Indiana Basketball: 5 Biggest Questions Hoosiers Face as March Heats Up
Cody Zeller and Jeremy Hollowell weren't quite sure who had this rebound against Iowa, but that uncertainty wasn't enough to cost the Hoosiers a win.
As the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments draw closer, however, the potential rises for small moments and miscommunications to cost any team dearly, IU included.
Most of those moments are freak occurrences. A ball dribbled off a foot, a pass sailed over the recipient's head, those sorts of things.
Some, however, reflect trends that evolve over time, the kind of thing that we can see coming. The answers to these five questions will determine Indiana's near future as March unfolds.
Can Seniors Finish Strong?
This shot from Christian Watford in Saturday's win over Iowa did not go in. Neither did any of the other seven he took.
Fellow senior Jordan Hulls missed all seven of his shots as well, running his season total against the Hawkeyes to 0-for-17.
The Iowa game was only the fifth time this season that IU shot below 43 percent from the floor, and only the second of those games that the Hoosiers won. The first? At Iowa on New Year's Eve.
In March, Indiana will face teams with much more consistent offensive talent than Iowa, and the Hoosier defense will need to remain on point. No matter how potent the defense, IU can't survive many more nights of its seniors missing 15 shots.
The last two games are the first two Big Ten games in which Watford has finished with a single-digit scoring total. Hulls, after drilling 14-of-23 (61 percent) from three in his prior four games, saw the hot streak go ice-cold overnight.
A couple of weeks ago, a talented and handsome writer indicated that Watford may be Indiana's most important player down the stretch. While IU can survive rough nights from him and Hulls against Iowa, would they fare the same against Kansas, Louisville or Gonzaga?
Not many IU fans should be anxious to find out. An arctic night like Saturday would be a terrible way for these budding Hoosier icons to bow out.
Will Yogi Stay Hot?
For all the problems Watford and Hulls had against the Hawkeyes, freshman Yogi Ferrell made plenty of plays.
Ferrell dropped in a career-high 19 points and dished out five assists, continuing a trend that has seen him look for his shot more aggressively as the season winds down.
After taking 6.3 shots per game in his first 12 Big Ten outings, Ferrell has put up 34 in his last four, an average of 8.3 FGA per game.
The downside is that he's made only 12 of those 34, and five of those came against Iowa. The 5-of-8 night was a satisfying rebound from a 2-for-10 effort in the loss to Minnesota. In both games, Ferrell was aggressive going to the basket, the difference being that his runners were falling against the Hawkeyes.
Ferrell has yet to string together two consecutive games of shooting better than 50 percent, so this performance looks like an anomaly. If Yogi can avoid the 3-for-9 and 2-for-10 nights in March that will make a big difference in IU's offensive efficiency when the games count the most.
Who Will Rise Up off the Bench?
Indiana coach Tom Crean tried to get some quality minutes off his bench in the win over Iowa, giving 33 to four players not named Will Sheehey.
Remy Abell and Derek Elston combined for seven points on 3-of-6 shooting, and Abell added two rebounds. Overall, the bench combined for only a plus-minus rating of plus-4, with Abell and Elston standing at minus-5 when the game was finished.
IU's top-six compares favorably with anyone's in the country, but a seventh performer will need to emerge through the grind of the March tournaments.
A look at some of the recent "seventh men" on NCAA championship teams:
|2009||N. Carolina||Will Graves||11.2||4.0||2.6|
|2005||N. Carolina||Melvin Scott||16.3||5.1||1.4|
Abell's line of 12.7/4.3/1.5 is decent in this context, but much of his production was compiled in the early going, when IU was chewing up and spitting out a line of non-conference cupcakes.
If his 10.0/2.3/0.9 line in conference play is more indicative of his tournament future, the Hoosiers could struggle to survive an injury or foul trouble.
How Will Zeller Handle Matchups?
Cody Zeller's nine-point, seven-rebound, four-turnover effort against Minnesota was one of his few truly shaky games this season.
The Gophers made an effort to get burly sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe the ball in the post, something they've done only sporadically this season, and got a season-high 21 points out of him for the effort. Defensively, Mbakwe conspired with jumping-jack forward Rodney Williams and 260-pounder Elliott Eliason to body Zeller around the lane.
It's been rare to see Zeller manhandled in such a fashion. After all, he even produced 18 points and six boards in the first meeting with Minnesota.
Before this, his only true struggles came against Penn State and Michigan State. MSU had multiple players to run at Zeller, similar to what Minnesota did, if not quite as, shall we say, emphatic. Another team with a stable of bigs could attempt to emulate Minnesota's handling of the IU star. Those opponents could come out with a similar result if...
Will Officials Decide One?
—the referees allow it.
Iowa tried to take a page out of Minnesota's playbook and bang with the Hoosiers. However, the officiating crew that made the trip to Bloomington was less permissive than the trio in Minneapolis, even though the Gophers were whistled for 19 fouls themselves last Tuesday.
A ludicrous 66 free throws were attempted on 52 personal fouls. The Hoosiers took 42 of those foul shots, an impressive figure that's not even a season high. IU took 44 in a win over Sam Houston State back in November.
Indiana's .488 free throw rate, meaning the Hoosiers take nearly one free throw for every two field-goal attempts, ranks third in America. Their 74.5 percent shooting stands 30th in the nation.
All this means that IU thrives when the whistles come quickly. A team with the Hoosiers' variety of weapons and willingness to attack the rack will usually draw calls.
In Indiana's three Big Ten losses, the FTR stands at .365 (57 FTA/156 FGA). Physical play may take IU off its rhythm and make some games closer than they should be. An officiating crew with a "let 'em play reputation should make Hoosier Nation nervous.
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