When March comes, no team will want to see IU

Nights like Sunday night's record-breaking win over Minnesota show why the Hoosiers are such a scary team.

Making shots can cover up a multitude of sins. And it can also scare the crap out of opposing college basketball coaches from around the country.

That's essentially the Indiana basketball story this year, though it hasn't entirely been written. The Hoosiers (18-8, 8-5 Big Ten) have their flaws, but they also possess a strength rare in its power. When IU makes shots -- like it did in Sunday night's 90-71 win over Minnesota -- nothing else really matters.

The other team could have a hot shooting night, too (See: Maryland), the Hoosiers could fumble the ball away 18 times (See: Minnesota), and it simply won't matter. Indiana's shooters are better than your shooters, and when they're hot, the Hoosiers can beat most anybody in the country.

"They kicked our butts," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "They flat out kicked our butts."

That's precisely why no other college basketball coach will want to see Indiana pop up opposite his team on an NCAA Tournament bracket. The Hoosiers aren't nearly the best team in the country, but they are among the most dangerous because of the unique way in which they play and because of their incredible ability to make 3-pointers (they made a school-record 18 3s on Sunday).

"The ball was on a string all night for us," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "When it's on a string like that, you're getting very good movement, which leads to good looks. We were very fortunate to have those go down. Sometimes they don't. Tonight, they did.

"A lot of that 3-point shooting, that's just part of what we do," Crean said. "It's not like they were set play calls for a 3. It's more about the movement. I say this all the time, it sounds simple, but it's hard to do: 'Pass the ball one dribble sooner.' When you hold it too long, it allows the defense to adjust."

To be fair, the opposite is also true. When the shots aren't falling, Indiana's weaknesses are magnified, and the Hoosiers can be beaten by most any team. But the 3s usually do drop, for at least one or two players on any even night, and that gives IU a chance. When more than two players are dialed in -- say, five guys -- then you might as well pack up your stuff and go home. It's over.

Minnesota learned that the hard way on Sunday night. The Gophers shot 49 percent, they got to the foul line nearly twice as many times as Indiana, they forced 18 turnovers, and they lost by 19 points.

James Blackmon made six 3-pointers. Robert Johnson made five. Collin Hartman made both of his attempts. So did Troy Williams, who only had one 3 all season entering Sunday. And Yogi Ferrell, Indiana's leading 3-point shooter coming into the game, made one.

"I love their team," Pitino said. "They're hard to guard. They put you in so many binds with the way they play because they play small. They have so many shooters, so the answer would maybe be matching up with them and playing four guards. I don't even have four guards to play because then I would have no subs. So then, if we want to try to play them zone and try to pound the ball inside, then they shoot it."

By now, the Hoosiers' deficiencies are fairly easy to identify. They lack interior depth, and they struggle defensively, especially in transition. Those things are unlikely to change between now and March, though the Hoosiers should get marginally better defensively.

Nights like Sunday don't happen often, but the fact they can happen should scare the heck out of any team forced to prepare for Indiana in a tournament setting. The Hoosiers played far from perfect against Minnesota, and they won easily because of record-breaking shooting.

Indiana is flawed, but dangerous. Very, very dangerous.


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