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COLUMN

Indiana returns to all-things-possible mode

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Tipoff: Indiana at Minnesota, 8:15 p.m., Saturday
Radio: 1250-AM
TV: BTN

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

Upsetting Michigan restores momentum

Monday, February 3, 2014 - 12:01 am

BLOOMINGTON -- So what does Indiana do with this rock-the-Big-Ten victory?

Yes, the Hoosiers are back into all-things-are-possible mode after upsetting No. 10 Michigan on Sunday, but they've been here before.

A few weeks ago, they upset previously unbeaten Wisconsin, then lost two in a row.

Now they have six days before playing at Minnesota, with Penn State four days later.

Can they follow up their 63-52 victory more victories?

More importantly, do they have the maturity to do it?

In this roller coaster season, there's no clear answer.

For now consider this -- just when you're ready to assign Indiana (14-8 overall, 4-5 in the Big Ten) to NIT purgatory, it restores postseason possibilities. Michigan, after all, was the Big Ten leader and the conference's hottest team. The Wolverines hadn't lost since mid-December, and that was to No. 1 Arizona by two points. On Sunday, their vaunted offense crashed and burned -- along with their 10-game winning streak -- against IU's rejuvenated defense.

In five of the last six halfs Indiana has allowed 30 or fewer points. To be specific it has given up 24, 22, 19, 22 and 30. The only glitch came in last Thursday's second half against Nebraska, when it allowed 41 in a 60-55 loss.

Against Michigan (16-5, 8-1), the Hoosiers switched and switched and switched some more against Michigan screens, with senior Will Sheehey setting the non-stop tone. At times 6-foot (maybe) Yogi Ferrell guarded 6-6 Nik Stauskas, the Big Ten scoring leader. Other times 6-10 Noah Vonleh guarded 6-6

Glenn Robinson III.

Ferrell's quickness kept Stauskas from getting the ball. Stauskas went 1-for-6 for six points, 12 below his average. Vonleh's size punished Robinson into nine harmless points.

Wolverines coach John Beilein never solved the defense, which is why his team scored 22 points below its season average.

"The defensive plan was outstanding,” Beilein said. “We have never seen anything like it since I've been here. We ended up trying to adjust on the fly. We've got to learn from it."

Indiana's Tom Crean won this coaching battle (although not necessarily fan appreciation), just as he had out-coached Wisconsin's Bo Ryan, but he deferred credit to his staff for devising the defense and to the players for carrying it out.

“We've got great coaches. They're phenomenal.

“Michigan does a great job with its passing. We needed to make it harder for them to find their outlets, harder for them to find their wings and get back in transition.

“We started working on this last week. We couldn't guard them conventionally. We had tough match-ups, so we had to overcome that.”

Make no mistake, Crean set the tone and it solidified after his early substitution pattern left the sold-out Assembly Hall crowd booing.

Why?

In part it was fallout from Thursday's Nebraska disappointment (blowing a 16-point lead), when Crean's heavy subbing (he likes to use depth to maintain IU's fast pace and bring fatigue to the game) seemed to hurt the Hoosiers and help the Cornhuskers.

On Sunday, IU led 10-7 when Ferrell, Sheehey, Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams came out and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Jonny Marlin, Jeff Howard and Austin Etherington came in.

In other words, scorers were substituted for non-scorers.

Fans noticed.

The result -- Michigan went on a 6-0 run.

Fans noticed.

Ferrell returned to loud cheers and promptly drilled a score-tying three-pointer. It set a tone that lasted the rest of the game. Indiana was tougher, hungrier and edgier.

For the record, Ferrell never came out again, playing 37 minutes, second this season to the 43 he played in the overtime loss at Illinois. He dominated every second he was in.

“Yogi is going to be guarded, and he's going to be guarded by the whole team,” Crean said. “That's the way it is. He's got to be in movement, and that's what he did well.”

Ferrell got help from Vonleh's Big Ten-best ninth double-double of the season (10 points and 12 rebounds), Evan Gordon's steady off-the-bench play (eight points, two rebounds, one steal despite missing the last few days of practice with illness) and Will Sheehey's defensive leadership.

But mostly this was a showcase for Hoosier resiliency, for bouncing back from the Nebraska loss with the kind of tenacity that bodes well for the rest of the season -- if they can sustain it.

“We got this win with our resilience on defense,” Ferrell said. “It shows how well we've been practicing from the Nebraska loss. We were very disappointed in the way we played in the second half. We didn't want to have that letdown. We wanted to have the same energy for all 40 minutes.”

So they did, which leads to the big question -- can they do it again?

If they want to make the NCAA tourney, they'd better.

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.