Coming off its first home loss of the season to Michigan shortly after upsetting No. 4 Purdue, Indiana men’s basketball will cap off a three-game home stand against Penn State at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
“We’re trying to break a door down, and we made a dent in that door in the Purdue game,” senior forward Race Thompson said in a press conference Tuesday. “We can’t get too low about that loss (to Michigan). We’re putting dents in it, but we need to string a couple (of wins) together.”
Wednesday’s game marks the halfway point of Indiana’s 20-game Big Ten regular season schedule. With a 5-4 record in conference matchups this season, Indiana sits in the middle of the pack of the 14-team conference in seventh place.
The Nittany Lions have also fallen victim to the Big Ten’s widespread quality — five teams in the conference are ranked in the most updated Associated Press top-25 poll. Since the Hoosiers last played them Jan. 2, the Nittany Lions have gone 2-3, but they’ve proved difficult to put away in single-digit losses to then-No. 3 Purdue and No. 16 Ohio State.
Here’s a few noteworthy trends to look out for leading up to the rematch:
Growing concerns with starting lineup
Indiana’s starting five has struggled to find its footing at the start of games, forcing the team into vulnerable positions while it chases leads.
Indiana fell into a 16-8 hole in the opening seven minutes against Purdue before Phinisee dug his team out with a 17-point first half. Those heroics only come so often, though, as Indiana was unable to narrow Michigan’s lead after it built a 21-9 advantage through the first 10 minutes.
“In our last seven games, our starters have been awful in terms of plus-minus,” head coach Mike Woodson said Monday on Don Fischer’s weekly radio show, “Inside Indiana Basketball.” “We've got to get off to better starts, but I'm not in any panic mode.”
A few ideas growing in popularity among critics have been the inclusion of sophomore guard Trey Galloway into the starting lineup, along with pairing the point guard combo of Johnson and Phinisee together. Either would result in the replacement of senior forward Miller Kopp or senior guard Parker Stewart, who primarily operate on the perimeter but haven’t been able to score at a consistent level or get good looks offensively.
Woodson said he hasn’t thought about making any changes to the starting lineup.
“Bottom line, it's about who's finishing games, not starting the games,” Woodson said. “I'm sticking to my nine (-player rotation). I might go 10 when it calls for it.”
Necessary adjustments for the Penn State rematch
Back when Indiana opened the new year with a loss to Penn State, it faltered in two key areas which it has been dominant this season: rebounding and defending the 3-point line. Indiana lost the rebounding battle 39-29 and gave up 11 3-pointers on 50% shooting from beyond the arc.
Following the loss, junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis received the most criticism of any Indiana player from Woodson for only grabbing five rebounds despite a 20-point performance.
Sunday’s letdown against Michigan, in which Indiana allowed the same number of 3-pointers on fewer shots and hauled in fewer rebounds for just the fourth time this season, provided a timely reminder of what needs to be addressed among the players ahead of Wednesday’s matchup.
“We have to guard ball screens better and challenge shots,” Thompson said. “We’ve just got to refused to get screened. Go after rebounds, don’t sit around and take pictures, as our coaches would say.”
Home-court advantage and month-old film give Indiana all the tools and extra boost necessary to split the season series. Road environments have proven tricky for Penn State — its only win in five attempts came against Northwestern, which sits 11th in the Big Ten.
Woodson said he believes there is time for his team to regroup and learn how to stay consistent before tournament play begins.
"We gotta still prepare like we have an opportunity to move up and win this Big Ten,” Woodson said. “It's wide open.”