Maurice Creek's Injury Presents Fork in the Road for Indiana Hoosiers

Zachary OstermanCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2009

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 08:  Devan Dumes #33 of the Indiana Hoosiers dribbles the ball against the Pitt Panthers during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 8, 2009 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

(The weight on Devan Dumes' shoulders just became, shall we say, much heftier.)

This picture really says enough, doesn't it?

I wasn't at Assembly Hall tonight, but I did see the Big Ten's third-leading scorer stretchered off Branch McCracken Court with his jersey tugged over his face to hide the numerous emotions gripping him in that moment.

There are thousands of words in the English language to choose from to describe the magnitude and seriousness of that situation as it relates to Indiana's basketball season.

But really, all one need do is look at the face of sophomore guard Verdell Jones and know what Tom Crean later confirmed: Maurice Creek, IU's leading scorer coming into Monday night and the likely frontrunner for Big Ten freshman of the year, suffered a fractured left knee and will not play again this season.

The news is a knockdown punch for a young team hoping Creek's scoring could play a key role in making this Big Ten season more productive than the last. And it begs yet more questions of a squad and a program that's probably quite tired of them:

What's next? Where will those 17 points come from? How do the Hoosiers cover Creek's absence? (Let's just assume you can't "replace" your best player, because if he were replaceable, he wouldn't be your best player, would he?)

Plowing through the obvious first: Devan Dumes and Tom Pritchard need to pick up some slack. The former has lost 11 1/2 minutes and nearly eight points off last season's averages, and the latter 10 minutes and more than four points in those same categories.

Put simply, Dumes can and should be scoring more, and Pritchard was supposed to progress with more help in the post. Those need to happen quickly. 

But Crean will have to get more creative than that, if his team's capabilities allow it.

For example, the Hoosiers averaged an astounding 16 turnovers per game coming into action Monday. Trim that number by say, five, and the Hoosiers have probably cut six points off the other team's final tally.

Another stat: IU is a solid third in the conference in rebounding offense, but dead last in rebounding defense (or in other words, rebounds allowed). Too many of those have come at the offensive end of the floor—see: Kentucky. Trim that conference worst 38.5 rebounds per game down to 33 or 34, with all or most being offensive rebounds not allowed, and that's another 4-6 points per game.

Increased production from Dumes, Pritchard and others would be a nice way to cover the void. A collective tightening of the belt across the stat sheet would be far better.

You get the point, I hope, because the reality is this: Once again, the severity of Indiana's overall predicament has been exposed, this time in the form of a part in need of replacing that simply cannot be. Crean acknowledged as much after the game.

"Maurice Creek on the court brings confidence because of his athleticism, talent, and his ability to score. That's what great players do, they bring confidence to their teammates," Crean told the media after the game. "Now, we are going to have to find confidence from one another."

Confidence would be a good place to start, because at least one other truth has crystallized from all the events of this evening: A large, dirty wrench has been thrown into IU's already shaky Big Ten outlook.

How the Hoosiers move forward and improve as a team—not just as individuals now, but as a team—will determine whether this conference season ends any better than did the last.