Ready or not, here it comes.
Throughout IU’s up-and-down 4-2 start to its season, one five-game stretch in particular has loomed large on the schedule.
With a mix of home, road, Big Ten Conference and nonconference matchups, this set of games will provide every possible test for the Hoosiers. That test begins 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall against No. 1 Duke.
After the date with the Blue Devils, the Hoosiers will play their first two conference games — against Michigan and Iowa — before facing No. 17 Louisville and No. 5 Notre Dame on consecutive Saturdays.
Duke’s arrival as part of the annual Big Ten/ACC challenge will bring a level of intensity that’s yet to be seen by IU Coach Archie Miller’s team this year. And it won’t get any easier from there.
“I think these games will really bring a heightened sense of awareness to our players,” Miller said. “The environments that we're going to be in are what you want to be in when you're at this level."
Star freshmen and a standout senior lead the way for Duke, which can present problems all over the floor for IU.
Senior guard Grayson Allen has been the recent mainstay for a Duke program that churns through one-and-done freshmen each year. Allen and his 16.5 points per game have made him the same reliable scorer he’s been each of the last three seasons, but a dominant frontcourt has overshadowed him at times.
Freshman forwards Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. are two of the biggest reasons Duke leads the country in offensive rebounds with 16.6 per game.
Bagley has built an early Naismith Player of the Year résumé with 22.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, while Carter has provided 12.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. To counter Duke’s towering frontcourt, IU's forwards, junior Juwan Morgan and sophomore De’Ron Davis, will need to rebound aggressively.
"It starts with, one, the glass and how we keep them off it,” Miller said. “Two, clearly trying our best to keep the paint crowded and make those guys as uncomfortable as possible.”
Defensively, Duke often sets up in a zone, but that won’t be unfamiliar to IU. Last Friday, the Hoosiers came up against a tough Eastern Michigan zone and managed to score 87 points in a win.
Miller said Duke’s defense will be tougher to handle given the height of its best players, but his team is at least comfortable attacking a zone defense. The easiest way to beat a zone is by shooting well, and IU did make 12 3-pointers against Eastern Michigan.
Senior forward Collin Hartman helped in that category, with one made 3-pointer in his first playing time of the season. Hartman suffered a groin injury right before the season started, but is working his way back to full health and should see more playing time than the six minutes he got last Friday.
Now in his fifth year with the program, Hartman has seen plenty of big games inside Assembly Hall. When he made the decision to return as a graduate student this year after missing last season with a knee injury, he was well aware he’d have opportunities like this one.
“This is the kind of game that I came here for in the first place,” Hartman said. “This is the kind of game I came back for.”
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