Indiana played without two of its top seven players and lost another shortly before halftime, but IU managed to produce another dominant performance in the final warmup before Big Ten play begins. UMBC is one of the very worst teams in the country, but IU, for the 12th time this season, surpassed the Pomeroy projection for the final score, and the Hoosiers now have matched their win total from last season.
As noted, injuries are becoming an issue. Derek Elston broke his nose in practice, although he apparently will be back for the Michigan State game. More iffy are Will Sheehey, who has some sort of left lower leg injury, presumably an ankle injury, and is listed day-to-day. Verdell Jones III hit the floor after a non-contact injury late in the first half against UMBC. Tom Crean reported in the postgame press conference that Jones suffered a hip flexor injury, and also is day-to-day. Still, as the Hoosiers have done all year, they found someone to step in when injuries or foul trouble or an off day limited one of the regulars. Matt Roth scored 14 points in 18 minutes on 4-5 three point shooting. He did attempt, and miss, his first two point attempt of the season. So much for that. Remy Abell didn't make a field goal, but scored 8 on 8-10 from the line. He had 3 turnovers, but also 2 assists and 2 steals. The regular contributors were fine as well. Christian Watford scored 22 points on 8-14 shooting. Jordan Hulls scored 16 points on 5-9 from the field, but missed his first free throw in over a year. Cody Zeller was Cody Zeller: 13 points on 4-5 from the field and 5-6 from the line.
Now, with the exception of a February game against North Carolina Central, the warmup is over. IU begins Big Ten play in East Lansing on December 28, and then hosts Ohio State on December 31. Even assuming that Sheehey and Jones are at full strength, it's important to keep these games in perspective. It is perfectly possible for IU to a) be as good as advertised; b) play very well in both games; and c) begin the Big Ten schedule 0-2. Pomeroy's numbers don't yet reflect last night's games, but as of Wednesday, IU is given a 38 percent chance of winning at Michigan State and a 46 percent chance of beating OSU at home. Those are, as they have been for weeks, listed as the third and fourth toughest games on IU's schedule. In other words, if IU were to go 14-4 in the Big Ten, and were to go to form, then those games would be losses. For what it is worth Pomoroy gives IU a less than 50 percent chance in only five of its 18 Big Ten games: the two mentioned above, at Wisconsin, at Ohio State, and at Purdue (although that one is creeping into tossup territory at 48 percent). After that, IU's worst chances are 60 percent at Minnesota and 61 percent at Michigan (although Pom projects a 12-6 record based on the odds that IU will be upset at least once). So, like everyone else, I'll sit down for the two games next weeks expecting to win and being disappointed if the Hoosiers lose, I think it is better to think of the games as opportunities than as a threat. While an 0-2 start would be disappointing, it will not prevent IU from having an excellent season. Even one win next week, let alone two, would mean much more on the positive side than a loss would mean on the negative side.
Still, I don't want to get overly hung up on what's to come. IU is 12-0 for the first time in 36 years,and the program is in good shape, good hands, and is on the right trajectory. I think that the photo above says it all about the mental state of this team. No matter the opponent, the Hoosiers have been fearless and aggressive and haven't let down a bit. Merry Christmas, indeed.