by Kent Sterling
There was no way the Indiana Hoosiers were going to lose on my birthday. It hans’t happened since Bob Knight’s final season, and runs the winning streak on February 22nd to four games.
No one is looking for the Hoosiers to play otherworldly and transcendent games that redefine quality basketball. No one in the Big Ten is good enough to dominate, and no one is bad enough to be dominated. Winning on the road is a good thing regardless of style points, and on no day is that truer than on the annual celebration of my birth.
On “Ahead of the Curve” today I guaranteed victory, and that prediction was helped along by injuries that have befallen Northwestern, but just as teams shouldn’t make excuses for losses, winners aren’t bound by their conscience to alibi a win either.
It’s true that JerShon Cobb was injured and Kale Abrahamson was benched, replaced in the starting lineup by season-long nonstarter Tre Demps and seldom used Dave Sobolewski, but during a Big Ten season sometimes the wind is at your back and other times it isn’t. The Hoosiers have had their share of inhospitable weather in 2014.
The Hoosiers had their most balanced night of scoring ever, as four players tied for the team lead in points. Will Sheehey, Troy Willaims, Noah Vonleh, and Yogi Ferrell each contributed 12 points – each hitting five shots. The Indiana bench combined for 13 points
Northwestern’s defense wasn’t nearly as stifling in their own gym as it was in Bloomington five weeks ago when Indiana made only 15 out of their 60 shots. Tonight, they hit 24-of-51 for 47.1%.
Most favorably for Indiana was their seven turnovers. They took good care of the ball, while Northwestern appeared to have difficulty ratcheting up their defensive pressure.
That happens in a Big Ten season – some nights one team has some bounce in their step while the other doesn’t, and then a few weeks later the opposite happens. That’s basketball, and teams peak at different points in a season. Indiana has been waiting for a stretch of games where it played well on both sides of the ball.
Youth served as an excuse for awhile. The two most consistent players for the Hoosiers are a freshman (Vonleh) and a sophomore (Ferrell), while two of the most talented are also freshmen – Williams and Robinson. None should be playing like freshmen anymore.
So Indiana takes its record to 5-8 in the Big Ten and 15-11 overall as they enter a gauntlet of challenges that require daily attention and laser focus. A 4-1 finish has a chance to put the Hoosiers right back in the middle of the bubble conversation with a 9-9 conference record – right at the point fans expected when the season began – but it will take four wins of the remaining five games, which are at #16 Wisconsin, vs. #15 Iowa, vs. #24Ohio State, vs. Nebraska, and at #20 Michigan.
Tonight, Indiana is two games behind Nebraska, sixth in the Big Ten. The road to the tournament certainly isn’t clear, but considering the abject weirdness of this season, it’s a victory that any passable road exists at all.
The odds are still stacked against the Hoosiers, but long odds are better than no odds.
I am all out of birthdays for 2014, so Indiana won’t have self-centered holiday guarantees to count on, but they do have freak athletes with gifts the majority of their opponents cannot match. Counting them out with two weeks left might be the smart play, but it’s not the only one.