Indiana has its back to the wall.
The Hoosiers are a pedestrian 8-6 as the middle of the Big Ten season approaches, with their three conference victories coming against the bottom three teams in the conference. That's not a résumé that points to an NCAA Tournament appearance.
IU has had a week off to bounce back from a deflating loss to rival Purdue at home, due to a coronavirus outbreak within the Michigan State program that forced the postponement of the Hoosiers' Sunday matchup with the Spartans. Tonight, however, Indiana faces maybe the toughest road test in the league this season: A trip to Iowa City, Iowa, to take on the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes and Luke Garza, the reigning National Player of the Year.
“(Iowa is) one of the best teams in the country,” Hoosiers coach Archie Miller said. “They have an opportunity to compete for a national championship. They have all the parts that are needed. ... Hopefully (tonight) we are prepared to be ready to battle against arguably the best team in the league.”
During their six-day layoff, the Hoosiers rested and tried to get back to basics. The break gave guards Armaan Franklin and Rob Phinisee a chance to recuperate from minor injuries that left them less than 100% in the 81-69 loss to the Boilermakers.
“It's been really good for us,” guard Al Durham said. “We got a chance to regroup and get back to the practice floor, where we felt like we'd been missing our intensity. It gave us a chance to get back to our day one principles and just really go hard and practice like we were in the beginning of the year.”
The main focus of the week of practice was getting Indiana's defensive intensity back. The Hoosiers have slipped in conference play, especially in defending the 3-point line. Opposing teams are making more than 40% of their 3s against Indiana, putting IU in the league's basement in that category.
Iowa shoots 39.5% from beyond the arc, good for 19th in the country. The Hawkeyes have five players hitting at least 40% from 3-point range, led by guard C.J. Fredrick, second in the Big Ten at 51%.
“It is not for lack of trying; it is for lack of fundamentals,” Miller said of the 3-point defense. “At the end of the day we have had a number of breakdowns. ... Just the simple stuff that you probably start with in October we have had a lot of slippage in and to me that has really been a gradual decline as January has started.
“I think for us we have to give great effort on the ball. ... We cannot get beat running transition, and we are going to have to have some pride that we are going to be able to do a pretty good job of being able to guard our man.”
Garza, a 6-foot-11 senior, leads the nation in scoring at 26.9 points per game on 62.5% shooting. He can score inside or outside (47.9% 3-point shooting) and averages 8.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
“This guy right here never stops moving,” Miller said of Garza. “It is a credit to him and a credit to their system. Their pace is great. Their motion is great. But he does not take a break. He does not give you an inch in terms of being able to catch your breath when you are defending him.”
When: 9 p.m. today
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, Iowa
Records: Indiana (8-6, 3-4 Big Ten), No. 4 Iowa (12-2, 6-1 Big Ten)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 92.3 FM