The next three games for the Indiana Hoosiers will tell us how the rest of the season is going to go. It will also tell us how good head coach Tom Crean is at motivating his team.
No. 13 Indiana (12-0) travels to East Lansing to take on the 16th-ranked Michigan State Spartans (11-2) Wednesday night. No Big Ten game is an easy matchup, and a game in the Breslin Center is extremely difficult.
Michigan State has won 11 in a row after dropping their first two games of the season to North Carolina and Duke.
The Spartans have relied on typical Tom Izzo play, and that’s playing solid defensively and limiting turnovers.
Michigan State is very young and inexperienced, but that doesn’t matter when they play at home.
Indiana almost beat Michigan State last year when the Hoosiers took the Spartans to overtime, and if they play with the same intensity, they can win up there.
The next opponent after Michigan State is No. 2 Ohio State (12-1) in Assembly Hall on New Year's Eve. The Buckeyes are the unanimous favorite to win the Big Ten title this season and will be a tough team to play.
I do think, for the same reasons why I thought Indiana would beat Kentucky, they can beat the Buckeyes. Ohio State is young and doesn't have a deep bench. If the Hoosiers can get Ohio State center Jared Sullinger in foul trouble and play solid defense on Aaron Craft, then they can win this game.
If Indiana does happen to lose both of those games—which, let's be realistic, they will be underdogs—we will see the true character of this team.
We know all the press (minus me) will be saying, "See, told you they weren’t this good. They haven’t played anyone and now it’s showing. They dropped their first two true opponents."
I know, and those who know basketball know, that none of that garbage is true. But young college kids will have access to read that junk and may believe it. Let's face it, many 18-to-21-year-olds believe almost everything they read.
Tom Crean will have to get the team motivated to play another ranked opponent in the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines (10-2) the following Thursday in a 9 PM ESPN game.
If the Hoosiers buy into all the junk that will be said about them, then they could very well lose to a very good Michigan team and be 0-3 in the Big 10, including losing two of the nine conference home games already.
That will almost certainly cause the Hoosiers to free-fall to a big losing streak like the ones that have happened the last three seasons. That’s where it will take head coach Tom Crean to motivate this team to not lose all three of these games, and at least win two of them.
This Indiana team is headed to greatness and can’t afford a three-game setback to start the Big Ten season. It will be interesting to see what happens and if Coach Crean can get this team motivated to avoid costly losses.
This team is built to win any of those three games, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they win all three, but if the do drop any I hope this team goes in a better direction than years past.
After a big win against then-No. 1 Kentucky, a win over the two-time defending national runner up in Butler, a road win over a pesky NC State team, and a neutral grind-out win over Notre Dame, the Hoosiers should have enough motivation to keep this streak going.