Here's what we know, Part 3 — Now it gets tough.
Yes, the No. 5 Hoosiers (14-1) have cruised to a 2-0 Big Ten start — both on the road — courtesy of Monday's 74-51 blowout of Penn State, the Big Ten's version of Central Connecticut State. The Nittany Lions and Iowa, Indiana's first conference win, are a combined 0-4 in the league.
Now comes conference reality.
IU gets No. 8 Minnesota (14-1) on Saturday and always dangerous Wisconsin (11-4) on Jan. 15. They are a combined 4-0 in league play. Both games will be at Assembly Hall, which means both will be victories, because there's no way these Hoosiers lose at home.
And in case they get overconfident, Crean has about a dozen coaching points from a sloppy second half. The edited message — that kind of play can't be repeated the rest of the way.
Figure it won't be. This group takes to tough coaching, and Crean and his staff coaches them hard.
The big thing is the rebounding. Penn State won that battle 35-33 with 17 offensive boards that led to 14 second-chance points. The last time the Hoosiers, the Big Ten's best rebounding team, got hurt like that inside was against Butler in what remains their only loss.
But Penn State is no Butler, and IU's defense made sure of that. The Nittany Lions shot just 34 percent in the first half and 29 percent in the second half. The Hoosiers were all over them to force 19 turnovers with 10 steals. Cody Zeller led with four steals.
IU forced nine turnovers from Penn State's two main ballhandlers in Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill. It also totaled 56 deflections.
“These guys did a great job at making defense at the forefront of everything they did,” Crean said.
What was up with the rebounding? Crean told Voice of the Hoosiers Don Fischer after the game that some of it was due to not securing the ball with two hands and some were bad bounces.
“We have to continue to get better at (rebounding),” Crean told Fischer. “What we have to convince our guys is when we get a defensive rebound, especially a guard rebound, we're a hard team to deal with when the guards get the rebound because we skip a whole step with the break. We can just be gone.”
“Gone” means a full-speed attack with all five guys sprinting. Crean calls it a “jail break” because “nobody walks out of a jail break.”
You knew Jordan Hulls wasn't going to repeat his 0-for-10 shooting at Iowa. He went 4-for-6 from the field for 14 points, even with basically shutting down his offense in the second half.
Christian Watford also showed once again how good he can be when he brings offensive and defensive intensity to the game. If he ever figures out how to do it every game, the Hoosiers might not lose again. He totaled 16 points and eight rebounds.
As far as the Big Ten, four teams are tied for first at 2-0: Michigan, IU, Minnesota and Wisconsin. IU has a chance to knock two of them off in the next week. The first showdown with the second-ranked Wolverines (15-0) is Feb. 2 at Assembly Hall, and if the Hoosiers sustain this play, they're likely to extend their unbeaten conference past that.
But that's for future discussion. For now, Indiana is right where it wants to be. We know that, too.
Up nextTipoff: Minnesota at Indiana, noon, Saturday
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