The Big Ten Tournament is the last chance for IU men’s basketball to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament — that is, if it goes on a significant winning streak.
After earning the No. 10 seed in the tournament, the Hoosiers’ first test will be 6:30 p.m. Thursday against No. 7 Iowa in Washington, D.C.
IU hasn’t fared well historically in the single-game elimination tournament.
It’s been a down year for the Hoosiers, who ended the conference season at 7-11. After losing five in a row, IU won two of its last three games to end the regular season and IU Coach Tom Crean said he feels like his team can carry momentum from their finish into the Big Ten Tournament.
“It’s important to have momentum, to have energy, to have confidence, to have health,” Crean said on his radio show Monday night on WHCC-FM 105.1. “Obviously, we’d like to have more wins, we’d like to have some of the closer game wins, but to keep coming back, time and time again — I’m not sure most people have any idea how hard that is on a young person.”
The last time IU and Iowa got together Feb. 21 was one of those closer games the Hoosiers wished they would’ve finished off. IU took an early 13-point lead but Iowa moved from a man-to-man to a zone look on defense. The quick change took IU out of rhythm offensively and the Hoosiers only led by one point at the break.
In the second half IU figured out the Iowa zone, but was bothered by its press defense leading to 12 second-half turnovers.
Iowa also got to the free throw line 47 times compared to IU’s 19 as the Hawkeyes finished off the victory, 96-90, in overtime.
While the Hoosiers have a little momentum on their side, the Hawkeyes have more.
Iowa beat two-seed Wisconsin and three-seed Maryland on the road in recent contests and was the only Big Ten team to finish the regular season on a four-game win streak.
“We’re going to be playing one of the most dangerous teams not only in the league, but in the country with the way that Iowa is playing and we saw that first hand a couple weeks ago,” Crean said on the Big Ten coaches teleconference Monday. “Big keys in that game are going to be obviously limiting the fouling and dealing with all the different defenses they play in the sense of their press, their zone, their man-to-man, all of which are very good”
Iowa racked up some notable Big Ten awards as well. Senior guard Peter Jok was named first team all-conference and sophomore forward Nicholas Baer took home conference sixth man of the year honors.
Hawkeye freshmen Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon were also named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team earlier this week.
Both teams also score at an alarming rate. Iowa boasts the second-best scoring offense in conference play at 77 points per game while IU is a step below at almost 76 points per game.
Over the course of its four-game win streak, Iowa is shooting 46 percent from the field and eclipsed 80 points three times.
The Hoosiers, on the other hand, hope to stay hot from their win Saturday over Ohio State.
IU shot 58 percent from the field against the Buckeyes, which included a coming-out party for junior guard Robert Johnson who scored 26 points in the win after going just 3-of-20 from behind the arc in his previous four games.
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said the guard play for IU has stepped up since their last meeting and as always sophomore center Thomas Bryant is a concern when trying to prepare for the Hoosiers.
“We had a hellacious game with them, they’ve had unbelievable wins, they’ve won a couple lately, they don’t go away, they keep coming and they have a lot of weapons,” McCaffery said on the Big Ten coaches teleconference. “You better respect everybody you play in this league and obviously Indiana has our complete respect.”
Crean said if IU wants to get past Iowa on Thursday night it needs to take care of the basketball and not let the Hawkeyes get to the foul line, two things it failed to do in the first meeting.
“We’re playing against a team that’s shooting the ball at an incredible rate, that has a bona fide star in Peter Jok, and they’re extremely well coached by Fran McCaffery,” Crean said. “It’s going to be a tremendous — it’s a challenge and it’s an opportunity — we’ve gotta use it as both.”