Five takeaways from Indiana’s win at Northwestern

IUJackITH0004Following Tuesday’s surprising loss to Wisconsin, Indiana bounced back on Sunday afternoon with a 67-59 win over Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The win moved Indiana, now 4-1 in the conference, into a three-way tie for second place in the Big Ten with the Badgers and Michigan.

· Cody Zeller is picking up the pace in Big Ten play: It’s not that Zeller wasn’t solid in the non-conference schedule — he was — but as IU’s bench has struggled to find its groove in league play, IU’s sophomore center is upping his production. In five Big Ten games, Zeller is averaging 19.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and is shooting 77 percent from the foul line. Still, the uptick in his numbers isn’t registering much, if at all, with Zeller. “I could care less,” Zeller told reporters yesterday. “A win’s a win.” With the Big Ten schedule backloaded with tough games, Indiana needs Zeller to continue to getting to the line (39 free throw attempts in five league games) and working his post game to open up perimeter opportunities.

· Indiana is winning on the road: The competition hasn’t been the stiffest, but the Hoosiers now own road wins over Iowa, Penn State and Northwestern. For some perspective on this, you can look at IU’s final Big Ten road record a season ago: 3-6. And we don’t even need to get into the record away from Assembly Hall the three years prior to that. The overriding point is that even though the wins haven’t been as dominant as some expected, these early wins should help build confidence heading into the remaining road schedule, which includes Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan.

· The bench continues to struggle: Indiana’s bench again provided little in terms of offensive production. The group totaled just six points (all by Will Sheehey) and the Hoosiers currently lack an adequate and trusted backup when Zeller goes to the bench. One encouraging bit of news is that Derek Elston did play, albeit briefly, after practicing for the first time on Friday. Tom Crean said on Monday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference that he expects Elston and Maurice Creek to be available at some point this week and even noted that Creek could have played yesterday, but said that it wasn’t “the time nor place” to put him in the game. As the Big Ten season moves along, the Hoosiers must be able to count on a couple of their bench guys because situations will arise that will require them to do so.

· Indiana is learning to play through adversity: There has to be some concern with Indiana not delivering the knockout punch on Northwestern midway through the second half, but there is also value in becoming battle tested. The truth is that this team received very few tests in the non-conference schedule. Now that the competition level has been ratcheted up considerably, Indiana is going to need to dig deeper and learn how to finish games against better competition. So far, the results have been mixed. The Hoosiers held off second half rallies from Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern, but couldn’t solve Wisconsin. In the end, playing in closer games should be beneficial when the games mean even more in March.

· Reggie Hearn is one of the league’s most underrated players: He’s not going to get much love nationally playing on Northwestern, but the senior guard is quietly putting together a very productive season. Hearn poured in a game-high 22 points on Sunday on 7-of-12 shooting and also hit 8-of-9 free throws. For the season, Hearn’s effective field goal percentage of 59.8 ranks in the top 60 nationally, an impressive mark for a guard, and his free throw rate of 66.2 also ranks in the top 50 nationally. With Drew Crawford out for the remainder of the season, Northwestern’s chances at success moving forward hinge heavily on Hearn continuing to produce at a high level.

  • Randy Smith

    As I said last week, this team is NOT mentally tough yet.
    And the lack of a half court offense is a glaring hindrance.
    It seems if we can’t run we are gonna struggle! And teams
    Are gonna take notice of that. If we can’t overcome these
    Two issues were gonna have problems here on out!

  • HoosierDD

    Maybe the problem is your expectations were/are too high. You do realize Crean started at Indiana with a roster consisting only of two walk-ons who had scored a combined 36 points in their careers? Do you know how hard it is to recruit players to a program that was decimated by the whole Sampson debacle. The program was blown up and we started from nothing. There was a reason Crean was signed to a 10 year contract, it was going to take a long time to rebuild the program. Those of us who were realistic about the situation didn’t expect much of anything the first three years, we only wanted our team to be tough, fight hard, and never give up, and they didn’t. “Soft, underachieving, and lacked mental toughness,” you say. Lol, you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about and have lost all credibility with me. Those of us with realistic expectations before the season started last year were talking about us being a bubble team in the tournament and being happy with an NCAA berth. Instead we beat 3 top five teams, were the only team to beat the eventual NCAA champion, and made it to the sweet 16. Maybe the #1 preseason ranking got all of our expectations too high. I don’t know of any programs that went from 6 wins to 10 to 12 to a sweet 16 and then to a National Championship win. Calipari buys the best talent in college basketball and lost twice in a row in the elite 8 before getting a NC. Maybe I’m the only IU fan that would be happy with an elite 8 appearance. Progress is progress. But hey the season isn’t over and their is a lot of basketball yet to be played. It hasn’t been pretty all the time but we are 16-2 and 4-1 in the BIG. So sit back, enjoy, cheer for YOUR team, and quit bashing college kids giving it their all.

  • Geoff_85

    Nevermind harshness or anyone disagreeing with you, you’re just a jerk. Plain and simple. Everything you post is about how much you dislike the players and the coach. You rarely, if ever, post anything positive. You questioned mindsets of kids like you know what they’re thinking. How are those NOT personal attacks? Basketball ability has nothing to do with how well a kid plays or what they do on the court uless they’re tanking games on purpose. It’s not like they aren’t trying to win, but your comment seems to reflect that. I guarantee you they’re pissed when they lose. Now you’e telling fans what we are thinking/what our expectations are. Let me make this very clear for you: you have no idea what anyone else is thinking or expecting unless they directly tell you. You think people are happy with losing to Wisconsin and Butler? Don’t be stupid. Everyone here was pissed about both games. Most of us aren’t just saying fire the coach and that the team will be better off without these players because of it. We’re still upset with both losses, and yes, some of the wins as well, we’re just not being babies about it. This team has a lot of improvements to make, no doubt, but I’m sure not giving up on them. You have. Your comment about the team purging players reflects that. Good, this team doesn’t need you, nor do the fans. I’ll give you some advice: give up and get lost.

  • sloan screen #45

    Come on Geoff, Now you are gonna call me names? Thats just not right. I am entitled to my opinions about this teams performance just as well as you are entitled to your opinion. Thats what makes ITH great. Alot of different opinions meshed together on one great site. I do admit sometimes its kinda fun to rattle the cage of guys like you and for that I must apologize. I forgive you for calling me childish names. I would gladly accept your apology. I tell you what, you going to the B1G tourney in Chicago? If you are lets get together, I will buy you a hot dog.

  • sloan screen #45

    Come on Geoff, Now you are gonna call me names? Thats just not right. I am entitled to my opinions about this teams performance just as well as you are entitled to your opinion. Thats what makes ITH great. Alot of different opinions meshed together on one great site. I do admit sometimes its kinda fun to rattle the cage of guys like you and for that I must apologize. I forgive you for calling me childish names. I would gladly accept your apology. I tell you what, you going to the B1G tourney in Chicago? If you are lets get together, I will buy you a hot dog.

  • Geoff_85

    Yay!!!! Can I get nachos too????

  • sloan screen #45

    Geoff, still waiting for that apology. Look I know this may be a little humiliating for you. Believe me, I will accept it graciously and will not rub it in. I am just not that way.

  • Geoff_85

    You have already forgiven me, so why do you need an apology? I hope you don’t honestly expect an apology from me when you are basically asking for one while granting forgiveness. I tell you what, you apologize for making personal attacks on the players – I will forgive you – and I will apologize to you.

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