BLOOMINGTON - Jeremiah Rivers won't kid himself, his teammates, his listeners. Indiana's junior guard understands the upcoming stretch of No. 13 Ohio State, No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 10 Michigan State is as brutal as it gets
What? Sixth-ranked Purdue in Mackey Arena wasn't available?
Actually, the Hoosiers (9-13) get that treat March 3. For now, their three-game inferno starts tonight when Ohio State (18-6) comes to Assembly Hall.
“We can't get caught in this tornado,” Rivers said. “We can't get blown out.”
IU did get blown out 79-54 at Ohio State last month, but why bring that up when the challenge is so immediate?
“These games, this is it right here,” Rivers said. “I don't want to say it's make or break, but these are vital games.
“We've lost four in a row and now we get Ohio State, one of the most talented teams in America. Getting these wins (is) vital for us, for our confidence, for future success.”
IU's immediate success prospects aren't good, but at least it hosts Ohio State and Michigan State. The Hoosiers play at Wisconsin, where opposing teams win about as often as Drew Brees throws an interception.
No player is thinking that way, forward Bobby Capobianco said.
“It's a tough stretch, but we don't go into it with the mindset this team is ranked. It's just about Ohio State. We know what we need to do and focus on that.”
Focus starts with the Buckeyes' Evan Turner, a strong Big Ten MVP candidate with averages of 19.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists. He's fully recovered from the back injury that sidelined him in December and is a big reason Ohio State has won seven of its last eight games, with the only loss coming at No. 5 West Virginia.
Rivers, IU's best defender, figures to guard him, with plenty of help.
“It's a team effort,” Rivers said. “You can switch up different players on him. One might do well for six to seven minutes, but at the end of the day, it's help defense. I don't want to say one man can stop him. It would be a collective effort. That's what is going to have to be done.”
IU coach Tom Crean said, “Our margin for error is so small. We have to be good in taking care of the ball and keeping people in front of us. We have to be in attack mode.”