1. Productive D.J. White – Kelvin Sampson always insists it's the point guard who is a team's most valuable player because he's the one who has the ball in his hands, but I'll still contend D.J. White is this team's most important player. He is the one player who can consistently generate offense on his own with his back to the basket, and many of the team's good looks from the perimeter come as a result of foes double teaming him in the post. It's not always imperative that White score 20-plus points – in fact, IU is just 3-3 this season in games White has scored at least 20 – because his presence on the floor changes the opponents' defensive approach. On the opposite end of the floor, he is the team's one legitimate shot blocker, ranking among the league leaders with 2.3/game. But in recent games he's landed himself in early foul trouble which has either sent him to the bench or limited just how aggressive he can be on the defensive end.
2. Resurgent Lance Stemler – If Indiana is going to be a factor in the Big Ten Tournament and hope to be a threat to make it to the Sweet 16, Stemler must get himself untracked offensively. The 6-8, 210-pound junior has been mired in a miserable slump, missing 11 of the 12 shots he's attempted in his last four games. He's also just 1-of-13 from 3-point range dating back to the opening minute of IU's win over Michigan last month. Despite the struggles, Sampson still has plenty of confidence in Stemler's abilities as a shooter, and odds are he's just one good game away from getting untracked and being back in the starting lineup. While IU has gotten positive contributions from Mike White and Xavier Keeling at the ‘4' spot, Stemler's ability to lure big men away from the basket creates match-up problems for opponents while also freeing up room for D.J. White inside.
3. Get and Stay Healthy – With the exception of some pretty solid depth at the wing, the Hoosiers don't have a lot of interchangeable parts. When Earl Calloway went down against Purdue, IU was forced to turn to Errek Suhr and Armon Bassett to handle the point guard duties. Sampson says Bassett is still better suited to spend a good portion of his time at the off-guard position at this point in his career, while Suhr suddenly found himself playing 26 minutes against Michigan after playing a total of 46 minutes in the Hoosiers' first 11 Big Ten contests. IU needs to get Calloway back for a late-season surge and subsequent postseason run, and it needs to keep the likes of D.J. White, Roderick Wilmont, A.J. Ratliff and Armon Bassett healthy as well.
4. Rebounding – It's no coincidence that the Hoosiers – 1-3 in their last four games – have lost the rebounding battle in each of those four contests. After being out-rebounded only five times in their first 21 games, Iowa (+17), Illinois (+1), Purdue (+4) and Michigan (+3) have all out-performed the Hoosiers on the glass. The responsibility doesn't fall on just one person. D.J. White needs to be more of a factor on the offensive glass where he can get more easy baskets on putbacks, but IU also relies a great deal on its guards to crash the defensive boards as well. Whether that's Earl Calloway or Rod Wilmont or Armon Bassett, they need to help Indiana get back to the point where it's consistently out-performing its opponents on the backboard.
5. Close the Regular Season Strong – Momentum and confidence are important heading into the postseason, and Indiana has a favorable schedule to do just that with very winnable home games against Minnesota and Penn State, along with a road trip to Northwestern. With four games remaining before the postseason, three wins will most likely earn the Hoosiers the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and position them for a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament. That's important – Ohio State and Wisconsin figure to be either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in the tourney, and IU could probably play its way as high as a No. 4 with a strong finish. That would position IU for a very realistic chance to advance to the NCAA's second week. But if IU struggles down the stretch it could probably slip as far as a No. 7 or No. 8 seed, which would position the Hoosiers for a second-round NCAA match-up against a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. While Indiana has been very good at home this year, it hasn't shown signs that it's capable of beating a North Carolina or a Florida or a UCLA on a neutral court, and those are the caliber of teams it could wind up playing in the second round if IU struggles in the season's final couple of weeks.
Five Keys to IU's Postseason Success
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