Hoosiers aim to maintain momentum against Butler

It’s one of the toughest weeks of the year, and it has nothing to do with the opponent.

Years of coaching have illustrated to Archie Miller the difficulty in navigating finals week, balancing end-of-semester academic obligations with the task of building a better basketball team.

Final exams means a weeklong break between games, briefly interrupting No. 25 Indiana’s resume-building, three-game winning streak over major conference opponents. With their momentum on hold, the Hoosiers’ challenge this week has been keeping their edge. It’s an objective that Miller’s team has seemed to meet, and one that will be put to the test in this afternoon’s Crossroads Classic matchup with Butler.

“This has been one of the rare finals weeks where our coaching staff has been pretty pleased with our practices,” Miller said. “Typically, this is a very tough week to sort of balance that. You have one or two guys just not there mentally. They’re fatigued. They’re tired. We had given them an extra day off in the middle, practiced late (Thursday) night so we can give them almost a day and a half (to rest and regroup), but we have had good work and I think we’re continuing to get better.”

That, of course, is crucial for an Indiana program that finds itself ranked in the top 25 for the first time since January of 2017. Naturally, Miller wants the Hoosiers to stay there.

A win over the Bulldogs in the Hoosiers’ final premier non-conference game of the season would go a long way toward making that happen.

Butler isn’t ranked inside the Associated Press top 25, but the Bulldogs are rated as the No. 25 team nationally at KenPom.com, with notable pre-conference wins over Florida and Mississippi in coach LaVall Jordan’s second season.

“LaVall’s doing a great job with their group,” Miller said. “They’re a really tough-minded group. They’re connected defensively, very good offensively. They really shoot the ball. They really stretch you from 3 and they go a good job of playing inside-out as well … so they have a nice balance. They have a nice rotation. You can tell their core group has been together for awhile. They’ve got chemistry.”

And reinforcements.

Today will mark the first time that mid-year Duke transfer Jordan Tucker will be eligible to play for Butler. Tucker, a former four-star IU recruiting target, told the Indianapolis Star this week that he was leaning toward committing to Indiana before former coach Tom Crean was fired in March of 2017.

Although it’s not clear exactly how many minutes Tucker might command in his Butler debut, he carries a reputation as a 6-foot-7 wing with a knack for knocking down 3-pointers.

For Indiana, Tucker adds an unknown element to the Hoosiers’ pre-game planning.

“You just have to pretty much go on what they’re doing right now and concentrate on that,” Miller said. “When he’s in the game, you understand you’re dealing with a guy that can score the ball. He’s a 3-point shooter. He’s more of a guard than he is anything, so you kind of just do it as a personnel-related thing. Without watching him on film, you’re not going to know how they’re utilizing him, but as you watch them play and how their system unfolds on both ends of the floor, you can kind of see what they’re asking him to do. So we’ll prepare obviously for him to be available for the game and ready to play and when he’s in, he’s got good size, so you’re going to have to put a guy, matchup-wise, on him that can match his size a little bit. But yeah, it’s difficult.”

Tucker further complements a talented Butler backcourt that features a trio of prominent perimeter players.

Junior Kamar Baldwin, a 6-foot-1 guard, was a unanimous selection to the preseason All-Big East team. Baldwin, Butler’s second-leading scorer at 16.6 points per game, is a talented one-on-one player off the dribble, and also features on the defensive end with a wingspan that measures 6-foot-6.

He’s been helped by the play — and the shooting — of leading scorer Paul Jorgensen and Sean McDermott, who are tied for fourth in the Big East with 3.1 made 3-pointers per game.

Jorgensen, a George Washington transfer, ranks sixth among Big East scorers with 17.2 points per contest, while his 43 percent shooting mark from the perimeter leads the Bulldogs.

McDermott is coming off a career-high 23-point effort in Butler’s win over Northern Illinois last Saturday. That performance marked the second time this season that McDermott poured in seven 3-pointers in a single contest.

Although Louisville knocked down 11 3-pointers against IU in last weekend’s matchup at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, it was only the second time this season a team has tallied double figures from beyond the arc against Indiana.

IU’s 3-point-shooting defense of 28 percent ranks 26th nationally.

“We played a number of teams this season that are good behind the (3-point line) and deadly behind the (3-point line),” Miller said. “Butler’s team is drastically different when they make them versus when they don’t make them. So clearly I think they depend on using their skill level to make those shots and they get good ones, too. Without question McDermott is a game changer, Jorgensen can be a game changer and I would also put Baldwin in there as well. He’s just a terrific, terrific college basketball player.”

IU has some terrific players of its own, and after a weeklong layoff and the rigors of final exams, the Hoosiers are eager to back up their recently-earned national ranking and sharpen the edge they’ve developed during their recent run against top non-conference opponents.

After a brief break to tend to academics, Indiana eager to pick up where it left off.

“The hard work, it’s starting to show,’ guard Al Durham said. “I feel like just getting notification on a national level is just showing the hard work is really paying off for us.”