INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Hoosiers (8-2) left too much on the table in their bad defeat to in-state Butler Bulldogs on Saturday in Indianapolis. With that being said, IU needs to use these next three games to vastly improve not just on the defensive end, but their overall character and intensity level too, in order to make a push when the season really matters.
First off, lets be honest here, IU will be 11-2 heading into their New Years Eve matchup with the Louisville Cardinals. The Hoosiers begin a three game stretch with inferior opponents and play all at home in Assembly Hall. Indiana will host the Delaware State Hornets tonight (8 p.m. ET/BTN/93.1 WIBC FM) and should demolish them as they’re 3-9. Then, it’s a home game with the Austin Peay Governors who are 4-7 on Thursday night. After that, IU doesn’t play again until next Wednesday night when they open up Big 10 play against a struggling Nebraska Cornhuskers team who’ve lost six of their last seven games and sit 5-6 right now, coming off of a lost at home to Gardner-Webb.
IU should win all three games decisively and use their bench early on to give their starters rest. But, these games aren’t about padding the win column rather than time for Tom Crean to get these players to fully buy in.
IU should be undefeated right now. The talent and opportunities have been there. In on way shape or form are IPFW or Butler better than IU. Period. The only thing those two schools were better at than IU, is effort, and that’s why IU lost both. Crean, needs to preach that effort on both ends of the floor and not taking any plays off are crucial to this teams success moving forward.
What better way to “practice” that than the next three games.
These three games will do that, and how IU responds, will shape whether they can win a second straight outright Big 10 championship. I know Purdue fans will disagree, but the trophy should reside in Bloomington right now. It’s theirs to lose. They have the most talent, deepest bench and scariest team in the entire conference and if they play they way they SHOULD and give 100-percent effort on every play, every night, then IU will end the season where they want it to.
But, if they take nights off like they did against IPFW and again like Saturday against Butler, then this season will end no where near where it could have. The upcoming schedule gives IU a chance to shape the rest of the season.
Get some positive momentum and get a lot better between now and New Years Eve, and IU could get a huge non conference win on a neutral court heading into the rest of the conference play. IU could very easily be 12-2 heading into a home game with Wisconsin on Jan. 3. Again, IU should win that game. They then host Illinois on Jan. 7. Again, IU should win that game too.
From there, it’s at an up-and-down Maryland team that they could beat then at home to Rutgers and then at Penn State. After that, it’s a home game against a struggling Michigan State team before playing at Michigan and at Northwestern to close out the month of January.
These next three games and those two losses to IPFW and Butler will shape how IU plays in January. Play with 100-percent effort and they can easily go 8-0 next month and ride a 12 game winning streak into February. Revert to the IPFW and Butler effort and not get things corrected over the next three games and IU could lose games at Penn State, Michigan and Northwestern and sit 16-6 overall heading into February.
That’s why how quick IU can learn will make or break the conference season.