Bloomington, Ind. – Six games into the Big Ten Conference schedule and the No. 11/13 Indiana Hoosiers are facing a grim reality – they are 4-0 at home but 0-2 on the road after losses at No. 14 Michigan State and unranked Iowa.
With 10 conference games to go, the Hoosiers will be on the road six more times, including four of the last six games in the season. The Hoosiers must find a way to win away from Assembly Hall if they have any plans of winning the Big Ten crown.
"We're at a turning point right now in the season," said senior guard Marshall Strickland. "This is kind of how it goes every year. Teams come out hard, but it's the team that continues to work hard and improves that ends up on top at the end.
"It's huge for us to win on the road at Minnesota. We need to get a quality road win. We just need to stay in the hunt. If we were to lose this one, we would be putting ourselves against the wall."
Indiana currently finds itself in a five-way tie for second place in the conference with Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa at 4-2, all looking up at 5-1 Wisconsin. The Hoosiers next chance for a road win comes Sunday when they travel to Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers, who sit at 0-6 in conference play.
For many of the Hoosiers the game has a little extra meaning after likely losing their chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament with their first-round, Big Ten Tournament loss to Minnesota in Chicago last season.
"They kind of knocked us out of our NCAA hopes last year," said Strickland. "That's still on my mind and I think guys know that and we're looking to go in there and beat them.
"They're hungry right now sitting at 0-6. I think they're a really good team. They have all the pieces from last year with the addition of (Maurice) Hargrow. I think they're a dangerous team to play against."
One of the most pressing issues for the Hoosiers is the slew of injuries that have plagued the team throughout the season. Sophomore D.J. White is likely gone for the season with a broken left foot; sophomore A.J. Ratliff missed the first three games of the season with an injured right hand and the second half of Indiana's win against Michigan with an ankle injury; senior Sean Kline has been hampered all season by a knee injury; senior point guard Lewis Monroe missed Indiana's loss at Michigan State; Strickland sat out the loss at Iowa because of a knee issue; and now senior Marco Killingsworth is suffering from back and leg injuries.
"Everyone's got nagging injuries," said Killingsworth. "I've got nagging injuries. Everybody on this team has some sort of injury. We have to play through that, though. My back isn't the problem anymore. Now my knee is hurting a little bit. You have to fight through it. It ain't to the point where I can't play."
Strickland missed just the second game of his Indiana career after injuring his right knee in IU's win against Purdue last weekend, but is expecting to be back in the lineup against Minnesota.
"The knee feels a lot better," said Strickland. "They stuck a needle in it yesterday and that took away a lot of the pain and swelling. I think I banged it during the Purdue game and the doctor said it irritated my knee cap, causing swelling in my tendon. It really started hurting in practice on Monday.
"When I start and stop I can feel (pain). I definitely can. The pain isn't all the way gone, but it's enough to play through. It felt alright (Friday), so I plan on playing Sunday."
The Hoosiers will have to look past the injuries to keep pace in the Big Ten and keep their title hopes alive. With so many teams at the top half of the conference early, a couple of losses could make it hard to climb back to the top late in the season.
"It's very important for us to do what we're supposed to do to get where we're trying to go," said Killingsworth. "It's going to happen. We went on the road and won in the non-conference schedule. It's only a matter of time until stuff gets back to clicking and we go out on the road and get a win.
"Everybody is going at it and I think about six or seven teams will be able to make the tournament. Everybody's real good. It's like when I was at Auburn the SEC put six or seven teams in the tournament every year."
With both teams needing a win for different reasons, Indiana will have to find a way to win its first conference road game of the season before Minnesota finds a way to its first conference game period.
"We need to win, straight up," said Killingsworth. "We need to listen to what Coach Davis wants us to do and do what the coaching staff tells us. If we work hard everything will work itself out."
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