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Tuesday Hoop Notebook: The long road ahead

A challenge is out to the juniors. Who is IU's biggest bright spot of late? A hot team awaits Indiana. That and more in our newest Tuesday Hoop Notebook.

Four of five on the road. Only very good teams survive that kind of stretch. Right now Indiana is not even a good team, much less very good.

The only thing to grasp at for a positive outlook on the road right now is Indiana did have a very nice opening 25-30 minutes at Penn State. 

That's a pretty big reach but we're at that point with this team.

We're at the point where the almost always positive coach is no longer willing to stay away from putting some public blame on his players. That came out in his postgame radio interview when he started defending sophomore Thomas Bryant.

"He’s trying to make up for a group of juniors that just really have no ability right now to see past themselves when it comes to what it takes for us to be successful as a team, when it comes to communication," Crean said to Don Fischer.

In James Blackmon's defense, he's not yet 100 percent  following his latest leg injury. He's also often been Indiana's main offensive weapon in the big wins that Indiana does have this year. On the flip side, this is a guard who has always struggled defensively and has never had a season where his turnovers don't outnumber his assists. That may partially explain why Indiana is 13-16 in Big Ten games with Blackmon and 16-4 without him the last three seasons. Since this very well may be his final in a Hoosier uniform, the time is now for Blackmon to bring a more positive light to his legacy.

During the current  three-game losing streak juniors Robert Johnson and Blackmon are a combined 14-for-54 from the field, just a 25.9 percent shooting rate.

The talent is there. These two shined in wins over Kansas and North Carolina and combined for 50 points with just two turnovers in the 82-75 win over Michigan State.

Three of the upcoming four road games are against teams with just five or six league wins. Minnesota, Iowa and Ohio State all have younger teams  that can be beaten on their home court. But it's only going to happen if both Blackmon and Johnson regain a high level of play.

The biggest bright spot

The biggest bright spot on the team right now may be center De'Ron Davis. Is he fun to watch operate on the blocks or what? Very comfortable backing his man down with the dribble and turning to either side for the finish.

While Thomas Bryant can certainly be effective on the blocks, his awkwardness can make some cringe as he works to score. Thankfully for him, he has a very nice touch or feel at the end of his move that allows him to finish.

Davis, on the other hand, has to remind old-timers of the post era of the 1970's in the NBA with how comfortable he is with his back to the basket. That's back when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Artis Gilmore, Bob Lanier,  Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond, Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Dave Cowens ruled the paint. Since there were fewer teams in the NBA back then those guys did battle on a regular basis.

There's clearly been a decline since those days in the amount of good back to the basket post players probably accelerated by the advent and reliance on scoring from behind the 3-point line.

Much credit should be given to Overland High coach Danny Fisher and his summer coaches in the Colorado Hawks program.

Davis led the Hoosiers on Sunday with 13 points. That was especially surprising since he went down in the Purdue loss on Thursday after a hard blow to the face with over 12 minutes left and never returned to the bench. 

A propensity to foul and difficulty on defense with ball screens is holding him back some but look for more of the freshman down the stretch.

"He's very, very hard to guard, and he's got great feet, great hands, great eyes," Crean said. "He can pass the ball. We want him to do a lot of passing now and we're not doing enough cuts to get those passes."

Hot Minnesota team

Indiana will get a hot Minnesota team tomorrow night in Minneapolis. The Gophers have won three straight league contests including a pair of road games.  That's put Richard Pitino's team back into the NCAA picture with a 6-6 Big Ten mark and a 18-7 overall record.

Sophomore forward Jordan Murphy of the Gophers was named co-Big Ten Player of the Week yesterday along with Michigan's Derrick Walton. The 6-foot-6 Murphy has struggled to match the output that earned him All-Freshman team honors in the Big Ten last year but this week broke out, averaging 22 points and 15 rebounds in two wins.

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