Indiana Hoosiers Head into Big Ten Season on a Sour Note

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IDecember 25, 2010

Crean speaking with his team
Crean speaking with his teamAndy Lyons/Getty Images

On Monday, December 27, the Hoosiers will play their first Big Ten game of the season when they host the Penn St. Nittany Lions in Assembly Hall.

But first, they are going to have to pick up the pieces of what could have been a coming out party to the nation.

After tough losses to Boston College and Kentucky, Indiana came into the Vegas portion of the IBN Las Vegas Classic hot, scoring 190 points combined in wins against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and South Carolina St. The Hoosiers shot over 55 percent from the field in the two games, and had breakout games from forward Derek Elston and the oft-injured guard Matt Roth.

IU was 9-2, and looking to carry the positive momentum into the Big Ten season and maybe scare a few of the tougher teams in the Big Ten.

However things turned sour once Indiana landed in Vegas and had to face a higher level of opposition. And just like in years past, the Hoosiers struggled against an equal or better opponent.

First up was Northern Iowa, who was coming off a Sweet 16 berth last season, but lost three starters from last years team due to graduation, including star guard Ali Farokhmanesh.

It didn't matter that even lowly Iowa, whom many experts picked to finish last in the Big Ten this season, beat them.

Maybe it was something in the water down in Las Vegas, or maybe it was the strong fundamental defense shown by the Panthers, but the Hoosiers suddenly were struggling for shots.

As has been the case almost all season, Indiana had dug themselves a hole, and had a big deficit going into the half. In this case, the deficit was nine points.

In the second half, the Hoosiers managed to work their way back into the game, and eventually tie it at 59 apiece with 2:35 left to go.

But two missed shots by guard Maurice Creek (he finished 1-8 from the field, 0-4 from 3, two points), and a turnover by emerging forward Christian Watford was all Northern Iowa needed, as they hit a couple of shots and some big free throws to ice the game and get the win.

Once again, Indiana had trouble cleaning up the glass, allowing the Panthers to hoard in 10 offensive rebounds, which led to 13 second chance points. On top of that, the Hoosiers shot a paltry 19-29 from the charity stripe, a 65.5 percent average.

Looking to improve from the loss to Northern Iowa, the Hoosiers headed into the consolation game of the IBN Classic with hopes of finishing on a high note.

But those hopes were crushed by a Colorado Buffaloes team that forced their way into the paint, and stopped Indiana's leading scorer Christian Watford from doing much until late in the game.

Midway through the second half, the game seemed over, with Colorado dominating play and forcing Indiana to play at their tempo. The score was 55-39. But over the next seven minutes of play, the Hoosiers stormed back into the game with a 25-12 run, and came within three points of the Buffaloes.

Just like in the other Hoosier losses though, Indiana lost their energy, and through missed shots, missed free throws, and bad defense, found a way to lose the game.

Watford, Indiana's leading scorer with 18.3 points per game, managed to miss his first 11 shots on way to a 3-14 performance. He still picked up 14 points, though eight of them were free throws.

One common denominator in the now four Hoosier losses is their low shooting percentage. In wins, the Hoosiers have shot regularly over 50 percent. But in this past weekends losses, as well as the two before them, the Hoosiers shot close to or at 40 percent.

Another key reason for the losses is the Hoosiers poor free throw percentage. In the two games this weekend, Indiana went just 35-54 from the line, which is just under 65 percent. That's 19 points that the Hoosiers conceivably could have had, which would have at the least put them closer in the game.

Indiana is now 9-4, and looking at a daunting task of winning in the Big Ten.

Luckily for them, they start off hosting Penn St., who has also dropped two in a row, and is struggling to find scorers to compliment star guard Talor Battle.

For now, the Hoosier nation has to wait and see what team comes out to play on Monday. Will it be the ones that were physically dominated over the last two games, or will it be the ones that shot the lights out against any team.

This will be any teams game.