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COLUMN: Uncertainty surrounds IU heading into Big Ten Tournament



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Senior forward Freddie McSwain Jr. goes to the basket against Ohio State on Friday evening in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. IU lost to Ohio State in double overtime, 80-78. Bobby Goddin Buy Photos

It’s been a rollercoaster of a season for the Hoosiers, and after finally reaching its end, there’s still a cloud of confusion that surrounds the team going into postseason play.

Throughout the season IU has challenged some of the best teams in the nation and has fallen to weaker opponents in the process. We’ve seen growth in some areas and weakness in others.

Defense has improved significantly since the first tip of the season against Indiana State. The Hoosiers have gone from missed rotations and lack of awareness in the halfcourt to being ball hawks and a force to be reckoned with. IU is ranked 54th in the nation per KenPom.com in defense adjusted efficiency, but it’s been a process to get to where the Hoosiers are now.

IU Coach Archie Miller has done a great job in steering the ship in the right direction, but he’s had to go through some tough stretches of basketball to get there.

Losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne are inexcusable. The results against fellow Big Ten competition against Wisconsin and Illinois were situations where the Hoosiers let winnable games slip away. Yes, IU gave great games against top opponents, and were able to give teams like Duke, Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State a run for their money.

But IU has to show they can pull wins out of games against that tier of opponent.

Even without looking at the first half of the season, the Hoosiers have shown a lack of consistency for long stretches of time. We’ve seen this team play its best basketball during four of the last six games of the season, but the other two results, which were losses against Nebraska on the road and at home to Ohio State have overshadowed the bright spots.

Guard play showed a lack of consistency in the final two games, which saw sophomore and senior guards Devonte Green and Josh Newkirk split time at the point guard role when one was failing to produce.

The two have also gone back and forth in the starting lineup throughout the season, and at a time where IU needs a reliable figure running the show, the Hoosiers see themselves in the exact opposite situation. Miller said in the past how crucial guard play is to any basketball team.

“I’m biased. I’m a guard,” Miller said after the game at Iowa. “But guards win, man. The best guard tandems and backcourts, they win games.”

IU has senior guard Robert Johnson to thank. He’s been the lone guard who has played at a high level in the final stretch of the regular season. If either Green or Newkirk are going to step up, it starts with playing through Johnson up top, and feeding the big man, junior forward Juwan Morgan, down low.

The combination of Johnson and Morgan has seen success more often than not and will be crucial to this team’s success in New York City next week.

One of the bright spots heading into the tournament is and will be Johnson and Morgan. It’s plain and simple. Get Johnson going behind the arc early on, and feed Morgan down low throughout the game, especially when IU needs a big bucket.

The other source of hope comes from the improved play of freshman forward Justin Smith, who’s dunk seems to get stronger and more emphatic with each passing week. Smith is averaging nearly 14 points in the final five games of the Hoosiers’ regular season. His electric play and presence in the post will be huge for IU moving forward. There have been countless times where IU has missed a bucket and Smith has gone up and tipped or dunked the ball back in.

His awareness in the paint has proved key to his success, and if IU is going to need a player to come off the bench and give significant production, it’s going to be him.

The Hoosiers fought valiantly and showed fight and toughness against Ohio State, but those are the types of games that should see IU on the other end of the stick. A slow start hampered another winnable game that slipped through the Hoosiers’ hands on the final possession.

Home losses to Duke, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State don’t look great heading into the conference tournament from the aspect of having to possibly play some of these teams again on a neutral court.

IU has come out on the wrong end of the past two games, and it could hinder the Hoosiers’ confidence going into the Big Ten Tournament.

However, if this team has shown one thing throughout this season, it’s fight. If all else fails, at least we know the Hoosiers will go out giving it their all.

That’s all you can really ask for at this point in the season. The question is how many games, if any, will this team be able to grind out and win away from Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall?

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