Indiana men’s basketball broke a five-game losing streak on Thursday night against Maryland, a streak which turned Indiana from a fringe top-25 team into one on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament.
Indiana is down to three regular-season games before the Big Ten Tournament to increase its chances of making the NCAA Tournament field, starting with a road trip to play Minnesota at 6 p.m. Sunday in Minneapolis. Indiana beat Minnesota 73-60 earlier this season in Bloomington.
Here are some things to keep in mind when Indiana faces Minnesota:
Indiana keeping postseason hopes alive
While the Hoosiers were happy to snap their recent cold spell Thursday, sophomore forward Jordan Geronimo said Friday that the celebration was short-lived because they still have work to do. The Hoosiers currently sit in the No. 9 spot in the Big Ten standings with an 8-9 record, and have gone 17-10 overall.
Both Geronimo and sophomore guard Anthony Leal said “Bracketology” isn’t something they’re keeping track of, but said head coach Mike Woodson laid out a road map of what Indiana needs to do from here to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re all just locked in,” Geronimo said. “We’re all just trying to improve our chances of making the tournament. It is possible, so we haven’t hung our heads or anything like that. We’re ready to go get what we want.”
Indiana’s game against Minnesota is likely the most winnable game of its next three, with a game at home against Rutgers and a season-finale matchup with in-state rival No. 4 Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana, to cap off the season. Rutgers and Purdue sit at sixth and second in the Big Ten standings, respectively.
Minnesota, on the other hand, hasn’t been competitive in conference play this season and is second-to-last in the standings at 4-13, only ahead of 1-16 Nebraska.
While the Golden Gophers have put up a fight in many of their losses, they haven’t defended their home court well this season and the Hoosiers will look to add another blemish to the Gophers’ 8-6 record at Williams Arena. The Gophers’ record at home is the third-worst mark in the Big Ten, only ahead of Nebraska and 12th-place Maryland.
Even though Minnesota isn’t in contention to make the NCAA Tournament, Indiana can’t afford to take a game off and allow its opponent to play the spoiler of its postseason hopes. A win against Minnesota would be another step forward to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2016, while a loss could prove to be the end of its postseason hopes.
“We’re definitely all mindful of it, and we’re all aware that we need to win some more games to make sure we can play well into March,” Leal said.
Roles of Indiana’s bench players
While Geronimo has played in every game for Indiana as senior forward Race Thompson’s backup at power forward, Leal’s role has been much smaller. He’s started twice, but sat the entire game in 11 of Indiana’s 27 matchups this season.
However, Leal has been increasingly called upon in the back half of this season, including the last two games with sophomore guards Trey Galloway and Khristian Lander out with injuries. Leal played 15 minutes against Maryland and hit a 3-pointer in the first half, and he played 34 minutes when five players were suspended for the team’s game against Northwestern.
His name hasn’t been called on every game this season, but Leal said he’s happy to help the team in any way he can. He said patience isn’t a problem because he has a long career ahead of him.
“Technically I’m still a freshman,” Leal said. “I’m just excited to keep laying a foundation every day just to change the culture and hopefully lead to success in the future.”
Geronimo is also focused on helping the team through his hustle, rebounding and defense while he improves in other areas of his game. He said he’s focused on improving his ball handling and movement without the ball, but his athletic ability and ball hawking ability while rebounding keep him on the court despite the areas where he could use improvement.
Geronimo made a game-changing hustle play against Maryland, an offensive rebound which he bounced off the floor and into the basket following a missed free throw by Thompson.
“I couldn’t really grab it, so I just smacked it,” Geronimo said.
Leal and Geronimo’s roles Sunday will depend on Galloway’s availability and how well Indiana’s starting frontcourt is playing. Regardless, Leal’s patience and Geronimo’s hustle could prove invaluable as Indiana works to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Follow reporters Kamil Gut (@GutKamil) and Tristan Jackson (@Trist_Jackson), and columnist Da’Qwan Dockery (@ddockery35) for updates throughout the game and the rest of the Indiana men’s basketball season.
Location: Williams Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Radio: IU Radio Network