BLOOMINGTON-As Indiana prepares for its Big Ten opener Tuesday night against Michigan, Coach Mike Davis insists his 17th-ranked team is trying to get back to where it was…in October?
Two-and-a-half months into the season a team is supposed to be hitting its stride, not tinkering with its parts. But thanks to a broken thumb in October, a broken foot in November, and an ailing knee that's flared up in all three months, the sixth-year Hoosier coach doesn't have his team where he thought he might 2 ½ months ago.
"When we practiced (in mid-October) I thought we were very, very good, and now I think it's going to take us a while to get back to where I think we were back in October," said Davis.
Injuries to A.J. Ratliff (thumb) and D.J. White (foot), in particular, forced players into different roles and occasionally different positions in the early going. With that duo once again available, they are working to regain their conditioning and reclaim their roles while the coaching staff continues to experiment with player rotations.
White earned his first start at Ball State, scoring 16 points and pulling down nine rebounds in 23 minutes. His conditioning, though, has Davis convinced he's still a game or two away from being back to where he was in October.
"It's good to have him back," said Davis. "He's still not full speed."
As for Ratliff, other than a 21-point, second-half explosion in Indiana's rout of Kentucky, his playing time and contributions haven't been what most expected since his return Nov. 30. He's averaging just 1.3 points in the other six games he's played in, and he's shooting less than 40 percent from the floor.
Add in Sean Kline's knee that continues to give him fits, and three players Davis expected to play significant roles are either limited in what they can do or battling to get back to form.
Don't expect a lot of sympathy, though, from Michigan Coach Tommy Amaker or the rest of the Big Ten. Indiana managed to go 8-2 and has done nothing to dissuade on-lookers from believing the Hoosiers are capable to competing for the Big Ten title. If anything, the team's ability to compete with the country's best short-handed has others even more wary of how good Indiana can be.
Not only does Indiana boast a lofty national ranking, it owns a 5-1 record away from Assembly Hall and leads the nation in both field goal percentage (54.1) and 3-point percentage (49.2). Davis might say his team has a ways to go in terms of chemistry, but it has the sort of balance, depth, and firepower that has coaches extremely apprehensive about the match-up.
"They are still leading the country in field goal percentage offense, and their 3-point shooting percentage is mind boggling," said Amaker. "I think Mike has put these kids in incredible positions on the floor, and I think you can see the difference that (Marco) Killingsworth has made for their team, giving them that dominant experienced post player inside that can really score. Now, having White back, they are as talented and as deep and as good as anyone you can possibly play."
Perhaps Indiana isn't where it was in October, and you'd think they're not where they'll be in March, either, but Amaker realizes that the team he'll have to go up against Tuesday night is a pretty good one, no matter who is on the floor for the Hoosiers.
"We didn't get any favors, but we're certainly looking forward to the challenge of going at Indiana, which is going to be one of the tougher places we think to have to play this year," said Amaker.
Hoosiers Trying To Get It Back
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