It starts with a 2 p.m. game against the No. 11 Badgers on Saturday in Madison, Wis.
Competition within the Big Ten so far has shaken up the young team IU coach Tom Crean called “fragile” Wednesday night.
“The most important thing right now for us to make sure we get our mentality back for this team,” Crean said.
The Hoosiers might have picked the wrong time to become sensitive. The ailing team will receive no help from the tail end of its Big Ten schedule, as is shown by its trip to Madison, where the Badgers are 11-1 this season.
What was once a convenient home-road formula has morphed into a list with three games against top-25 teams to end the season.
Two games against Wisconsin, a date at home with Michigan State and a trip to West Lafayette, Ind., to face Purdue all await IU in the latter portion of February and early March.
Experience and confidence are things each of IU’s next opponents have in common — two things IU has proven to lack in the past five contests.
Many of the problems have been chalked up to the mental aspects of the game, whether they were based on allowing 3-pointers at Northwestern or layups against Ohio State.
“I’ve got a lot of guys in there that are very fragile,” Crean said. “I cannot make the point enough. They don’t have those things to fall back on.”
But sophomore guard Verdell Jones said the age ranges on one of the country’s youngest teams cannot be used as a crutch.
“I remember seeing a sign a while back: ‘Youth is no excuse,’” Jones said. “We’re on a big stage, and we’re big-time players. We have to perform the way Indiana people
want us to.”
The competition IU has coming up certainly will force them to perform.
As was seen in its game against IU on Feb. 4, Purdue can withstand another team’s
run and answer with one of its own.
Teams IU has yet to see in Wisconsin and Michigan State have veteran lineups.
Wisconsin was 11-0 in the Kohl Center this season before a recent loss to Illinois.
And Michigan State was 6-0 when a three-game slide kicked in after the injury of point guard Kalin Lucas.
In the second season of Crean’s tenure, IU started well in conference but faltered as competition has strengthened and the turnaround before games has shortened.
Yet IU was close to being a team within the middle of the Big Ten, as it is only 11 points away from being 5-5 in the league.
That possibility does not help his team. Jones said the past two losses were the worst they’ve had in the conference season.
“Even though we lost against Illinois and Purdue, I thought we were moving in the right direction,” Jones said. “And to take steps backward against Northwestern and today, it’s very disappointing.”
IU doesn’t have time to reflect. It faces three ranked teams in four of its last seven games, with two slated against Wisconsin.
Freshman forward Christian Watford said the Hoosiers have to continue playing as if they haven’t had any setbacks.
“We just gotta go back into practice and bounce back,” he said. “You don’t dwell on this game. If you dwell on this one too much you’ll lose the other ones, so you just gotta put it behind you and move forward.”
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