Abell is a 6-4, 201-pound sophomore guard. His job is to come off the bench to provide a spark, give one of the starting guard trio of Jordan Hulls, Ferrell or Victor Oladipo a rest and make the Hoosiers better, or at least no worse, with his play.
He has to defend, handle the ball, communicate and, if opposing teams back off him, make them pay.
It's hard to do that when you play selective minutes, when there is no way to know when you'll get in or for how long.
But for however long Abell plays, and his minutes have increased in the postseason, he has to make an impact.
So he has.
In 15 minutes Big Ten tourney minutes against Wisconsin, he scored six points (on 2-for-2 shooting), grabbed two rebounds and had a steal. In 12 minutes against Illinois, he had five points, three rebounds and two assists.
That's impressive considering he'd totaled 11 points and four rebounds in his previous nine games and 67 minutes.
So how does Abell keep ready on the bench to maximize his production? He sees, understands and, well, imagines.
“You play the game with your mind,” he said. “You're not in the game, but you can play it with your mind. You can know what's going on, know what plays they're running, what players are out there and what they do best, and then guard it well.”
That sounds easy enough. It's not, of course.
Abell had a similar late-season run last year, when he had a big game at Purdue, and then thrived in the NCAA tourney, particularly when he was able to handle VCU's attack-and-trap pressure when Hulls faltered.
Now it's time to repeat that, and more.
“I'm just trying to be aggressive. When my name is called, be ready to come off the bench and give a spark on the offensive and defensive end.”
And then, in case you missed the message the first time:
“Stay aggressive. Do what I can to help my teammates.”
Those teammates like what they see.
“He's been playing well lately,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “We need him to keep doing it. When his confidence is flowing and when he believes in himself, he's an amazing player.”
Amazing for Abell means averaging 4.1 points and 1.5 rebounds, better than last year's averages of 3.0 and 0.9. He shoots 47.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range. That makes him IU's most accurate three-point shooter, ahead of Hulls (46.4 percent) and Christian Watford (49.1 percent).
Granted, Hulls and Watford have shot a lot more three-pointers than Abell has, but that misses the point, which is that Abell has worked himself into a guy you have to guard.
Consider what that means.
Abell's jump shot does not look like it was designed by Jim Naismith, or even Jim Nabors, but in the end, it's all about results. If the shots fall, who cares about their beauty? Pro golfer Jim Furyk has had a nice career with a swing that could get you banned in some cultures.
A shot doctor might spend a year working to give Abell a form-perfect shot, with no guarantee he'd shoot any better.
So Abell sticks with what he knows and works to make it better.
“I'm being ready to go. I'm playing with more confidence. I do what I can do, stay aggressive on both sides of the court. That's it.”
He'll try to do that on Friday when Indiana (27-6) faces Wednesday's winner between LIU-Brooklyn (20-13) and James Madison (20-14) in its opening East Region game in Dayton.
The lessons learned from the Big Ten tourney loss to Wisconsin, Abell said, won't be forgotten.
“We learned a lot. We have to take better care of the ball. We have to stay into it for 40 mintues. We got away from that a little big. Just play hard, rebound and execute. If we do that, we'll be fine.”
A No. 1 seed has never lost its opening game since the NCAA began seeding tournaments in 1979. The Hoosiers have no intention of being the first.
“Whenever we give up a play, we have to move on to the next one, focus on the next possession,” Abell said. “That's the most important one.
“We wanted to win a Big Ten Tournament championship. We didn't do that, but we have ball to play. That's the best thing about this.”
Up nextTipoff: Indiana vs. LIU-Brooklyn-James Madison, NCAA East Region, 4:10 p.m. Friday
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