Indiana's biggest objective prior to Selection Sunday might not be winning the Big Ten Tournament.
It might just be getting healthy.
Considering the injuries and illnesses, the Hoosiers run of five straight wins, including three over top 20 opponents, is all the more impressive. Indiana's Robert Johnson missed the final three games of the regular season with what Crean has called a "high ankle sprain" sustained late against Purdue. Juwan Morgan re-aggravated a pre-existing shoulder injury at Iowa, and then re-re-aggravated it against Maryland. Crean also mentioned a few players being under the weather with flu-like symptoms, with Collin Hartman actually wearing a mask to control the spread of germs at practice prior to the Maryland matchup.
So, where do Johnson and Morgan stand heading into Friday at the Big Ten Tournament? Justin Albers of Indiana's Scout.com site reported yesterday that Robert Johnson would play Friday against Michigan or Northwestern "barring any setbacks" -- yet Crean wasn't that specific in his radio show. Not normally one to tip the injury hand, he only indicated that he was "giddy" with Johnson's progress since the end of the Maryland game, but failed to name a timeline for his return.
Morgan's problems, on the other hand, seems to be one of pain management. It's clear there's some problem that might require action after the season with his shoulder, but Crean mentioned Morgan was in a much better place after the Maryland game than he was after the Iowa game -- even after having to have his shoulder stabilized and be helped off the court.
Undoubtedly, the two are integral for Indiana's depth in March. After James Blackmon's injury, Johnson's absence put Indiana down to having only two scholarship guards in Yogi Ferrell and Nick Zeisloft, along with freshman walk-on Harrison Niego seeing minutes in relief. Morgan's absence would only aggravate an already thin & undersized front line.
Of course, there's a question of if Johnson and Morgan should play at all Friday unless completely, no-doubts 100% good-to-go. Indiana's worst fate in the tournament would be bowing out with a loss to Michigan or Northwestern, both of which wouldn't be a god-awful, resume-killing loss in the manner of others. That said, already weighed down with some other bad losses, Indiana could use at least one win to solidify themselves as a top-4 protected seed, and two wins could have them approaching the 2-line and a far more favorable path to Houston.