It was not without its tense moments, but the Indiana Hoosiers survived the first of three NCAA tournament weekends to become one of the event's last 16 teams standing.
Through a solid win over a surprisingly scrappy James Madison squad and a nail-biter over the veteran Temple Owls, Indiana proved that it can both keep a lead and play from behind in a grinding, low-scoring game.
But, how strong were the two victories, really? Let's examine the weekend from five angles: the IU offense and defense, the starters and bench, and finally the performance of Tom Crean and his coaching staff.
As has been noted before, this particular professor is a harsh grader. So let's examine the Hoosiers' first two performances while trying not to get too much red ink on our clothes.
Pictured: the two guys who saved Indiana's season.
Christian Watford's block of an Anthony Lee layup and Victor Oladipo's three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining were the two biggest plays of Sunday's game, and came at moments where the Hoosiers desperately needed them.
Had Lee made his shot, Temple would have resumed a four-point lead with just over two minutes remaining. A miss by Oladipo, and Temple would have had a chance to win on the final shot. The clutch plays capped solid, but unspectacular, games from the two veterans.
Yogi Ferrell, who put James Madison on the deck seemingly before the Dukes got off the bus, has produced only two points in his last 74 minutes of basketball. He was largely invisible against Temple after becoming only the third player in IU history to record 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists in an NCAA tournament game. (Keith Smart and Tom Coverdale are the others, in case you're wondering.)
Cody Zeller's two free throws tied the Temple game with less than two minutes to go. For the rest of the second half, he was primarily a tackling dummy, drawing enough fouls to put IU in the bonus for the final five minutes.
Jordan Hulls missed several minutes against Temple after a hard collision left him with pain in his shoulder, but the importance of his return is hard to overstate. Indiana was plus-20 with Hulls on the court Sunday and minus-14 without him. Immediately after Watford's block on Lee, Hulls got in the way of Lee's attempted putback, an unsung play that renders the block moot if he's not there to get involved.
The Hoosiers ride or die with their starting five, and there's always been someone there to make the plays when needed. On the downside, the unit struggled to hit shots against Temple, and that will be key against Syracuse.
Indiana fans have waited the entire Big Ten season and postseason for Remy Abell to make some kind of impact. Just from looking at his scoreless line from the Temple game, he didn't appear to make one Sunday.
However, look at the picture. Temple's Khalif Wyatt is struggling to get this shot up because Abell is taking up the excess space inside his jersey. It was only late in the game that Wyatt struggled to do much of anything, as he produced only two of his 31 points in the final 6:30.
After the game, the Owls' star praised not just the All-American Oladipo, but his understudy as well, saying, "Oladipo is a really good defender. And that kid, Abell, is a really good defender. It was just really difficult for me to get the ball.” (via the Anderson, Ind. Herald-Bulletin)
As has been typical, much of the bench's offensive impact came courtesy of junior swingman Will Sheehey, who dropped in 10 of the IU reserves' 13 points. Combined with his 15 against James Madison, Sheehey has played his usual versatile game through two rounds.
Jeremy Hollowell has cleared seven rebounds in two games, but has made little impact offensively.
Others, such as Derek Elston and Maurice Creek, have and will only see time in blowouts like the JMU win. This limits the bench's overall chance to make an impact.
The Temple win was as ugly as the James Madison win was efficient, but that's perhaps to be expected from the substantial step up in competition.
After Yogi Ferrell's early explosion against JMU, the Hoosiers settled into a peaceful, easy groove, scoring 1.34 points per possession on the day. That's Indiana's best PPP figure since the blowout of Purdue at Mackey Arena.
IU hit the offensive glass strongly, got good ball movement and kept the turnovers down.
The Owls, for their part, wanted to muddy the waters, and they did. Indiana was held below one PPP for only the fourth time all season. The previous two times that happened, the Hoosiers lost to Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Indiana managed only four offensive rebounds against Temple, by far its worst performance of the season. The Hoosiers had only been held below 33.3 percent on the offensive glass five times, losing three, before Sunday.
The Owls kept IU to 16 percent offensive rebounding.
The win was an important one, showing that the Hoosiers were capable of surviving the proverbial rock fight. Still, it's not the game that IU likes to play, and it's certainly not the type of outing that Hoosier fans want to see become a habit.
IU fans are quick to dismiss Temple as a one-man team, but in doing so, they discount the job that the Hoosier defense did to shut down every Owl not named Khalif Wyatt.
Scootie Randall, Will Cummings and Jake O'Brien, three players who averaged a combined 26.4 points per game for the season, totaled a whopping three against the Hoosiers, missing all 21 of their shot attempts. O'Brien in particular is usually a reliable scorer, making 48 percent from the floor and 43 percent from long range.
The Owls didn't score in the game's final 3:09, an impressive string of stops that included a pair of frustrating misses by Wyatt. Indiana committed only eight fouls on the night, a pivotal stat considering the Owls made seven of the eight free throws they attempted.
A few more attempts for a 72-percent foul-shooting team and the Hoosiers would find themselves in a much more sour mood today.
Finally, IU seized its opportunities when they could take them. The Owls hocked up 10 turnovers that were converted into 15 Indiana points.
If there was a major failing by the Indiana defense, it was on the glass. Temple yanked 14 offensive rebounds, but considering how many bricks the Owls laid, that's not a terrible amount. The 33.3 offensive rebounding percentage is barely worse than the 31 percent IU has surrendered on the season.
And Christian Watford blocked a shot, so there's that.
Against James Madison, the defense could actually be said to have underachieved, given the talent gap. The second-half heroics of freshmen Andre Nation and Charles Cooke kept the margin respectable and propelled the Dukes to a one-PPP night that belies their 42-percent shooting.
It's hard to tell which is a better coaching job, shepherding a team through a difficult game against a veteran opponent or keeping a team's edge intact in the second half of a game that was in hand at the break.
Tom Crean did both over the weekend.
Crean made sure his team was fully engaged for 40 minutes against James Madison, keeping the starters in until after the final media timeout and continually employing full-court pressure for most of that time.
Against Temple, the Hoosiers didn't shy away from the physicality of their opponent, an ailment that derailed one of their top-seed brethren the day before.
Crean also resisted the temptation to gear his defense too far toward Khalif Wyatt. Asked after the game whether he had considered the idea of a box-and-one or some other hybrid defense, he said, "No, because when you do that, you have the risk of Jake O'Brien being back in, and I think it was a huge key that Jake O'Brien didn't get going in this game."
The idea of radical defensive tinkering in the face of a star turn like Wyatt's could have communicated panic to the Hoosier players. The coach's choice to stay the course gave a veteran team a reminder that it was just another game, even if it was played in a style that was far from their usual.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.