by Kent Sterling
Indiana beat #3 Wisconsin last night 75-72 in a game very few thought would be competitive. The Hoosiers last beat the Badgers almost seven years ago, and this might be Bo Ryan’s best group yet.
Wisconsin played a half-step slow, and defended with uncharacteristic indifference, but a win over the #3 team in the nation is a good win regardless of which team played well and who played poorly.
Down by 15 at Penn State on Saturday afternoon, it looked like the Hoosiers were staring an 0-4 Big Ten start dead in the eye, but they roared back for their first conference win after losses at home to Michigan State and in overtime at the other Assembly Hall in Campaign. Last night’s win evened their record at 2-2.
Instead of wondering whether Indiana could find the mojo to squeak into the NIT, now fans are looking toward the NCAA Tournament as a possibility again. Funny what good a couple of three-point wins will do for the outlook of fans.
It’s not hard to look ahead and plot a course to a 9-9 Big Ten record. Wins at home against Northwestern, Illinois, Penn State, and Nebraska put the Hoosiers at six wins. Road wins versus Nebraska, Northwestern, and Purdue flip that six into a nine. Nine conference wins will likely punch the Hoosiers ticket to the Big Dance.
What has happened over the past four days to hang a tight and sharp u-turn for this young but talented team?
It would be too easy and cruel to hang the credit for the turnaround on the benching of Jeremy Hollowell, but that’s the most obvious place to start. Indiana went from looking like a plodding and indifferent team to an enthusiastic group that moves the ball quickly on offense and at the very least communicates defensively.
The Hoosiers still missed defensive assignments in last night’s game against Wisconsin, but the lack of turnovers on offense were a major help in limiting the Badgers’ attack. Nine turnovers is a manageable number, and given Indiana’s propensity for allowing live ball turnovers to become points on the other end (17 points Wisconsin points came from those nine turnovers), they need to hold onto the ball.
Hollowell turned the ball over quite a bit before his benching, but what was worse was that he slowed the movement of the ball by catching and evaluating with almost every touch, rather than moving it. Austin Etherington has taken the majority of Hollowell’s minutes, and one area where he is very valuable is in moving the ball quickly.
If we were able to gain access the the statistic for time spent in possession of the ball per touch, Etherington would likely come in at under one second. He anticipates well, and is a very decisive passer. He recognizes the flow of the game very well, as evidenced by the lob in transition he called for from Yogi Ferrell with 6:15 left in the game to give Indiana a 61-57 lead.
Three defenders were back for Wisconsin, but all had their backs turned to Etherington on the weak side. Etherington raised his hand, cut to the rim, and Ferrell delivered an accurate pass to his former AAU teammate.
It wasn’t a flashy dunk – just a routine left handed layup that penalized a fundamental lapses for the Badgers – but it was a key moment that represented the type of basketball winning teams play.
At this point, there has been no explanation as to what led to Hollowell’s benching other than several references to a lack of focus, but the results have not been a resounding endorsement of the Hoosiers’ need for his services. Two solid wins with Hollowell as a spectator makes it difficult to imagine how he might find his way off the bench.
The conversation among fans about the Hoosiers has morphed from “what happens if they don’t improve next year?” to “this is a really young team that is finding itself, and might be a bitch to play against come March.”
A lot has happened between noon on Saturday and 9p on Tuesday. A season on the brink has become a season of great promise.