After a year of lots of ups and downs, Indiana has finally hit the win or go home phase of the season. As the Hoosiers head to Banker's Life Fieldhouse today to play in round 1 of the Big Ten Tournament, we get to see what kind of mettle these young guys possess. With the NCAA Tournament being impossible outside of a championship this weekend, it is put up or shut up for the Hoosiers.
Unfortunately for the Hoosiers history is not on their side. In the 16 years that we've played this tournament the 1 or 2 seed has not won it only three times. 4 seeded Michigan won the inaugural showdown, 6 seeded Iowa beat 4 seeded Indiana in 2001 and 3 seeded Purdue won it in 2009. Low seeds just don't win this tournament. But, that doesn't mean that the Hoosiers can't make some noise.
Indiana likely won't win this thing but they could do at least some damage to getting the Hoosiers record in the tournament back up to respectable. It was no secret that Bobby Knight hated this thing and Indiana has dropped the ball in the years since. Currently sitting at 10-16 all time, the Hoosiers sit seventh in the all-time record standings. Fortunately, nearly everyone seems to struggle (or not care) about this conference tournament. With two wins the Hoosiers can solidify their spot at 7th all time and likely jump/tie with Minnesota at 6. Doing so will also put distance between the Hoosiers and everyone below them. So yeah, that's what I'm looking for out of this. Let's play a game on Saturday.
First, Indiana has to beat Illinois for a second time in three tries this year. At this point in the year and with two previous match-ups we know that Rayvonte Rice is the guy we most have to worry about. He's a guy that will "get his" and the Hoosiers need to at least make sure he does so inefficiently.
The big change that the Hoosiers need to look out for is that Illinois has started trusting their freshmen to turn their season around. After their big 8 game skid in conference, Groce replaced Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand with freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill. It seems to have worked as they've won 5 of 8 coming into this game. What this change does do for Indiana though is give them a pretty significant size advantage. Hill will be the second tallest guy on the floor in Illinois' starting lineup. At 6-6 and under that's a lot of height they're giving up for speed. Indiana on the other hand will have only Yogi Ferrell that couldn't physically match-up up with any of Illinois' four perimeter players. Usually when teams go small like that it's so they can be faster up and down the court than the opposition. Luckily, Indiana matches that pace perfectly WITH size.
No one on Illinois is exactly efficient on offense. So the Hoosiers will have a great opportunity to ugly this game up. Once again it will likely come down to who makes the least dumb mistakes. This Illinois team is eerily similar to Indiana. Mediocre offense, pretty good defense and a lot of question marks on a night in and night out basis. It will be incredibly intriguing to see how it turns out. Illinois doesn't throw the ball away often, but they don't force turnovers either.
Ultimately, Indiana will turn the ball over. We know that and there is no point in hoping it doesn't happen. What matters is if they do it more than usual. Keep the turnovers around 13-14 and they should come away with the win. Get into the 20 turnover range that they did in game one of this match-up and we can just enjoy the rest of the tournament from the couch.
Pomeroy likes the Hoosiers by 2. Vegas had them by 2.5. In what should be a semi-home game for this Indiana team, I'd expect them to win as well. Neither team has much to play for, but the bracket matrix says Illinois is a 3 seed in the NIT to Indiana's 4. Winning this game would probably flip that. Not that it really matters, but hey, it's something.