Rubber meets the road for Hoosiers

It’s time to see what these Hoosiers are made of.

The toughest stretch of the season starts now.

Beginning with tonight’s trip to No. 9 Michigan State, Indiana will play seven games in 18 days, a stretch that includes showdowns with the Big Ten’s best teams. IU’s three-game winning streak arrived at an opportune time, feeding the Hoosiers with confidence ahead of the teeth of the conference schedule.

Now, it’s time to see just how far that confidence takes them.

“The gauntlet that we’ll go through, really no team in our league will have to endure over the next three weeks,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “It’s going to be challenging, but it’s also going to give us a lot of opportunities here to continue to find a way to make things happen for these guys. They’ve done a really nice job here in the last few weeks of improving, and I think we’re continuing to improve. I think our guys are excited to be playing.”

Following a topsy-turvy, two-month stretch, the past three games have allowed the Hoosiers to feel good about themselves. In the process, they’ve enjoyed positive results from the players that most needed to step forward.

Indiana’s guards are beginning to play with the aggression Miller has wanted to see. The team continues to get consistent production from Juwan Morgan and has developed a sense of urgency on the glass, where IU has outrebounded each of its three opponents since starting center De’Ron Davis suffered a season-ending Achilles injury.

Without Davis, the Hoosiers’ lineup combinations have gotten smaller. At the same time, they’ve gotten quicker and stickier with a new assembly of players.

It’s all helped build belief inside IU’s locker room that the current run is sustainable.

“Anytime that we’re able to get better from game-to-game, you always get more confident from that,” senior guard Robert Johnson said. “I think the last three games, we’ve been able to do that. I think we’ve done a good job of carrying that over into practice and, hopefully, we can continue.”

Keeping it going against Michigan State will be one of IU’s toughest tasks to date, no matter the fact that the Spartans have struggled during their past three games.

Tom Izzo’s team has sandwiched losses to Ohio State and Michigan around a narrow, overtime win against Rutgers. After watching this players commit 18 turnovers in Saturday’s loss at Michigan, Izzo is most concerned about that lack of focus.

“We can’t turn the ball over,” Izzo said. “We’ve got to get our running game (going). That’s who we are. And we’ve got to do a little bit of a better job at getting to the offensive glass. … I think we’ve been doing way too much dribbling and not enough passing and the ball has been kind of standing still, and that’s something that’s going to change, one way or another.”

But when the Spartans are really clicking, watch out.

Even with the recent bumpy stretch, Michigan State is shooting 41.2 percent from 3-point range this season and 57.7 percent from inside the arc. It has the nation’s No. 14 most efficient offense and also the No. 8 most efficient defense.

Opposing teams are paying extra attention to big man Nick Ward, who is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds, while shooting 76.1 percent from the field across his past nine games.

This is, altogether, one of the most talented teams Izzo has coached during his 23 seasons at the helm of the Spartans. While they struggle with turnovers, they also don’t necessarily respond well to being pushed around physically. The recent Rutgers and Michigan games are examples.

Meanwhile, Indiana has made a habit of grinding wins out during the past two weeks, picking up victories through a combination of toughness and hustle. The Spartans are more talented at every position and will have the Breslin Center advantage.

For Indiana, tonight’s trip to East Lansing is all about drawing upon the confidence built during the past three games, while trying to tap into the grittiness that has allowed the Hoosiers to find a strip of traction as the season heats up.

“It hasn’t been pretty, but we’ve found a way to gut a couple out,” Miller said. “Then, obviously had a breakthrough second half the other day in conference play for the first time at home, which was another big step in the right direction. So I think our confidence is growing. I think we’re continuing to enjoy the process right now. It’s going to get hard, but at the same time, you have some older guys that (are playing better). When you’re a senior and you have about a month left in your college career, you’re giving everything you have right now, and that’s a good thing.”

13 comments

  1. Beginning with tonight’s trip to No. 9 Michigan State

    I thought the MSU game was tomorrow night….?

  2. I know around the time Watford played it had been about 17 years since IU won in East Lansing. I know we had some close ones there, but I’m not sure we ever won one. Can anyone confirm the last win in east Lansing?

    Any realistic fan isn’t going to be that upset if IU doesn’t win this game. MSU Is a top 10 team. IU is maybe just inside the top 100. It’s a great opportunity for IU though. This team can still make the NCAA with some signature wins and if they don’t surpass 11-12 losses. There is still a glimmer of hope within this season.

    1. Ben M,
      Indiana broke that 17-game losing streak in East Lansing on Feb. 19, 2013. That was the game that featured Watford’s sideline out of bounds to Oladipo for a breakaway dunk late. Hoosiers haven’t won there again since.

    2. According to Pomeroy, IU is 92. However, IU is 3rd in conference only defense compared to 5th by Michigan State. Offense ranks 8th in conference compared to 3rd by Michigan State. We lead the Big Ten in steals. Hopefully with 3 wins in a row plus our improving defense we can use this game as a turning point on our resume.

  3. This wouldn’t call a “turning point” game/win.
    MSU is a beyond dangerous team…They have stumbled a bit but there are few teams with more across-the-board talent and depth.
    For many of the past seasons, they had some very highly regarded talent from Indiana on their roster. There is coaching from a sideline…and there is coaching from the floor. Indiana kids bring the leadership(often in the form of example by grit) and synergy to a floor. Izzo is now closer to a UK formula….and the only impasse to a championship may be the absence of extra basketball IQ and “it factor.”

    Last time an Indiana team won in East Lansing….? That was a good point of curiosity. But how about answering this one: When is the last time the Spartans have dropped two home games in a row?

    I would love to see Archie prove just how much quality defense can contain high octane, but I would be more than stunned if this one doesn’t get ugly. I would not be shocked if we lose by 30 tonight. MSU is smelling blood in the form of crimson after losing at home to their in-state rival.

    If I was filling out a bracket today, MSU would be my pick to bring home the banner. I see tonight’s game as playing a banner team on their floor against their very hungry and stupendous fans. There’s no “turning point” here. We’re currently a Jeep Cherokee(not excellent on the turns) on the racetrack with a Ferrari. There will be a lot of lapping….This will be the closest thing to a lap dance without strippers. If Newkirk morphs into Isiah Thomas..? If it starts to rain miracle threes from the Hoosier sky? ….If it turns into mud wrestling with referees going against all precedent and blowing far more whistles against the home team? Then we could have a shot at only losing by twenty.

    And don’t be too fooled by that ranking of 3rd in the conference in overall defense. We haven’t played anybody worth a hill of beans in the conference yet. Wisconsin is terrible this year.

    MSU 84
    Hoosiers 57

    1. Loss: January 14, 2016 to #16 Iowa
      Loss: January 17 at Wisconsin
      Loss: January 20 to Nebraska

      The last true back to back losses at Michigan State without a road loss in-between occurred during the 1996-1997 season.

      January 22, 1997 loss to Illinois at Michigan State
      January 25. 1997 loss to #13 Michigan at Michigan State.

  4. This is great…I stumbled upon a Ferrari who once played for MSU…

    And then I stumbled upon a tremendously written sports piece on the long ago Spartan, Al Ferrari, by a guy named Dan O’Neill of St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Do you know this sportswriter, Jeremy?

    Wow….First time in a very long time that I read someone who gets it …and has the talent to bring it to life with vivid imagination and a magical way with words.
    Magnificent opening paragraphs…Simply magnificent, Mr. O’Neill.

    http://www.stltoday.com/sports/other/o-neill-remembering-al-ferrari-former-st-louis-hawks-player/article_5360b019-d3cf-558a-8218-dfc8908c5c2e.html

  5. It certainly ain’t no Johnnie Wilder, Jr. setting the mood with ‘Always and Forever’…but I know some of the ladies of Scoop will get their groove on and love it.

Comments are closed.