So the Hoosiers did
“The thing about losses,” forward Derrick Elston said, “with this team, we take it real personal.”
IU (24-4) is on the verge of losing its No. 1 ranking and has lost its margin for error in the Big Ten race (its 12-3 conference record puts it a game ahead of Michigan State and Wisconsin). But last Tuesday's Minnesota smack down resonates deeper than that entering tonight's game against Iowa. The Hoosiers have spent the past couple of days getting as physical as they have to be down the stretch.
“You hate to lose, but you love to see that fight and anger come out in the next practice,” Elston said.
Coach Tom Crean said he wasn't interested in punishing his players, which didn't mean corrections weren't intense. And if the Hoosiers responded with half the edge Crean radiated when walking into the Assembly Hall media room early Friday evening, the Hawkeyes are in a world of hurt.
“Practice was one of the toughest, yet the most fun,” Elston said. “That's what we live for now. We want to start working and get right back at it.”
Much of the work centered on rebounding and blocking out, on hitting first and repeating that again and again. Minnesota dominated the boards (44-30) and no Hoosier wants a repeat.
“When we come out against Iowa,” Elston said, “as long as we have that energy and fight we've had the last couple of days, we should be fine.”
“Fighting” was a constant theme in the Minnesota aftermath. The Hoosiers' long-stated national championship goal won't come with just skill and finesse. Sometimes you have to bump, grind and survive.
“A lot of it is rebounding,” Elston said. “A lot of it is that 50-50 work that we do. Just battling in the post. If you battle, you're in position to rebound, anyway. We focused on that a lot. That was the whole intent the last couple of days. That's what we plan on doing.”
Crean hasn't had to beat up the Hoosiers in practice because they, in a manner of speaking, beat up themselves.
“The resolve all year long has been there,” Crean said. “They really want to be successful. There's no question there was a different tone in the film room. Some of it was positive. Some of it was, not so positive.
“It was not, 'Let's beat people down and browbeat them. We addressed the issues. (The players) know. It cuts deeper when you see it on film.”
Is it deep enough for Indiana to win its first Big Ten title since 2002?
“We're not talking about bouncing back,” Crean said. “It's all about how quickly and briskly we can move forward. This program is not moving at a snail's pace. It's moving very fast.”
The challenge playing Indiana at Assembly Hall, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said during a Friday teleconference, is formidable. The Hoosiers won the first meeting, 69-65, in late December.
“They have shooters, drivers, tremendous point-guard play, depth at point guard, defenders, size, length, low-post scorers and developed depth,” McCaffery said. “In every possible way, they're going to challenge our team.”
That includes forward Cody Zeller. McCaffery said Zeller's Minnesota struggles (nine points on 2-for-9 shooting) won't affect this game.
“I don't look at it like he's going to play extra hard because they lost or they're going to go to him more,” McCaffery said. “They go to him. They've gone to him. They're going to go to him. He's a handful. When you prepare for Indiana, you have to prepare for him, as well as a number of players.”
Iowa's prospects aren't helped by the loss of freshman point guard Mike Gesell, who leads the team in assists (2.9) and steals (33) while averaging 9.0 points. He's expected to miss his second straight game because of a foot injury. McCaffery said Gesell likely won't return until the Big Ten tourney.
Roy Devyn Marble has replaced Gesell at the point. He averages 14.0 points this season, 18.8 in his last five games.
Even with Gesell, the Hawkeyes are road vulnerable. They are 2-7 away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena, although they've been competitive. Their average margin of road defeat is five points. That includes a 65-62 overtime loss at Purdue, a 74-70 double-overtime loss at Wisconsin, a 62-59 loss at Minnesota and a 64-60 loss at Nebraska.
Still, Iowa has won four of its last five games, including Wednesday's 58-48 win over Purdue.
“It is a tremendous opportunity,” McCaffery said about playing No. 1 Indiana, “and fortunately in our conference we get tremendous opportunities all the time.”
IU has its own tremendous opportunity.
“This will be a battle,” Elston said. “(The Hawkeyes) don't care about the number in front of our names. We're going to get their best shot. That's what we expect. It will be a toughness game. We have to fight the full 40 minutes. That's what Iowa is going to do.”
Up nextTipoff: Iowa at Indiana, 7:30 tonight
Online: For more on college athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio