Twenty Wins. A national ranking of 13th. Two most likely first round draft picks, and a half game back of the Big Ten lead. On paper, those credentials should earn some respect at this point of the college basketball season. However, Indiana University is getting as much respect as Michael Vick at the Westminster Dog Show.
The Hoosiers have counted on the inside out game of Senior D.J. White and Freshman phenom Eric Gordon, who are supported by a strong set of roll players (including reigning JuCo player of the year Jamarcus Ellis). White has been one of the more consistent big men in the country of late, dominating in the paint like Picasso in a kindergarten art contest. And Gordon, who has been hampered by injuries all season, has not failed to impress those awaiting the hyped Indiana Mr. Basketball. The deep-range shooter with the fastest first step in the conference, leads the Big Ten in scoring, and is followed by none other than White. Throw into the mix a 295-pound forward, (who could easily play for the IU woman’s team given his cup-size and incapability to dunk), a solid point guard in Sophomore Armon Bassett, and one of the top “6th man” in the conference in Freshman Jordan Crawford, and you’ve got a well rounded (no pun intended DeAndre) Hoosier team that certainly lives and dies by the three with the lack of height on the roster.
Sure they have won the games they “should have won,” including, in my opinion, quality wins at Minnesota (what’s with the weird, elevated court) and most recently at Ohio State. However, the Hoosiers lost at home to UConn (snapping a 29-game home court winning streak) and got beaten badly on the road by both Xavier and Wisconsin (who are tougher to beat at home than Tina Turner with a restraining order). So with most critics citing the lack of a “quality win” as a blemish on the Hoosiers resume, Indiana has two games this week that couldn’t have come at a better time to dispel the IU bashers.
The first is a rematch Wednesday night against #14 Wisconsin, who IU certainly struggled with two weeks ago in Madison. In that game, Indiana failed to score 50 points for the first time all season, and couldn’t seem to hit any open shots. The Badgers, who are led by Brian Butch and Marcus Landry, will be coming into a hostile environment as the “largest student section” in college basketball will surely be a difference maker in this rematch.
Saturday night will be the marquee matchup all Hoosier fans have been waiting for, as the #9 Michigan State Spartans come to Assembly hall. The Spartans, who are lead by the feisty Drew Neitzel (does anyone else feel like he’s been there for seven years?), will give the Hoosiers another chance at beating their first ranked opponent of the season if they fail to win against Wisconsin. It will be the first of two matchups against the team chosen pre-season to contend for the Big Ten title with Indiana, and a win Saturday night would certainly be a marquee win for the crimson and cream. A victory here would also be excellent timing, as ESPN and the College Game Day crew will be in Bloomington for the weekend, and what better way to sway those skeptical of Indiana’s young talent than a nationally televised beating of the Spartans.
While no one doubts a Hoosiers appearance in the NCAA tournament next month, it is hard for critics and the IU faithful to ignore the 144 Strength of Schedule, and zero victories over a ranked team. The week ahead will certainly be an excellent chance for the Hoosiers to prove their worth heading into selection Sunday, as well as showcase just how well they can perform against the top teams in the nation.