The term 'must-win' is vastly overused in the world of sports, and so I won't describe Indiana's game against Iowa on Tuesday night in that manner. But it's a game the Hoosiers need to win, and one that will go a long way in determining how the Hoosiers spend the rest of their month.
Indiana (19-10, 9-7 Big Ten) surged to a 5-1 start in Big Ten play and sat atop the conference standings, but the Hoosiers have gone just 4-6 in their last 10, and they've had nearly a full week to think about an ugly loss at Northwestern last Wednesday night.
A month ago, Indiana's inclusion in the NCAA Tournament seemed like nothing less than a certainty. And it may still be. But the Hoosiers have limped into March, and they may well limp out of March if they don't right the ship this week.
They'll get their chance on Tuesday night, when red-hot Iowa visits Assembly Hall. The Hawkeyes, who have also had a very up-and-down season, have won four straight games after back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Northwestern.
Iowa has beaten North Carolina on the road, Ohio State twice and Maryland, but it has lost games it should have won as well. In many ways, the Hawkeyes and Hoosiers are similar. And for that reason, Tuesday night's game is critical for both teams.
Iowa is led by Aaron White, one of the more underrated players in the Big Ten ever since he arrived in Iowa City. White is averaging 15.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and he's one of the most efficient players in the conference. A big part of the Hawkeyes' success, though, has been the emergence of some of its other players, including Jarrod Uthoff. The 6-foot-8 junior is averaging 12 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and is shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc.
The Hawkeyes have a significant size advantage on Indiana, like many teams do, but Iowa struggles to shoot it from deep. Tom Crean will likely use a lot of zone defense to combat IU's size disadvantage.
Indiana may be struggling, but the Hoosiers have a chance to head into next week's Big Ten Tournament on a positive note with two home games to close the regular season. After Iowa on Tuesday, IU hosts Michigan State on Saturday. Neither game will be easy, but both are in the friendly confines of Assembly Hall, and that's usually a good thing for the Hoosiers.
"I think we can use it to our advantage," Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell said. "I think we'll go out there and have the most energy we've had all year."
The Hoosiers better hope so. If they don't, well, IU's season may end quicker than originally thought.