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COLUMN

IU perspective amid basketball impatience

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For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Hoosiers not ready for Michigan State prime

Monday, January 6, 2014 - 12:47 am

BLOOMINGTON – For those seeing the end of Cream 'n Crimson civilization in the wake of Saturday's basketball smack down by Michigan State, take a deep breath.

Take two.

It's time for perspective.

First, the No. 5 Spartans (13-1) are really, really good. They are a potential national title team. They have everything they need to win it all -- experience, talent, experience, coaching, experience and size.

Did we mention experience?

Odds makers only had Michigan State as a 3.5-point favorite, but that wasn't a realistic assessment of where the programs are right now.

IU (10-5) is young and not yet ready for prime time. The Spartans are more than ready, and it showed in their 73-56 victory.

They were the first team to out-rebound IU, 34-32. They were the first visiting team to win in Assembly Hall this season.

They have a Big Ten MVP candidate in guard Gary Harris (a career-high 26 points, a career-high-tying five steals). They have a tough-minded veteran group not rattled by intimidating arenas. They are 7-0 on the road this season, and it is not a fluke.

Michigan State is, in many ways, where Indiana was last year when it was ranked No. 1 and won the Big Ten championship.

Let's take another deep breath, and move on to the state of the Hoosiers.

Here's a silver lining from defeat -- IU lowered its turnover average. In fact, it cut eight turnovers from last Tuesday's overtime loss at Illinois, to 15. Still, Michigan State converted them into 22 points, but you take progress where you find it.

Here's another -- freshman guard Stanford Robinson is growing up.

Robinson played a career-high 26 minutes and made it pay off with a career-high 11 points. He added four rebounds and two assists.

He also got a couple of learning points from a really bad outlet pass and when he fouled Harris on a made three-point attempt, then compounded the problem by complaining about the call and getting hit with a technical. Harris made two of his three free throws in a five-point second-half play that ended any hopes of a Hoosier comeback.

Coach Tom Crean didn't hold that against him.

“Stan was aggressive. I wish we could have gotten him on Harris quicker. You've got to match a guy like that, match his desire to compete. I thought Stan did that. His offense came on just action, activity, aggressiveness.

“We need him to be a blue-collar, go-at-it guy, because that's what he is. He's doing more of that for us.”

Oh, one more -- senior swingman Will Sheehey has found, at least for one day, his three-point shooting touch, along with a nasty-as-needed defensive approach.

You think it's easy spending much of your 30 minutes guarding Michigan State strongman Adreian Payne, who is listed at 6-10 and 245 pounds to Sheehey's 6-7 and 200. Payne does everything but coach the team -- he scores, rebounds, passes, defends and punishes.

On Saturday Payne was limited to four points and five rebounds while going 0-for-3 from three-point range.

“I thought Will Sheehey did a phenomenal job on fighting Adreian Payne for space for his touches, really being aggressive with him,” Crean said.

“(Sheehey) was the one leader that we had inside of this game, but he can do more with his voice. But when you're guarding Adreian Payne and giving up that much size and weight, you're pretty much in a one-man battle. You don't have a lot of other things you can focus on.”

In other words, Sheehey gets a mulligan for not getting a rebound. He did go 3-for-3 from three-point range, and 4-for-6 overall for 13 points. That was a boost for a guy shooting just 24.3 percent from beyond the arc, well below his career average of 33.0.

So what is realistic for the Hoosiers?

In their first eight Big Ten games they play No. 5 Michigan State twice and No. 4 Wisconsin (14-0 overall, 1-0 in the Big Ten) once. Those are three losses. They lost at Illinois (13-2, 2-0) in overtime, but can win the rematch later this month. They can win at Penn State (9-6, 0-2) next Saturday and at Nebraska (8-6, 0-2) at the end of January. They should beat Northwestern (7-7, 0-1) at Assembly Hall later this month.

By the end of January they could be 4-4 in the conference and very much in NCAA tourney consideration.

Could be -- if they get this turnover mess calmed down, if they get freshman center Noah Vonley more than the four shots he had in 25 minutes against Michigan State, if sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell breaks out of his offensive funk (1-for-14 shooting in his last three games), if they stay resilient under adversity.

Yes, that's a lot of ifs, which is what you get when you're basically a freshman-sophomore team in the bruising Big Ten.

You can't rush maturity. It comes when it comes, sometimes with a Eureka moment (remember Landon Turner?), sometimes with steady progress (think Victor Oladipo's three-year improvement pace).

That's perspective. Everything else is just, well, impatience.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.