So how does Indiana beat Purdue tonight and reverse the downward spiral to a second straight season gone wrong?
Rebounding like Michigan State would be nice. Defending like Wisconsin would be a plus. But for coach Tom Crean, it's simpler than that. Play hard, play physical and play with purpose.
“We're going to have to be grinders to have a shot,” Crean said. “Now, as we continue to build and go forward, eventually we'll be in a situation where we're a little more free-wheeling, a little bit more creative, a little bit more with the ability to play even more inside-out with the three-point shooting.”
No one knows when “eventually” will arrive, so for now Crean offers these instructions:
“I've been telling this team for two weeks, I'm far more interested in how hard we play and the guys on the floor than I am in anybody's position. So are you a (power forward) or a (center) or a (small forward) or are you a player?”
Crean wants “players” who take care of the ball, value possessions and make plays. What he's gotten during this 10-game losing streak, six straight losses by at least 14 points, is bad basketball.
Take turnovers. The Hoosiers averaged 19 turnovers in their last two games. They average 15.4 a game, the worst in the Big Ten.
“Poor decisions,” Crean said about the inability to take care of the ball. “There's a little bit, I don't want to say panic, but we just rush. We work on footwork stuff. Those are fundamental things. It's not like we don't ever look at that. We call that stuff tight in practice. We get in a hurry rather than just let it happen.”
IU (9-19 overall, 3-13 in the Big Ten) needs a victory at Mackey Arena for rivalry pride. Seventh-ranked Purdue (24-4, 12-4) needs to win to stay in Big Ten title contention. The Boilers would at least share the conference championship by beating the Hoosiers and Penn State on Saturday.
The fact the rivals are playing for the second time this season (the Boilers won 78-75 at Assembly Hall last month) is a good thing, Crean said. The teams played only once the previous two seasons.
“Every league should look at the best rivalries, and this is a rivalry that's been there for decade upon decade. We're not in the same place they are as a program, but it should be a two-game series every year.”
As part of Purdue's Senior Night, Purdue officials will have a silent auction for special Boiler T-shirts, with proceeds going to the American Red Cross for the Haiti relief effort.