Just five games remain when Indiana plays Nebraska at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday night at Assembly Hall. The critical stretch will make or break the Hoosiers' hopes of winning the Big Ten regular season title, but the team isn't focused on the future so much as how they got to the present.
"To be in the hunt the way that we are this time of year, I think everybody knows that," Indiana head coach Tom Crean said. "I don't think it's anything we spend a lot of time talking about it because I think they all know that. The key is why are we in it, and what do we have to do to stay in it?"
The critical factor to that, according to Crean, is doing what has allowed the Hoosiers to sit tied for second in the Big Ten standings with a 10-3 conference record - constant improvement.
That starts with the Cornhuskers, who will be playing without star guard Shavon Shields. Crean previously said Tuesday evening that IU was preparing for Shields to play. Nebraska head coach Tim Miles later announced that Shields would not be traveling with the team.
With Miles' announcement, it will mark the third consecutive game missed by Shields. The senior guard was averaging 15.7 points per game, second-most on the team, and had 10 points in the two teams' previous matchup on Jan. 2.
Shields had used 27.9 percent of Nebraska's possesions, most on the team, according to KenPom. But in his absence, others have filled in.
"I think overall, guys have just stepped up," IU sophomore guard Robert Johnson said. "A couple of their guards are playing with a lot more confidence offensively. While he's been out, a lot of players have picked it up."
Indiana has also had players step up in recent games, notably over the last two. Its bench has outscored its opponents' bench by a combined 52-12 during that time period.
That will be critical during this stretch, as Indiana remains tied with Maryland for second in the conference standings. After Nebraska, the Hoosiers have Purdue, road games against Iowa and Illinois next week, then Maryland.
As of Tuesday, Indiana would be the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. Regardless of whether that changes, Indiana feels fortunate to be in the position.
"It's in our grasp, we can take care of it," IU fifth-year guard Nick Zeisloft said. "We just have to keep listening to the coaches and taking care of the process everyday, and hopefully we can achieve that when it's that time at the end of the year."