Indiana seeks to bounce back vs. Big Ten-leader No. 4 Iowa

After a tough loss at Penn State, Indiana continues through its challenging Big Ten stretch with reason for optimism ahead of Thursday's game vs. Iowa.

Five days removed from arguably the most disappointing loss of the season for No. 22 Indiana, its players have reason for optimism. 

There was the spirited practice that followed the next day during the Super Bowl. Then on Wednesday, Max Bielfeldt shared a recent conversation he had with IU Sports Information Director JD Campbell on what his last experience was like following a road loss to Penn State.  

"The last time I lost at Penn State, we went to the Final Four," Bielfeldt told Campbell. "I feel like I've kind of been through this before."

It's a positive reminder for Indiana as it continues to wade through the most challenging portion of its conference schedule with Thursday's 9 p.m. primetime home matchup against Iowa on ESPN. 

Indeed, Bielfeldt was a redshirt freshman when the Wolverines overcame a six point loss on Feb. 27, 2013 in State College, Pa. to win three of their final five games. They made it all the way to the national championship that year.

No. 4 Iowa (19-4, 10-1) appears to be headed toward similar success this season under head coach Fran McCaffrey. 

Despite facing the 19th-toughest schedule among Division I teams, according to KenPom, the Hawkeyes have managed to produce the seventh-best efficient offense in the country and 11th-best defensive efficiency. 

With senior point guard Mike Gesell leading the offense, Iowa also excels in taking care of the basketball. It turns the ball over on just 14.8 percent of its possesions, which KenPom ranks as No. 4 among 351 Division I teams. 

"Mike Geselle is like an NFL quarterback when they're running that," Crean said, referring to Iowa's effectiveness in running Iowa's end of game and 2-minute offense. "There's numerous times they're playing, they don't have to call a timeout. When you've got that level of experience and dependability on your team of knowing what you want at the end of the game, it says a lot about how well they play during the game. They have really good communication in that, so we just have to be really alert to the changing defenses." 

Jarrod Uthoff highlights a capable rotation that goes eight deep and features plenty of experience. Those eight players each average at least 5.1 points and 13 minutes per game.

"They're fast and they can score at a lot of different positions," Indiana sophomore guard Robert Johnson said. "They can shoot the 3-ball really well, so we have to get out and guard. That's something we're really going to have to focus on." 

Uthoff leads the Hawkeyes in scoring, but his defense has been getting opponents' attention. 

He's recorded three or more blocks in 12 of Iowa's 23 games so far this season, averaging a career-high 2.9 per game. That's nearly double what he averaged as a junior last season, and best in the Big Ten so far this season.

"That just goes back to what coach was saying before, making the simple play," Johnson said, when asked how Uthoff's presence in the paint affects the team. "If he steps up, then usually he's stepping up off of his man so that man should be open... it just goes back to making the easy and simple play." 

The importance of Thursday's game for Indiana (19-5, 9-2) cannot be understated. A win gives improves its tournament resume after a disappointing loss at Penn State. A win also creates a three-way tie for first place at the top of the Big Ten standings. 

It's also another chance for the Hoosiers to match last season's overall and conference win totals. 

"With the loss to Penn State, having Iowa come in here the game after is kind of a blessing," Bielfeldt said. "We have an opportunity right away to come off that loss." Top Stories