Indiana Basketball: Why Hoosiers Are Poised for a Deep Big Ten Tournament Run
After a lackluster Big Ten regular season, the Indiana Hoosiers head into the conference tournament needing to win the whole thing in order to make it to the Big Dance.
When thinking of Indiana's mindset for the week, using the famous poker motto of "a chip and a chair" would be fitting. Basically, the expression means that no matter how far you are down, as long as you have one chip left, a comeback is possible.
The Hoosiers have a spot at the table. Now, to get to the NCAA tournament, they just have to make use of the single chip they have left.
And though Indiana is the No. 8 seed with their backs against the wall, don't count them out of the B1G tourney. The Hoosiers have beaten every team in the conference with the exception of Purdue, Nebraska and Michigan State, and there is a chance they won't have to face any of the three.
So, despite Indiana's regular-season mishaps, here's why it can make a deep run in the Big Ten tournament.
A Healthier Noah Vonleh
Yes, the Hoosiers are limping into the tournament after losing their last two games of the regular season, but they were without a healthy Noah Vonleh. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year is integral to Indiana's game plan, and without him, their rebounding and defense are greatly affected.
By the time of Thursday's tipoff against Illinois, Vonleh should be in much better shape than he was on March 8 for Indiana's last game, when he didn't start and played just 21 minutes (averages 26.3 MPG). The three-and-a-half days rest he will get before the opening game should be a big help.
A healthy Vonleh solidifies Indiana's rotation and gives it the rebounding edge it needs. Where post players like Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Jeremy Hollowell and Jeff Howard have failed, Vonleh can succeed, giving the Hoosiers their best possible team to make noise in the tourney.
Will Sheehey Has Arrived
After playing mediocre basketball for most of the season, the Will Sheehey we expected to see in his senior season has arrived. Through Indiana's last four games, Sheehey has been an offensive force, what IU needed him to be all along.
During this recent stretch of success, he is averaging 19.8 points per game while shooting 56.7 percent from the floor and 38 percent from the three-point line.
The Hoosiers need Sheehey's scoring to complement that of Yogi Ferrell and Vonleh. Head coach Tom Crean has been looking for Sheehey to be the third cog in IU's offensive wheel, and now, Sheehey is filling that role and playing his best basketball of the season.
If you ask Iowa or Ohio State about his impact, they will both say an aggressive, high-scoring Sheehey makes the Hoosiers much harder to beat. With Sheehey firing on all cylinders, Indiana will be a tough out.
Playing Close to Home
This year's tournament is being held in Indianapolis, which is only about an hour away from IU's Bloomington stomping grounds. On top of the close proximity which will make travel easy for B-Town natives, Indy is home to plenty of Hoosier faithful. Fans covered in cream and crimson should fill Bankers Life Fieldhouse, giving Indiana ample support.
So, while the Hoosiers will technically be playing on a neutral floor, their contests will have a home-court feel to them. For a team that knocked off four ranked opponents when it played in front of a favorable crowd, being in Indy is an advantage for the Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers may be the No. 8 seed, but their path to the tournament finals isn't one that should frighten them. Their first game is against Illinois, who they split the season series with. The Illini played well down the stretch, winning four of their last five, but Indiana should be able to take care of business.
Next would be a third meeting against Michigan, but despite the Wolverines being the regular-season champs, the Hoosiers shouldn't shy away. Indiana handled Michigan when the two met at Assembly Hall, and even though IU lost when it visited Ann Arbor, the game was close.
Indiana led at halftime and fought the Wolverines every step of the way. The Hoosiers have proved they can compete against Michigan.
If the Hoosiers make it past the Wolverines and into the semifinals, they will most likely run into Ohio State or Nebraska. While Ohio State's normally tenacious defense can pose a problem for IU's offense, the Hoosiers took care of business when the teams met in early March.
Nebraska knocked off Indiana both times they faced off, but by no means should the Hoosiers believe they can't defeat the Huskers. In the first meeting, IU squandered a 16-point lead. In the second, the Hoosiers were step for step with Nebraska until the game's final minutes.
In short, Indiana shouldn't be intimidated by any of the possible opponents standing in the way of a berth to the championship game. The stage is set for Indiana to make a run, now it just has to take advantage.