After a sluggish start, Indiana eventually rolled past an undermanned Nebraska team, 80-64, on Wednesday night at Assembly Hall. Here are 5 things you need to know as the Hoosiers now turn their focus to rival Purdue.
1. WILLIAMS BOUNCES BACK: Troy Williams had one of his worst games as a Hoosier in Sunday's loss at Michigan State, but he bounced back on Wednesday. After going scoreless against the Spartans, Williams posted a team-high 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting against Nebraska.
"Troy Williams was just like shot out of a cannon, and we just didn't handle that very well," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said afterward.
Williams has fared significantly better at home in his career, so his bounce back is hardly surprising, especially against a Cornhuskers team playing without its best player, Shavon Shields. The question we asked on Sunday was, 'Why doesn't Tom Crean give OG Anunoby some of Williams' minutes?' It was a fair question given Anunoby's consistency in Big Ten play and Williams' lack thereof, but Crean's decision makes sense, too.
While I believe a player with high highs and low lows is better suited in a 6th man role, benching Williams for Anunoby at this point in the season may harm Williams' confidence going forward. Crean continues to play Williams heavy minutes because he's seen -- more than any media member or fan -- just how great Williams can be. He knows that to accomplish the things this team wants to accomplish this season, it will need Williams. Crean can't afford to lose him now.
"Troy has unique talents, and sometimes he's his own worst enemy with the things he tries to do," Crean said. "That's the way Troy needs to play. Troy needs to be aggressive, attacking, but reading the situation. He was really locked in. He's been very hungry and humble in his impovement. We don't deal with the whole slump business. We don't get caught up in that.
"I never coach through the negative of what they're not doing. It's more importantly what they have to do, what they can do, what they need to do, and then every once in awhile, what they need to do less of."
Ultimately, the starting lineup is pretty meaningless. But my stance remains, that if Williams plays like he did on Sunday, his minutes should be cut in favor of the hot hand on that particular day. You can stick with him without having to play him 30 minutes on days when he just doesn't have it.
Regardless, Wednesday night was good for Williams' confidence heading for the final stretch of the regular season.
"I don't pay attention to it, really," Williams said of outside criticism. "It's not like I go up there and search for it. I don't search for criticism. I search for more positive quotes from people. Like I said before, it's family, team, coaches ... all I need to motivate me."
2. PURDUE COMING TO TOWN: Wednesday's win sets the table for a huge game on Saturday when arch rival Purdue comes to Bloomington for the teams' only meeting this season. The game has major significance beyond the rivalry factor, with both teams among several vying for a Big Ten championship.
As of Wednesday night, Indiana (21-6, 11-3) is tied with Iowa atop the conference standings, with IU owning the tiebreaker. The Hoosiers visit Iowa City next week. Purdue is also 21-6, but the Boilers enter Saturday's game at 9-5 in conference play, two games back of Indiana and Iowa.
Much like last year, Indiana and Purdue have contrasting styles, so it will be interesting to see which team is better able to impose its will on the other. The Boilers have perhaps the best interior play in the country with A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan, and the Hoosiers have one of the backcourts in college basketball.
Unlike last year, though, the Hoosiers have a couple of legitimate big men to challenge Hammons and Co. in the paint. Gone are the days when Stanford Robinson was one of IU's best post defenders. Now, the Hoosiers have Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby, both of whom should at least make things difficult for the Purdue bigs.
A huge key in the game: Can Bryant stay out of foul trouble? If he picks up two quick ones, IU could be in trouble. If he can play long stretches without fouling, I expect Indiana to win. Call me crazy, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see Crean put Anunoby on Hammons at times even when Bryant's in the game to keep him from picking up fouls. Anunoby is very long, and he's proven against veterans like Nigel Hayes that he's more than capable of holding his own inside. Hammons and Haas are completely different monsters, of course, but Anunoby is an important asset the Hoosiers simply didn't have last year.
We will have more on this matchup on Friday and Saturday, but one more key: Teams have tried to play Purdue by packing the paint and daring guys like Raphael Davis to make 3s. When he does -- which he has at times -- Purdue blows average teams out and beats elite teams (Michigan State). When he doesn't, Purdue struggles against most every team. Davis is the defending Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, but his offensive game has been a work in progress. His production on that end will likely play a large role in the result on Saturday night.
3. BRYANT, ANUNOBY ... NOW MORGAN: I said before the season that the Indiana fan base would really like this year's class of freshmen, and that continues to manifest itself as the season progresses. Thomas Bryant has been a starter from the beginning, OG Anunoby rose to the occassion and became a mainstay at the beginning of Big Ten play, and Juwan Morgan had his day in the sun on Wednesday.
Morgan had 12 points and 5 rebounds in only 11 minutes against Nebraska. He had 4 offensive boards and made 5-of-6 shots from the foul line. Morgan also buried an open 3-pointer from the left corner in the second half.
"He answered the bell," Crean said. "He didn't have a great early stretch in the first half, but he really responded in the second half. ... I wouldn't characterize those guys with a certain position, and Juwan has shown that hitting the 3 and the way he has played, and OG has shown that this season. So eventually if we can get a team that can really switch constantly like we did tonight, that makes us that much better."
4. MILES: 'THEY CAN JUST EMBARRASS YOU': Nebraska got off to a strong start and led Indiana by six points late in the first half, but things quickly got away from Tim Miles and the Cornhuskers. Indiana outscored Nebraska 30-6 of a 9-minute stretch spanning from the end of the first half to the start of the second half, and the Hoosiers cruised from there.
Miles was very complimentary of Indiana after the game, and he said it takes only a couple of errors to fall way behind the Hoosiers.
"I saw them up 35 on Ohio State, who I don't think is too bad either," Miles said. "They can just embarrass you when they get going. It doesn't take much of a mistake for these guys to hurt you."
5. ZEISLOFT'S IMPACT: Nick Zeisloft's statistical numbers aren't eye-popping, and he isn't often talked about. But his production this season -- along with guys like Max Bielfeldt and Collin Hartman -- is a big reason why Indiana is in the hunt for a Big Ten title.
Zeisloft is averaging just 6.5 points per game, but his offensive rating of 134.3 ranks 4th in all of college basketball (KenPom.com). Zeisloft shoots a good percentage from the field and has one of the lowest turnover rates on the team, making him a safe, reliable entity off the bench.