BLOOMINGTON – After so many difficult games and close losses, Indiana had to be relieved to finally get a win, even if it was against Rutgers.
The Hoosiers will have another chance to display their improvement tonight against Minnesota, which has lost six games in a row after looking like it would be one of the Big Ten's best teams early in the season.
Simply put, this is a game Indiana should win. The Hoosiers have already beaten the Golden Gophers once this season and Minnesota's performance has not improved since then. Earlier in the year, Indiana might have come out flat in a game like this following a big victory (yes, Rutgers qualifies, since it stopped a four-game losing streak). If the team has really improved as many (including me) believe it has, it will come out hungry again from the opening tip.
The game against Rutgers was particularly encouraging in that sense. The Hoosiers had plenty of energy at the outset, racing to a 22-6 lead before Rutgers was able to recover. Anyone can get up for a home game against No. 4 Michigan State, as Indiana did, but it's a lot more difficult to be excited for a road game against a lesser team in front of mostly empty stands. The Hoosiers managed to do it and the results were all positive. If Indiana can get off to a similarly hot start against Minnesota, it could demoralize an already struggling Golden Gopher team.
One of the main factors in that early energy for Indiana has been the presence in the lineup of Freddie McSwain Jr. The senior has grabbed 25 rebounds in his two starts and exudes energy on the floor. His effort has been contagious and it has pushed Indiana to play much harder, especially on defense.
Likewise, having sophomore Devonte Green in the lineup seems to have pushed the Hoosiers to share the ball more. Green is a natural playmaker and makes passes that other players might not even attempt. He's been a catalyst on offense, much as McSwain has been on the boards.
This is an eminently winnable game for the Hoosiers, who will have the benefit of an excited Friday-night crowd backing them. They've lost two straight at home, which Archie Miller said Thursday has really bothered the team. Don't expect that streak to reach three.
Prediction: Indiana 78, Minnesota 64