After a disappointing regular season, the Big Ten tournament is staring the Indiana Hoosiers in the face. For the Hoosiers to earn a berth in the Big Dance, they must win the B1G tourney, equating to four wins in four days.
It all starts with a matchup against Illinois, who Indiana split the regular season series with, the home team winning each contest. Though the Illini are the No. 9 seed, they come into the tournament as arguably the hottest team in the conference. They have won four of their last five and will not be an easy team to beat.
Here's what IU has to do in order to defeat Illinois and meet Michigan in the tournament's second round.
Slow Down Rayvonte Rice
Illinois' best player has absolutely dominated the Hoosiers this season. Rice is averaging 15.7 points per game, but he's putting up 24.5 against the Hoosiers. If the Hoosiers want to move on, it's time to clamp down on this prolific scorer.
Stanford Robinson, I'm looking at you. It's up to the freshman to lock up Rice, but if he can't get the job done, senior Will Sheehey must take care of business.
Noah Vonleh Must Stay Out of Foul Trouble
Stud freshman Noah Vonleh makes the Hoosiers a much better team when he's on the floor, but he's struggled with fouls this season, averaging 2.8 per game. If Vonleh has to sit for extended periods of time, the Hoosiers will be in trouble, as the options behind him—Jeff Howard, Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Mosquera-Perea—are less than stellar.
Howard is a total liability on the glass and offensive end. He makes the occasional hustle play, but it's not enough to deserve extended minutes.
Hollowell has struggled mightily, hence why he's barely seen the floor this season. He was especially bad in IU's recent loss to Nebraska, when he scored just two points and committed four fouls in 14 minutes. While he has offensive skills, he is still learning to apply them consistently.
Mosquera-Perea has shown flashes of ability and can defend down low and crash the glass. He seems like the most logical choice to fill in for Vonleh, but it's up to head coach Tom Crean to give him a chance.
In the end, Vonleh can't give Crean a reason to take him out of the game for anything longer than a brief rest.
Pull Out All The Stops
Crean's distribution of minutes should change in the B1G tourney, as the best players should play more than usual if they are able. Crean is notorious for passing out minutes to a wide array of Hoosiers, but that shouldn't be the case here.
For Indiana, there is no tomorrow. It is literally win or go home.
The main Hoosiers I'm talking about are Yogi Ferrell, Sheehey and Vonleh. Ferrell already averages 33.7 minutes per game, which shouldn't change tomorrow. Sheehey and Vonleh should each play more than 30, too.
This is possibly Indiana's last game of the season. It's not the time to rest for the next game.