In a string of games where everything is a must win, this week is an absolute. There is one statement that I can make that is 100% true. If Indiana cannot go 2 for 2 this week with a home game against Penn State and a road trip to struggling Purdue there is a zero percent chance Indiana is going dancing to anything higher than the NIT. That's what Penn State and Purdue would love to do this week. They're already well out of the running, so it's a season of playing spoilers. No greater way that they can start their season of spoiler than putting the final nail in Indiana's coffin.
The individual probably most responsible for getting that done tonight will not be Tim Frazier. The senior guard has been good for Penn State, but with their recent play it feels like DJ Newbill has taken over the role of team engine. They're both identical players in terms of time and offensive rating, while they both get ~26% usage rate. However, Newbill takes more shots now. They're both still one of the conference's strongest guard tandems, but Newbill is now the guy I feel is mostly likely to wreck our night.
The game played in University Park in early January, this Indiana squad was still trying to prove itself in a lot of different categories. Jeremy Hollowell had been benched, the offense was struggling and the defensive efficiency of the squad was in the middle of a sharp down tick. The Hoosiers came into that game, looked dreadful and were down 15 points with 9 minutes to play in the first half. At that point something clicked.
The Hoosiers found their offensive rhythm and though they still weren't hitting a ton of shots, they learned how to get to the rim again. After allowing 31 points in the first 11 minutes, the Hoosiers only allowed 45 in the ensuing 29. Still not a flawless defensive game, they proved that they probably weren't as bad as a defensive team that they had been playing like.
Now the Hoosiers defense has cracked the top 20 nationally as they've gelled as a unit and the offense, though still atrocious at times because of a lack of shooters is still more effective than it was then. Couple that with Penn State's play staying relatively even keeled throughout the last month span and you have to feel pretty good about Indiana's prospects at home.
Penn State is the conference's worst defensive rebounding team, Indiana is one of the conference's best offensive rebounding teams. You can swap those and say the same thing for the opposite. The Hoosiers should be relentlessly crashing the boards and grabbing second chance buckets left and right tonight. That should help inflate a struggling offense for the Hoosiers. Because of Penn State's poor rebounding margins they're considered a pretty poor defensive team, but outside of the glaring rebounding weakness they're pretty sound defensively.
They can stay in front of their man with good size and athleticism and with a bevy of guards they're quick on the perimeter. Like in the last game, you'll see that Penn State's lack of size is going to be brutal for them in the interior. Noah Vonleh scored Indiana's first 12 points to keep them afloat on the road and he'll be looking to do that again. No one on this squad that plays significant minutes can match up very well to Hanner Perea and Jeremy Hollowell's size, let alone Vonleh's. This should be a game that is won (or lost) in the post.
I expect the result to be a win. A home crowd game in Assembly Hall tends to fix a lot of ills for the Hoosiers this year. I'm going to say it again works its magic to bring some confidence back to this young squad. They need a convincing win to take some confidence into West Layfaette on Saturday and I think they get it here.