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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, December 31, 2016 7:30 am

Pregame: Indiana (10-3) vs. Louisville (11-2)

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS — These next 11 days mark a tough stretch for No. 16 Indiana, which is facing No. 6 Louisville today on a neutral court, No. 14 Wisconsin on Tuesday night at home, Illinois at home Saturday and a very dangerous Maryland team on the road next Tuesday.

But first, Louisville. Here are three things to watch for on New Year's Eve at Bankers Life Fieldhouse:

Physicality: The Cardinals are going to play very physically, especially against James Blackmon Jr. when he comes into the paint. The Hoosiers may start Juwan Morgan and use OG Anunoby at small forward in order to provide even more beef against Louisville. That Plan B starting five would move Josh Newkirk to the bench and make Robert Johnson the point guard. Johnson on Quentin Snider, the Cardinals' crafty point guard, could be a defensive matchup the Hoosiers want, anyway.

Indiana needs to compete hard on the glass, and it might be more difficult since Morgan's availability is in doubt due to a sore shoulder. Tom Crean anticipates Morgan being cleared to play, but the coach said Friday that Morgan might sit out. No one should be surprised if the team errs on the side of caution. While the Hoosiers need him on the court, this is a nonconference clash, and if there's even the slightest bit of doubt, they might hold him out of the game for that reason. Looking big picture, the Big Ten race is most important.

Newkirk's decision-making: Newkirk has surprised by playing with a scorer's mindset. Surprising because he's basically a fifth option offensively, and most of his drives should be to pass. He hasn't chosen his spots well when he attacks.

Scoring is overvalued at almost every level of basketball in America, where the high scorer is the "best" player starting in middle school and going on through the system to AAU, high school, college and the NBA.

But every team has to play five guys at a time, and they can't all shoot. Newkirk can help Indiana immensely by being someone who can be on the court not doing too much on offense, making great decisions and running the team smoothly. He's the only true point guard in the Hoosiers' rotation. His role is to involve others without worrying so much about searching for his own offense. 

Handle the pressure: The Cardinals' defense will grab and hack, and as a result they rank fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in fouls and are worse than the national average in opponent free throw attempts per field goal attempt. On the other hand, they really succeed at forcing turnovers.

As everyone knows, the Hoosiers' biggest problem has been a profusion of turnovers. They lead the Big Ten by turning the ball over on 21.8 percent of their possessions.

Crean lamented "unforced" turnovers in Wednesday's 87-83 loss to Nebraska and said Indiana has to play smarter to beat Louisville.

"You’re not going to go in there and say, ‘I’m just going to go score on these guys,’ because it’s really hard," Crean said. "You have to be smart, and you have to make the next pass.’’