The Indiana Hoosiers return home to Assembly Hall Saturday night in a must-win game against the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hoosiers (16-10, 6-7) are coming off a three game road trip, which included an 80-54 drubbing at the hands of Illinois. That loss puts IU in a precarious situation in regards to their NCAA tournament hopes. Sweeping the final three regular season games would surely tidy up their resume for the Big Dance, and they will try to start against a bubble team in Iowa (14-10, 6-7) that is coming off a 71-64 loss at Ohio State.
These two teams met February 19 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, with IU picking up their lone Big Ten road win of the year by an impressive score of 79-63. Bracey Wright led four Hoosiers in double figures with 18 points and 9 rebounds while Tom Coverdale stopped his slump with 17 points, including 5 three-pointers. More importantly, IU shot 55% while holding the Hawkeyes to 37%. It appeared the Hoosiers had righted their road woes, but the whipping by Illinois showed that they still have a ways to go.
Iowa is led by guard Chauncey Lesile, who leads the team in scoring with an average of 15.8 points per game. Lesile had 18 points in the earlier contest between the teams and his penetration must be contained. The likely defensive match-up against Leslie is Wright, who needs to shore up his approach after getting constantly burned by Illini guard Roger Powell in IU's last game. The other guards, Brody Boyd and freshman Jeff Horner, both can shoot the three from anywhere. Boyd, an Indiana high school star, is struggling this year with his shot, hitting three pointers at only 29 percent. Inside, Iowa is led by physical Glen Worley, who had 11 pts and 13 rebs vs the Hoosiers. IU must box him out every shot, especially on the offensive glass, an area where they have been suspect. Complementing Worley is another horse in Sean Sonderleiter and 6'11 freshman Jarod Rainer. The big frosh is coming off an impressive 16 points and 10 rebounds versus Ohio State. George Leach and his block shot ability must make them work hard for their shots and keep them off the glass.
Three keys to the game should decide who is making plans for the NCAA tournament and who is making travel plans to New York City for NIT. First, rebounding will play a vital role. The Hawkeyes outrebounded IU 40-31 and Leach, Jeff Newton, and Sean Kline must keep Worley and company from dominating the paint. The Hoosiers have struggled all year with giving up offensive rebounds, and second chance opportunities spell doom with good three point shooters such as Boyd and Horner on the perimeter.
Secondly, IU cannot keep having extended stretches of not scoring. Time after time the Hoosiers will go three, four, or five minutes without scoring a basket while the opposing team laughs all the way to double digit leads. It cost us a game vs. Louisville and certainly hurt against Illinois and Wisconsin. Getting the ball inside to Newton can certainly cure this problem. Newton has some of the best post moves in the Big Ten when matched up one-on-one. By asserting himself down low, he clears up open shots for Coverdale, Kyle Hornsby, and Marshall Strickland.
Finally, some home cooking for IU will help a lot in this crucial game. Both teams are on the bubble (Iowa more so) but the Hoosiers seems to respond to Assembly Hall with open arms, posting a 9-1 record at home. An eager and raucous crowd will be awaiting the team after a tough three game road trip. With fan favorite A.J. Moye pumping life into the players and the fans, the Hall should be rocking and rolling Saturday night. If IU can get out to an early lead and get the crowd behind the team, it will be tough for the Hawkeyes to battle back.
The Hoosiers know the importance of this game. The opportunity to take care of business in front of 19,000 screaming fans should serve notice to the players that it is do or die time if they want to make a repeat run to the NCAA Championship game.
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