BLOOMINGTON -– There's gotta be drama. This is Indiana basketball, after all, the most compelling saga this side of the Peyton Manning Decision.
The burning question today centers on Verdell Jones and Victor Oladipo. Jones, who has missed the last two games with a bruised right shoulder, is healthy and ready to play. Oladipo, who has thrived as Jone's starting replacement, is primed to continue his run.
What does that mean for tonight's game against Northwestern? Specifically, will Oladipo continue that point guard role, or will Jones take it back?
“Do you think there's any reason to change it?” coach Tom Crean asked about Oladipo. “Me neither. Vic is doing fine.
“It comes down to Vic, how locked in he is defensively. What his energy is like on that. Is he rebounding well? Is his decision-making good?
“As those things continue to stride, it's amazing how well he scores. It's amazing how well he gets to the rim.”
In the last two games, Oladipo has averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists, well above his season averages of 10.8, 5.3 and 1.9. He's made 20-of-24 free throws.
Now, consider Jones, a senior guard who has never generated fan love. In his last two complete games he averaged 13.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists while making 10-of-20 shots from the field, 6-of-7 from the line.
Will Jones start? Crean didn't say. What he did say, was that Jones benefited, more than any other Hoosier, from the six-day break since the victory over Illinois.
“This has been a good break for him to get back,” Crean said. “He hasn't had a week of full-go (practice), but at the same time, he's back and we fully expect him to play.”
As for Jones' potential productivity, Crean said that Jones “has done an excellent job and continued to get better. He'd really be playing well. I thought he was doing some excellent things on both sides (of the court), so it's going to be good to have him back in it. But how that plays out in a game, we'll see.”
IU faces a 15-9 Northwestern team with aspirations for its first ever NCAA tourney berth. The Wildcats thrive with the Princeton offense (Rule No. 1 – beware of back cuts) and a 1-3-1 zone.
The fact the No. 18 Hoosiers (19-6) have had basically a week to prepare, forward Derek Elston said, is a plus.
“We like playing games, but with teams like Northwestern, we're glad to get the break because this is a team you need extra days to get ready for,” he said. “We're getting in a lot more film sessions and getting our bodies prepared.
“We have a defensive plan. We've gotten the mindset of how to defend (Northwestern). We kept going over that to make sure everybody was 100 percent comfortable.”
Comfort only goes so far, Crean said, because Northwestern is so unique, even in a conference full of unique teams.
“They are such a hard preparation,” Crean said. “You never feel as a coach like you've had enough time to prepare, but with Northwestern there's no way around that.
“They are very good at what they do. Your communication has got to be at a high level. Your physicality has to be at a high level. You've got to play extremely intelligent and know what they want.”
More and more of what the Wildcats want centers on swingman Reggie Hearn. The former Snider standout has averaged 17.3 points in his last three games. During that stretch he is 18-for-28 from the field, including 10-for-17 from three-point range.
In his last two road games, against Illinois and Purdue, the 6-4 junior has averaged 18.0 points and 5.0 rebounds.
“He's extremely good,” Crean said. “He's been a road giant for them. On the road he's shooting at a 50-percent rate from three.
“He makes big shots. You have to guard him. It's not like they put anybody out there you don't have to guard. He's playing with great confidence. The fact he's had so much success on the road makes him that much more dangerous as he comes in here.”
The most dangerous Wildcats are 6-9 forward John Shurna and 6-5 forward Drew Crawford.
Shurna averages 19.9 points and is 45 points away from setting the school's all-time scoring record of 1.900 points. Crawford averages 16.8 points and 4.6 rebounds.
IU, meanwhile, is poised to reach 20 victories for the first since 2008.
Yes, guard Jordan Hulls said, that matters.
“It would be a huge accomplishment,” he said. “Coming from the past couple of years (three straight 20-loss seasons), it's been rough. But we're playing a lot better. Hopefully, we get a win the next time out.”