This could become known as the week the Hoosiers grew up.
Starting with last week's win over Minnesota at Assembly Hall, Indiana showed progress by not panicking when the Golden Gophers rallied from a huge deficit to take a lead. Instead, the Hoosiers gathered themselves together, forced overtime and won in the extra session after falling behind by five at one point.
Then, IU picked up its first road win under Tom Crean by building a healthy lead at Penn State, not panicking when the Nittany Lions rallied and making plays with the game on the line. That was in stark contrast to Indiana's previous trips on the road, when the Hoosiers were overwhelmed at Ohio State from the opening tip and collapsed in the final six minutes at Michigan.
The Hoosiers' growth over the recent outings is a sign of Crean's ballclub slowly maturing, and the team is starting to trust one another on the floor. The players seem more confident with Crean's offensive system, and they aren't making as many silly mistakes on defense. Crean has talked about rebuilding as a process, a series of steps his program has to take to return to the rarified air it once inhabited. Indiana took some major steps toward that goal with the two wins.
Now, of course, the question is what comes next. The Hoosiers face a tough stretch of games over the next couple of weeks that will provide a much more accurate measuring stick on where the program is at right now. If Indiana can be competitive in upcoming games vs. Illinois, Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State over the next few weeks, it will provide a big boost to the program. IU doesn't even have to win games to build its confidence. It simply needs to put up a good fight.
IU has the talent to do just that, and although wins still will likely few a far between, Indiana is starting to reach the level where it will be the type of team no one wants to play. If the Hoosiers can fill that role for the rest of the season, Year Two of the Tom Crean Era will be a success.
--Indiana led Penn State wire-to-wire Jan. 21, the first time the Hoosiers have turned that trick since a Nov. 30, 2008 win over Cornell, a span of 42 games.
--Christian Watford is the top scoring freshman in the Big Ten, averaging nearly 13 points a game. Oddly, he's not the top scoring freshman on his own team. Maurice Creek, who suffered a season-ending knee injury Dec. 28, was averaging 16.4 points when he was injured.
--The Hoosiers are holding opponents to just 16.4 percent shooting from 3-point range on the road. IU has allowed teams to make just 9-of-55 attempts from beyond the arc on the road.
ON THE SPOT: Indiana isn't blessed with a lot of size inside, and the problem is compounded by IU's lack of athleticism. The Hoosiers have been struggling on the boards because IU's big have done a poor job of boxing out, and Indiana has been giving up a lot of points in the paint because IU's forwards have been slow to rotate to help when guards have driven to the basket.
Penn State outscored Indiana 34-18 in the paint, and Iowa did most of its damage from inside as well. If the Hoosiers don't improve in this area and lock down the lane, pulling off more victories will be very difficult this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think that's probably where Sunday has probably come back to help us even quicker than what you might think. You never know what experiences you're going to take from a game, and when they're going to come up again. But I think it did. There was no panic in our guys' voices, there was no deer-in-the-headlight look." -- Coach Tom Crean on whether IU's ability to knock off Minnesota played a role in helping the Hoosiers avoid a meltdown during the second half of their win over Penn State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Indiana has been inconsistent this season, but the Hoosiers have started to make their presence felt in the Big Ten. IU is doing a better job of putting together runs inside of a game, and the Hoosiers have taken lessons learned in past games and applied them in future games. IU still struggles with a lack of maturity at times, but the kids have cut down on the silly turnovers and are starting to believe in themselves. Indiana also has adjusted well after losing Maurice Creek to a knee injury in late December, and players such as Verdell Jones III and Devan Dumes have raised their games to fill the void left by Creek's injury.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Bobby Capobianco, F Christian Watford, G Verdell Jones III, G Jeremiah Rivers, G Jordan Hulls. Key Subs -- C Tom Pritchard, G Devan Dumes, F Derek Elston, G Daniel Moore.
Indiana 81, Minnesota OT
Indiana 67, Penn State 61
Iowa 58, Indiana 43
at Illinois, Jan. 30
vs. Purdue, Feb. 4
at Northwestern, Feb. 7
vs. Ohio State, Feb. 10
at Wisconsin, Feb. 13
IN FOCUS: Sophomore Tom Pritchard continues to play with a lack of confidence, but the Hoosiers need him to be more aggressive on both ends of the floor. Pritchard has struggled with foul trouble this season, and it has left him tentative. Time after time on defense he won't jump to try to block or alter shots in the paint, and his unwillingness to battle for rebounds has hurt the Hoosiers as well. Pritchard also has the skills to be effective on the offensive end, but he hasn't seemed interested in being an offensive factor. Pritchard needs to assert himself if IU is going to have any more success this year.
--Freshman Maurice Creek, who is out for the season with a knee injury, is still supposed to be using crutches, but that doesn't mean he has been listen to doctor's orders. During the pregame warm-ups prior to the Iowa game, Creek was on the court shooting three-pointers for roughly 10 minutes.
--Sophomore Matt Roth, who is expected to be out for the season with an ankle injury, is showing some signs of improvement and has been trying to go through some workouts with the team.
Breaking Down the Hoosiers
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