IU playing best basketball entering final week

There are two kinds of teams at this point in the season — the ones that are playing their best basketball and the ones that aren’t.

Indiana is firmly in the former category.

Better guard play, more connected defensive alignments and the continued contributions of leading scorer Juwan Morgan have elevated the Hoosiers from a team feeling its way through a transitional season to a group playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten.

Another more recent development has been the emergence of depth along the IU bench. Strong play from Indiana’s reserves was as much of a factor as any in Indiana’s ability to stretch its winning streak to four games across the past week.

Entering Tuesday’s 9 p.m. regular season road finale at Nebraska, IU appears as complete as it has all season.

“There’s more guys doing more things,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “To me, that’s a team that’s engaged. That’s a team that’s about the right things. They’ve been coachable all year. I think coming into the last week of the regular season, we should feel good about what we’re doing.”

The Hoosiers’ recent run has allowed the team to clinch no worse than the No. 7 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden, while also resuscitating IU’s hopes to continue playing beyond that conference tournament and deeper into March.

Additional fortune this week, with Nebraska and No. 16 Ohio State on deck, would go a long way toward keeping a National Invitation Tournament (NIT) bid — Indiana’s most likely postseason scenario — within reach. According to the bracketology at nycbuckets.com, IU is currently a No. 6 seed in the NIT.

That the Hoosiers’ season-long climb has allowed the team to so much as flirt with postseason thoughts is a tribute to a group that has coalesced into a unit playing off the sum of its parts.

Just look at the bench production in the two games Indiana won during the last week.

There were the 38 points Al Durham, Justin Smith and Josh Newkirk combined to score in Wednesday’s victory against Illinois, then there were the contributions of Smith and Hartman, in particular, during Saturday’s win at Iowa.

Smith added 15 points off the bench against the Hawkeyes, popping in and out of the lineup as fouls nipped at starters Freddie McSwain and Juwan Morgan.

Equally important were the more understated efforts of Hartman.

The fifth-year senior didn’t score a point across his 17 minutes, but he did post five assists while breaking down Iowa’s defense from the middle of its zone. He also gave IU a Zach McRoberts-like defensive effort on the other end of the floor.

“It’s important at this time of year that you’re not a five-, six-man group,” Miller said. “It’s important at this time of year when you’re playing the hardest games of the season that you can count on different guys doing different things and you can trust them.”

Tuesday, Indiana will face a Nebraska team that took a major blow to its NCAA Tournament hopes in a 72-66 loss at Illinois on Sunday night. The Cornhuskers can’t afford a second straight defeat, especially on their home floor.

At the same time, Nebraska is also playing for a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament. It is currently tied with Michigan for fourth place, and a win against IU would help the Cornhuskers achieve that short-term objective with one final home game against Penn State remaining on their schedule.

Forward Isaiah Roby enters play having notched three consecutive double-doubles after his 14 points and 10 rebounds at Illinois. The Huskers have been lifted this season by the play of Miami transfer James Palmer Jr., who ranks fourth in the Big Ten in scoring (17.6 points per game).

“They’re having a terrific season,” Miller said. “They have a very versatile team, and I think playing there right now is probably one of the harder places to play in the league. We have our work cut out.”

But the Hoosiers also enter play with momentum at their backs. At a point in the season when it matters most, Indiana is authoring its best basketball to date.

“It’s a group of guys that are playing for the right reasons,” Miller said. “They play for one another. They understand how we’ve been able to get better as the course of the season’s gone.”


  1. A six seed. That’s funny. A team with a 10-8 or 11-7 record in the Big Ten would be a prohibitive favorite to win the NIT.

    The NIT selection committee might consider them a six seed but I’m betting Las Vegas oddsmakers will see it differently.

  2. nycbuckets.com is now the authority on all postseason hopes…lol.

    If we finish 11-7 and are not in any NCAA bubble watches, I think we should boycott the asinine BIG tournament in NYC. History, bitches.

  3. Well, they could not have gotten much worse than when they played ISU and Ft. Wayne. It’s nice to see them starting to shoot well and produce fewer turnovers. That’s a credit to Archie and his staff for keeping these guys motivated to improve in spite of a really bad start to the season.

    Chet, normally, I think your comment above would be right. But going 10-8 in the Big Ten this season is not going to be seen as a major accomplishment because the Big Ten is a relatively weak conference in men’s basketball this year. There will be plenty of teams from several other better conferences playing in this year’s NIT, and I think a lot of Big Ten teams would struggle against teams that finished in the middle of those conference standings. IU will be challenged to win a lot of games in this year’s NIT.

  4. Podunker. I couldn’t agree more. Besides MSU and Purdue (when Purdue plays like they did in January), there are solid teams like Michigan and Ohio State but then it falls off quite a bit. Nebraska record ok but they have had an easy schedule. PSU looks great at times but inconsistent. The other conferences are just so much deeper this year. I would be happy with NIT no matter what seed. Let’s just keep winning

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