A time for change
BLOOMINGTON – What was supposed to happen went down smoothly.
The Hoosiers did with SIU-Edwardsville (hereafter referred to as SIUE) exactly what the Hoosiers were supposed to do with SIU-Edwardsville. (OK, my bad. Now hereafter referred to as SIUE. I will not sacrifice cadence.)
Indiana shot just one more field goal than their opponent, but made 15 more. The final score, 88-54, was hardly indicative of the gulf between these two teams. The 24-0 start to the game was still missing a little something, but it will do.
Much has been made of Indiana’s 2010 non-conference schedule, which has gotten Indiana to 8-2 on the back of eight wins against non-BCS conference opponents and two losses against BCS conference opponents.
Now, let’s dispense with the idea that the schedule was poorly drawn up.
The Boston College game might have been avoidable with another tough road test before it, but then Indiana could just as easily have lost that game, so then what’s the point?
And Kentucky amounted to one of the closest, if not the closest, 19-point losses you’ll ever see. Indiana played the Wildcats tough for 30-plus minutes and then just lost their steam and their shot – especially at Rupp Arena, there’s really no shame in that.
In truth, the schedule to this point has probably been built of the need for the Hoosiers to achieve the ever-ambiguous, intangible goal of “learning how to win.” It’s popular coach-speak, even more popular among those with young teams. No team could have needed such a lesson more.
There were other lessons, as well.
A lot of players like Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Jeremiah Rivers and the freshmen Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey have grown into important roles these last few weeks. Others, like Derek Elston, have perhaps just begun to show their mettle (14 and five with a torrid start to the game Friday).
Perhaps most importantly, they’ve learned – or at least, we’ve learned – that this team is the toughest and hardiest Indiana has been in awhile. The Hoosiers penchant for defense was supplemented by that showing at Kentucky, where things only got out of hand late and mostly thanks to free throws.
And as Tom Crean pointed out, a night like Friday also allows for experimentation, which will help with lineup decisions come Big Ten play.
There is a laundry list of positives that come from playing the SIUE’s of the world, there’s no denying that. And I don’t deny that being 8-2 after 16 wins in the last two is an important step, however it is taken.
But the tests provided by the likes of South Carolina State are becoming too weak, too hard to accurately judge to be worthwhile much longer. Northern Iowa will be a good game to judge this team’s progress, as would a match-up with either New Mexico or Colorado.
We’ll look earnestly at Indiana’s first Big Ten game against Penn State on Dec. 27, and wonder what this team might look like in mid-March (or for the optimists, late March).
As the Hoosiers moved past Evansville, we learned something about them. As they handled Mississippi Valley State, we added another thought to the list, maybe two.
In watching them lay waste to a transitional Division I team Friday night, we learned that they have now moved as well, to a place where these sorts of games are no longer questioned or contested, and so should their season.
Luckily, Vegas is only five days away. Good timing, if you will.