low-percentage jump shots.

The difference between the two players is significant, not only to Williams' stat line, but to his team's success, or lack thereof. And as we've seen in less than a week's time, Williams can alternate between his two alter-egos by the game, and sometimes even within the game.

"I know when he's locked in when he's coming up with things during the game and I'm not filtering it," said Indiana coach Tom Crean. "I'm saying, 'Yeah, OK. Let's do it.' He sees the game. He really does. That's why we're on him so hard to be better because he really has tremendous basketball sense. When he's really locked in, that's exciting.

"Now the key is: Did we get that Monday night at Michigan State? No, we didn't. Can you play over your own distractions, your own disappointment? That's when you really know you're getting mentally tough."

Therein lies the problem. Williams has a chance to be a superstar, if only he says goodbye to Bad Troy, at least most of the time. He has to play like he did Saturday on a more consistent basis, and there's no reason why he can't. For Williams, it's not about making shots. It's about energy and effort, and playing fast without being in a hurry. It's about bringing those things in the first minute of the game, the last minute, and every minute in between.

When Williams plays like he did against the Buckeyes, Indiana is suddenly a much different team. He is, without a doubt, Indiana's X-factor. Consistent play makes the Hoosiers a top 25 team and a contender in the Big Ten. Inconsistent play makes them a bubble team whose season will end much sooner.

"He was embarrassed by the way he played [against Michigan State]," Crean said. "He's got a lot of internal pride. He listens. He's growing up. Does that mean he's going to play well on Tuesday night? I wish it did. That's the youth part of this, it doesn't mean that.

"He's not rationalizing. We talk a lot to these guys about fact and fiction. There's a lot of fiction out there. They can hear it, they can read it on social media. They can hear somebody telling them, 'You're this, you're that. You should be doing this, you should be doing that.' Troy's doing a better job of focusing on fact. He responded to the challenge. He didn't play at the end of the game against Michigan State. He didn't like that, and he responded."

Williams will have a bad game again. It would be silly to suggest otherwise. Everybody does. But if he can grow to the point where performances like Saturday's are the norm, the Hoosiers will be a team nobody wants to see when March rolls around.

"When Troy is active, things just happen," said freshman guard James Blackmon Jr. "He gets a lot of deflections, rebounds, offensive rebounds and we get to push the ball. When he's playing active and looking for his teammates, great things happen."

Indiana hopes those great things keep happening.


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