The Indiana Hoosiers (24-4, 12-3 Big Ten) are nearing the end of the Big Ten regular season schedule. Next up will be the annual Big Ten Tournament.
If Tuesday's loss to Minnesota showed anything, it's that IU still needs some work before the tournament begins. Here are five things the Hoosiers must prove before Big Ten Tournament play begins.
Against Minnesota, it was clear that Indiana's zone needs some work. The Gophers continually found holes in the Hoosiers' defense.
Luckily for IU, Minnesota missed a number of wide open threes (4-of-20), or else the game wouldn't have been close. Future opponents are going to watch the game film and realize Indiana is giving up open three-pointers. All they have to do is make that shot and the Hoosiers will be in trouble.
IU plays the zone in order to protect a defensive liability like Jordan Hulls. But is the zone worth playing?
Indiana's best defender, Victor Oladipo, isn't the same player in a zone. He does best in a man-to-man scheme where he can disrupt the opponent's best player. Taking him out of his element only hurts IU's defense.
The zone allowed Minnesota to dominate the glass. IU was out rebounded 38-25 (17 offensive rebounds). When playing man-to-man defense, you know exactly who to box out.
It's the player you are guarding.
In a zone, there isn't a direct defensive assignment, so opposing players slip through the cracks, leading to offensive rebounds.
If the Hoosiers are going to continue to play zone, they must show that they can use it to force turnovers while still rebounding effectively.
Scoring from the Indiana bench continues to be an issue. Will Sheehey can carry the load, but someone else needs to step up.
Against Minnesota, Sheehey scored eight points, Jeremy Hollowell scored one and Derek Elston contributed four. Remy Abell and Maurice Creek didn't score a single point.
As witnessed on Tuesday night, when the starters struggle (Christian Watford with eight points and Cody Zeller with nine), IU's bench has to contribute. Indiana's role players must prove they can score when the offense needs a spark.
On the other end of the spectrum, IU is 6-0 when the competition is ranked. What does this show?
The Hoosiers play to the level of their competition. This could be a problem going forward.
In the Big Ten tournament, the Hoosiers will most likely face teams that are not ranked. Because of Indiana's lack of focus against these opponents, the Hoosiers are vulnerable.
On Saturday, Indiana hosts unranked Iowa. They have an opportunity to show that they can approach every opponent with the same intensity. It's the perfect chance to prepare for the type of situation they will face in the Big Ten Tournament.
Senior Christian Watford has three games left to demonstrate that he can carry the team when the dynamic duo of Oladipo and Zeller are having an off night. Against Minnesota, Watford was a ghost.
The only reason he finished with eight points is because he made two three-pointers when Indiana was trying to extend the game in its waning moments. He was nowhere to be found when the game was in the balance.
Hulls has been solid this season, but he can't be expected to pace the offense. His scoring arsenal isn't diverse enough.
Watford has the ability to get in the lane, as well as hit the three. He must be more assertive. When Zeller or Oladipo has a bad night, someone needs to pick up the slack.
Watford has to show that he is that player.
Against Minnesota, the shooting slump was fully evident as he went 2-of-10 from the field. He took just as many shots as Oladipo and more than Zeller and Watford.
Going forward, Ferrell has to show that he can make shots if he is going to continue to shoot that much. IU could use his scoring but he has to first figure out his jumper.