INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Hoosiers (8-3) will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-2) on Saturday afternoon (2 pm ET/ESPN/IU Radio Network) in the fifth annual Crossroads Classic in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The game should be a pivotal one for both teams as they’re both trying to enter their respective conferences hot.
Indiana, has won three straight games and four of the last five while Notre Dame has the exact same streak to their favor as well. Both teams also are trying to avenge rough non-conference tournaments, as they both went 1-2 with some bad losses in their respective Feast Week tournament.
Notre Dame lost to Monmouth and Alabama while IU dropped games in Maui to Wake Forest and UNLV.
But, this game on Saturday, will really show us more of what Indiana is about than who Notre Dame is.
We all know who Notre Dame is, they’re a great shooting team that can score in bunches. They have the personnel to light their opposition up as they shoot 48-percent from the field and 40-percent from behind the arc entering this weekend’s game.
They just don’t have much depth and play a good enough defense to get by. Nothing about this Notre Dame team will change much over the course of the season other than some minor tweaks and hopeful improvements, but this is who they are. This is who’ve they’ve been over the last several years. They’re extremely good coached and have a specific style of play that is the same no matter what player is in the game.
Indiana on the other hand, has to hope this team that they’ve been this season isn’t who they are. They’re hoping their true identity hasn’t been shown yet.
They can score with anyone as they average nearly 90 points-per-game so far. But, the sloppiness on offense and lack of defense has been concerning.
The losses in Maui and an embarrassment at Duke all came down to effort on the defensive end. Everyone saw that and it was glaring. It made national headlines as even analysists were screaming about how embarrassing this Indiana defense was.
The Hoosiers knew this and vowed to work much harder on that end of the floor as this was a team with national championship aspirations. If they couldn’t get better defensively then they’d be lucky to make it out of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament – if making the tourney at all.
Well, we’ve arrived at the Notre Dame game as this has been circled for quite some time now. This is the last barometer to see what kind of year IU is in store for.
They’ve had three full weeks to get better defensively as their adjustments were honestly about as basic as it gets.
It wasn’t like they needed to reteach defense. Their issues were minor but glaring ones that rose huge red flags.
Staying in front of the ball, rotating on defense, crashing the boards, helping team mates out and talking. Those were their biggest issues which are all something you learn in intermediate basketball as an elementary schooler.
Three weeks is more than enough time to correct those mistakes.
The biggest way to correct it is heart and discipline. I don’t think any of these guys just got amnesia on how to play offense once they signed their letters of intent to Indiana. It’s not like the movie “Men in Black” where the magic pen erases their memories.
Defense just didn’t magically disappear out of their minds when they put on the candystriped pants.
Since that dreadful Duke game, Indiana has done a much better job defensively. They’ve held their last three opponents to under 40-percent shooting from the field and have worked exponentially harder on the defensive glass.
They’re also creating more turnovers which is leading to easier buckets on the offensive end.
But, those last three opponents were Morehead State, IPFW and McNeese State. Now, a team that can actually shoot and score at high percentages is going to be their opponent.
Can Indiana show they’ve improved enough to beat Notre Dame is the honest question?
If IU comes out and gives up over 45-percent shooting from the field and doesn’t maximize their possessions on offense, then we know this is who this Indiana team is and that it’s not a good one.
On paper, Indiana is a much more complete team than Notre Dame. They have a ton of talent and depth.
But, do they have heart?
How bad do they want this game?
How bad do they want to prove their naysayers wrong and actually play tight suffocating defense?
How bad to they want to show everyone that they can rebound on the defensive end?
This game should be all about defensive pride for Indiana as they have a prime opportunity to showcase to the world that they’re a much different team than they were a month ago. A relapse back to that horrid Maui performances and Indiana will get blown out in front of the entire state of Indiana.
They need a signature win but need a signature performance more than that.
After 40-minutes of play on Saturday, we will know if Indiana is a contender or pretender. If they haven’t figured out how to win by now, they won’t fix it in conference play.
This is the absolute last chance to show us if they’ve fixed anything.
Eric Smith is a Senior Writer for the Indy Sports Report. Follow @Ericsportsguru and @IndySportsRep on Twitter