So Indiana has wrapped up a 12-day stretch in which it played five games, four against ranked teams, and now as a reward tonight it gets:
A trip to Minnesota.
The Hoosiers have won just twice in the last 10 times at Minnesota. The Gophers just hammered Wisconsin 68-52 at Williams Arena.
IU did beat the Gophers at Assembly Hall last month in overtime. It is coming off a more energized performance, although it still lost to Michigan State. Guard Verdell Jones continues to play like one of the Big Ten's best players.
For a team mired in a seven-game losing streak, this is about as positive as it gets.
“We'll continue to learn from (the 12-day stretch), we'll continue to work hard and we'll continue to help our guys get better,” coach Tom Crean said.
Michigan State remains the model for Crean's rebuilding efforts, in part because of the consistent excellence of its program, in part because he's a former assistant coach under coach Tom Izzo and successfully implemented those principles at Marquette.
That model includes a strong rebounding emphasis.
“They're a great rebounding team and that's what we're going to become here,” Crean said.
The key for tonight's game, as it is for every game, Crean said, centers on effort.
“That's about it, to have a lot of spirit and toughness inside of them. They've practiced that. That's the bottom line.”
The bottom-line world finds Indiana at 9-16 overall, 3-10 in the Big Ten, to Minnesota's 15-10, 6-7.
The Gophers thrive on pressure defense. They average 8.8 steals a game and force 16 turnovers.
They have three players who score in double figures -– Lawrence Westbrook (13.2), Blake Hoffarber (11.8) and Damian Johnson (10.0). They have two imposing inside players in Johnson (49 blocks) and Ralph Sampson (6.2 rebounds, 46 blocks).
But what they have most of all is that Williams Arena advantage.
“They are a different team at home because they play so fast, and I think that is the biggest difference,” Crean said. “Williams Arena is a unique place and their crowd – they are really into it and love their team. They are going to be hungry, especially after a big win against Wisconsin.”