After a very positive first two months of the season, the last few weeks have been anything but positive.
Ever since the students left campus for the cozy confines of their homes during winter break, the Indiana Hoosiers offense has stuttered and flopped, and the defense has been slow and unorganized.
Indiana has lost to Northern Iowa and Colorado, the pair of them in the IBN Las Vegas Classic, before losing to Penn St. and Ohio St. at Assembly Hall, and then Minnesota and Northwestern on the road.
But finally, the students are back in Bloomington, and the Hoosiers have returned, hoping to find themselves, and justify expectations for them to win seven to nine games in the tough Big Ten Conference.
Unfortunately for Indiana, they have to face a Michigan team that before the season began, people had expected to finish towards the bottom of the Big Ten.
Instead, sophomore guard Darius Morris is leading this team in the wake of losing their two best players, Manny Harris and DeShaun Sims. Morris is averaging 15.4 points per game, 7.3 assists and just over one steal per game.
Add to that the fact that Michigan is coming in very angry, and the Hoosiers will have their hands full with a talented opponent. The Wolverines' lost their last two games to No. 3 Kansas and No. 2 Ohio St. by a combined 11 points, and were able to push Kansas to overtime, before succumbing to the Jayhawks superior size and strength down low.
Indiana's problems in the last six games have been mainly on their poor defense. Some of the blame is on poor communication, and maybe even some inexperience, but part of the problem is that the Hoosiers just aren't athletic enough to compete for 40 minutes on the defensive end. They have proved that much this year.
If they are to start winning games in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers are going to need to find a way to get some stops on the defensive end, stick to their men or if playing zone, keep the lines of communication open to stop any penetration.
At the other end, Indiana needs Christian Watford to come out of his shell. During the six-game losing streak, he rarely has played with the fire and tenacity that is necessary for him to dominate over the smaller opponents he frequently is guarding.
Watford needs to find ways to drive to the hoop, and score with authority. If he can do that, it will open up space on the outside, either for him to shoot threes, or his teammates Maurice Creek and Jordan Hulls to do so.
Tonight is one of the most important games the Hoosiers will play all season. If they are unable to beat the Wolverines at home, don't expect Indiana to win much more. But if they show that they have plenty of fight and energy, and can beat Michigan in Assembly, then there is still hope for the rest of this season.