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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, February 07, 2019 6:10 pm

Pregame: Indiana (13-9, 4-7 Big Ten) vs. No. 20 Iowa (17-5, 6-5)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON – Indiana finally broke its losing streak with its huge win against then-No. 6 Michigan State in East Lansing, but that was just the first step of a long journey if this team wants to make a run at the NCAA Tournament.

The next step in that quest is to avoid a big letdown against No. 20 Iowa at Assembly Hall tonight. Guard Aljami Durham said the trip home from East Lansing was "like a sigh of relief". That's good for this team's overall confidence, but it could be dangerous if the Hoosiers allow themselves to relax upon returning home. They have to come out with the same intensity tonight as they had against the Spartans, because Iowa is capable of running them off the court.

The Hawkeyes are the highest-scoring team in Big Ten play this season, putting up an average of 77 points per game against conference opponents. Indiana's defense will need to be rock-solid to slow down a team that is coming off a huge upset win of its own against then-No. 5 Michigan. Iowa's greatest skill on offense this season has been at the free throw line. The Hawkeyes have made more free throws than anyone else in the country, getting to the line 575 times and hitting better than 75 percent. Indiana got a little lucky against the Spartans because MSU went a dreadful 8 of 22 at the line (36 percent). Iowa is unlikely to match that number, so the Hoosiers will really have to focus on defending without fouling.

That won't be easy against the Iowa big man duo of 6-foot-9 Tyler Cook and 6-11 Luke Garza. The pair combines to average 31 points per game and much like Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith of Maryland, who took over in the second half against the Hoosiers, they have the ability to overpower Indiana's own forwards and centers. The difference from the Maryland game is that the Hoosiers might have the full talents of center De'Ron Davis available. Davis was magnificent against the Spartans, going toe-to-toe with physical center Nick Ward and putting up 12 points and six rebounds. He also played a season-high 25 minutes, however, so it's unclear if that's a performance he'll be able to repeat as he continues to recover from Achilles and ankle injuries. 

Juwan Morgan is another question mark. He's expected to play tonight after injuring his shoulder against Michigan State, but it's unclear if he'll be 100 percent or close to it. If he is, he'll draw the difficult assignment of guarding Cook in the high post, but he's used to guarding talented big men at this point in the season. If Morgan or Davis is not healthy, the Hoosiers will need contributions from Clifton Moore and Jake Forrester. I'm a little bit higher on Forrester at this point, because he's stronger and brings more energy on a consistent basis, though Moore's athleticism is apparent.

The Hoosiers will also have to continue to move the ball. They did a much better job of that against Michigan State and that led to a 50 percent shooting mark from beyond the 3-point line, 30 percent higher than it had been in the previous five games. If Indiana reverts back to its stagnant offense and goes 3 of 20 from deep again, it probably won't be able to keep up with Iowa.

The win against Michigan State was a major step in the right direction, but it needs to be followed with that same energy and intensity. The race for the NCAA Tournament starts now.