Indiana Basketball: 6 Most Important Games on the Schedule

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IOctober 1, 2012

Indiana Basketball: 6 Most Important Games on the Schedule

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    Indiana enters the 2012-13 season as a frontrunner for the national title, but the Hoosiers aren’t in for a cakewalk if they hope to cut down the nets in the Georgia Dome. The Big Ten looks to be as stacked as any conference in the country, and the Hoosiers aren’t even a sure thing to make it to conference play with an unblemished record.

    Indiana gets the headliner’s spot in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge this year, squaring off with the new-look North Carolina Tar Heels. The Hoosiers will need to be in postseason form in November in order to slow down Roy Williams’ light-speed offense.

    Read on for more on the clash with UNC and the rest of the half-dozen most crucial matchups Indiana will face this season.

6. Vs. Minnesota (Jan. 12)

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    The first serious challenge the Hoosiers will face in the Big Ten has the potential to be a very dangerous trap game.

    IU will likely have been racking up blowouts for a calendar month by the time the Gophers come to town, and a meeting with always-dangerous Wisconsin looms just days later.

    The Minnesota frontcourt of Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams will have a massive advantage in athleticism over Indiana, but the Hoosiers’ superior length will help compensate.

    If the backcourt tandem of Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell and Jordan Hulls get their jobs done against the vulnerable Minnesota guards, this should be a convincing Indiana win, but overlooking the Gophers—even in Bloomington—would be a costly error.

5. Vs. Butler (Dec. 15)

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    In a non-conference schedule with cupcakes as far as the eye can see, Indiana's duel with in-state rival Butler will be one of the Hoosier''s only chances to make any kind of statement to the selection committee.

    Indiana absolutely cannot afford to slip up against a team that knows a thing or two about winning as an underdog.

    Butler’s always-imposing defense, led by 6’11” senior Andrew Smith, will make the Hoosiers work for every shot.

    Indiana must find a way to contain shooting ace Rotnei Clarke and hope that freshman Yogi Ferrell can find enough holes in the Bulldog defense to grind out the win.

4. At Michigan State (Feb. 19)

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    As usual, the most physical game the Hoosiers play all year is likely to be their visit to East Lansing. Tom Izzo’s powerful frontcourt, led by 6’9”, 270-lb Derrick Nix, will have a substantial advantage in muscle to make up for Indiana’s prodigious height.

    Jordan Hulls will also face his toughest test of the season as he tries to lock down Spartans freshman Gary Harris on the latter’s home floor.

    For the Hoosiers to earn a win in this one, they’ll need to get timely baskets from their deep corps of wing scorers—Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, et al.—and play some of their best defense of the year.

3. At Michigan (Mar. 10)

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    The regular season finale in the Big Ten could be IU’s toughest road test of the season, and the stakes are likely to be tremendous.

    There’s an excellent chance that the regular-season conference title will be on the line in Ann Arbor, and both teams will almost certainly be in contention for a No. 1 seed.

    The Wolverines are the only Big Ten team with enough scorers to threaten Indiana in a shootout, and Michigan point guard Trey Burke will be a stiff test—even the second time around—for Yogi Ferrell.

    Indiana has to hope that Cody Zeller can dominate the middle against Wolverine freshman-standout Mitch McGary and force the Wolverines into a one-dimensional jump-shooting offense.

2. Vs. North Carolina (Nov. 27)

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    The marquee game of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge will also be the first meaningful test Indiana faces on the season.

    After warming up against the likes of North Dakota State and Sam Houston State, the Hoosiers will need to shift into a very different gear against a North Carolina team with talent to burn.

    The fleet-footed Tar Heels—led by a 6’9” gazelle of a power forward in James Michael McAdoo—will push the tempo early and often, putting a premium on Indiana’s impressive depth.

    Assuming the Hoosiers can weather the initial assault and force UNC into a half-court game, Indiana's combination of size and shooting touch (especially from Cody Zeller and Christian Watford in the paint) should be too much for the Heels.

1. At Ohio State (Feb. 10)

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    As much offensive talent as Indiana boasts, the Hoosiers aren’t as overpowering on the other end of the floor.

    A defensive slugfest seems the likeliest way to hand IU a defeat, and no game on the Hoosier schedule is more dangerous in that regard than their visit to Value City Arena.

    Freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell will be getting his first look at defensive wizard Aaron Craft, meaning that the Hoosiers will have to be ready for an elevated turnover count, and that’s not the only challenge here.

    With big, physical interior defenders such as Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams, and the sensational Deshaun Thomas to provide offensive punch, the Buckeyes have a better chance of taking down IU than any other team on the Hoosiers’ schedule.