Record: (24-5, 13-3 Big Ten)
Key Wins: Michigan State, Purdue, Kentucky, @So. Illinois, N-Illinois State
Key Losses: Michigan State, @ Wisconsin, Connecticut, @ Xavier
Key Stat: 0.964– As good as Indiana has played this season, it is one of the few elite teams that averages more turnovers per game than assists with a .964 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Key Numbers: RPI: 16; SOS: 53; NSOS: 77; Vs. Top 50: 4-5
Biggest Strengths: Inside-outside combination. Indiana is truly the only Big Ten team with elite guards and an elite big man who plays with his back to the basket. Eric Gordon likely is playing his only season in Bloomington and he’ll be a lottery pick in next season’s NBA Draft. His 21.4 points per game are tops in the Big Ten. Big man D.J. White drops in 17 points per game, good for second best in the conference. That duo, coupled with other valuable pieces, gives Indiana an invaluable combination.
Indiana also has dealt with significant adversity this season, responding beautifully. With Kelvin Sampson no longer roaming Indiana’s sidelines, the Hoosiers were a popular choice to fold. But with two games to play, Indiana is just a game out of the Big Ten lead and has registered big victories with interim coach Dan Dakish at the helm. The transition has shown the Hoosiers can deal with the toughest of adversity, something that no NCAA Tournament game or foe could come close to duplicating.
Biggest Weaknesses: Youth. Gordon is a freshman; Jordan Crawford is a freshman; Armon Bassett is a sophomore. That trio, coupled with D.J. White, makes up the backbone of this Hoosiers team. But when White is out of the lineup, Indiana has no choice but to put the game into the hands of three talented-but-inexperienced players. It isn’t that Gordon, Bassett and Crawford get flustered in big-time situations, but think of how much more comfortable a Hoosier fan would be feeling if there were a couple more upperclassmen to rely on.
If the youth factor doesn’t catch up to Indiana, size will. We’re not talking about DeAndre Thomas size – a JuCo transfer listed at 6-foot-8 and a generous 295 pounds. We’re talking about height and the Hoosiers don’t exactly have that twin tower. D.J. White and little used freshman Eli Holman are the team’s tallest options at 6-9 while Thomas and Lance Stemler measure in at 6-8. The Hoosiers typically will use White, Thomas and Stemler in the lineup at the same time, meaning that while they have a disadvantage in the post, they likely will have a 3-4 inch advantage at the small forward position. But, that won’t help on defense when opposing teams can get the ball inside the paint to a 7-foot target.
Most Important Player: D.J. White. As stated above, White is the heartbeat of this team. His 17 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest make him an unmatched double-double threat. White also is an underrated passer. While he averages close to an assist a game, he is a solid point center that makes the smart decision whether to attack the hoop and fight out of a double team or find a teammate outside the 3-point arc. One intangible is that White passed up NBA dollars to return for his senior season with one goal: To win a championship. That inner drive shows in the way he plays the game. White has a step-back baby hook that is almost automatic and he also never hesitates to lower his shoulder and boom toward the hoop. There is little question that White will win the Big Ten Player of the Year Award because both the media and coaches realize no player in the conference is as valuable as White is to Indiana.
X-Factor: Armon Bassett. While Gordon and White draw the headlines, Bassett quietly produces in clutch situations. Check the stats: 11.8 points, 3.2 assists and nearly a steal per game. It doesn’t end there as Bassett shoots 46.4 percent from the field, including a jaw-dropping 48.7 percent from 3-point range. And, keeping the basketball trinity in tact, Bassett is not a guy opponents want to foul as he shoots 83.3 percent from the charity stripe. In Indiana’s last four games, Bassett is averaging 19 points a night and nearly four triples a game. With the opposition so worried about the conference’s best 1-2 punch, Bassett and his other teammates need to shine. And, in most cases, a Gordon drive-and-kick or a White pass out of the post typically will end up in Bassett’s hands. What he does after that can play a huge factor in the game’s outcome.
Might Lose When… the 3-pointers aren’t falling. In two key losses this season (an 80-65 loss at Xavier and a 62-49 loss at Wisconsin), Indiana went a combined 4-for-36 from downtown. That, if you’re sans calculator, is 11.1 percent. Because much of Indiana’s offense is predicated around jump shooting, the Hoosiers need to dial from long distance to win big games. It is one thing to struggle to say, a 25 percent shooting night from behind the arc. It is another thing to go 1-for-15 (Xavier loss) and have any chance of winning.
Might Surprise You With… DeAndre Thomas’s skills. Yes, the nearly 300-pound big man doesn’t exactly intimidate opposing defenses. But, when Thomas gets touches early after entering the game, he becomes unconscious on both ends of the floor. Earlier this season, when D.J. White picked up a few early fouls, Thomas was called on to be the team’s low post threat and was expected to produce. Next thing the opposing team knew, Thomas had scored eight straight points and Hoosier faithful were going crazy at Assembly Hall. He might look Gloppy – the brown monster on the Candy Land game board, but his game is much closer to D.J. White’s than Oliver Miller’s.
Predicted finish in the NCAA’s: Sweet Sixteen. Forget all the distractions surrounding Indiana’s coaching situation; There aren’t many teams that can beat Indiana on any given night. The issue is that Indiana, because of a semi-soft nonconference schedule and the biggest out-of-conference are against bubble teams (Kentucky and Southern Illinois), will likely be in the No. 4 or No. 5 seed range. That sets up a date with a very talented team in the Sweet 16 round. But, like the rest of the Big Ten’s fearsome foursome, the Hoosiers have the talent to reach the Final Four.
Editor’s Note: I’m not sure IU will win a game in the NCAA’s, let alone reach the Sweet 16. They seem to have lost ALL heart when Kelvin Sampson was dismissed, scraping by with close wins over Northwestern and Ohio State, and suffering a blowout loss to Michigan State and an embarrassing one to Penn State. Eric Gordon and DJ White might be playing more for their draft stock than their jerseys…