Hoosiers begin brutal stretch

Indiana could use a confidence boost right about now. The Hoosiers have lost four straight, including a 78-61 loss to Northwestern on Sunday. They’ve fallen into a funk where they play well for two games and follow that up with a clunker that makes fans wonder if they’ve made any progress at all.

But confidence boosts will not be hard to come by.

Starting with Wednesday’s 6:30 p.m. home game against No. 13 Ohio State, the Hoosiers have three straight games against ranked teams. On Saturday, they play at No. 11 Wisconsin, then follow that with a home game against Michigan State on Feb. 16.

“This is it right here,” junior guard Jeremiah Rivers said. “I don’t want to say it’s necessarily make or break, but these are some vital games for us. We’ve lost four in a row going into Ohio State. … This is something where we just can’t get caught in this tornado and get thrown out.”

Getting past the Buckeyes won’t be easy even at home. Ohio State took advantage of what still may have been Indiana’s worst performance of the year in Columbus, winning 79-54.  That was star guard Evan Turner’s first game back after missing four weeks with broken bones in his back. With Turner making a push for national Player of the Year honors, the Buckeyes have won four straight and seven consecutive conference games.

“There’s no question we have a tall task tomorrow night in this game because of their explosiveness on both ends of the court,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “They’re an outstanding defensive team. They’re causing a ton of disruption to people’s offenses in the Big Ten because of the turnovers that they create.”

Turner is averaging 19.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, and the rest of the Buckeyes’ four guards are averaging double-digit points. OSU has shortened its bench since playing Indiana the first time, using just six players in recent games and playing its four guards 40 minutes each.

“They’re so talented with what they have,” Crean said, ‘they don’t have to go to the bench much.”

The Hoosiers have typically rebounded well after blowout losses in the Big Ten. They nearly upset Illinois after their first loss against Ohio State. They followed an ugly loss against Michigan with back-to-back wins against Minnesota and Penn State, and after laying an egg against Iowa, they came within a bucket of knocking off both Illinois and Purdue.

But the inconsistency, Crean said, has to subside.

“We can’t get discouraged, but we’ve got to keep working through it,” Crean said. “… We’ve got to quit making some of the same mistakes.”

AUDIO: Tom Crean talks about not getting discouraged

AUDIO: Bobby Capobianco talks about how far the team has come since the first Ohio State game

AUDIO: Jeremiah Rivers talks about the team’s upcoming stretch