BLOOMINGTON – For Indiana basketball fans, tonight's game should provide a slight respite for the rattled nerves that have been constantly present watching the Hoosiers play in December. Indiana has won four games in a row, all by three points or fewer, but capturing the fifth game in that streak should be a little easier.
Central Arkansas is a member of the Southland Conference, and not one of the elite members of that conference, either. The Bears are 0-6 all-time against the Big Ten and have just one winning season since 2006. That came last year, when they went 18-17 and 10-8 in Southland play. This year, Central Arkansas comes in with a 4-6 record and already has losses of 25 points or more against Pittsburgh (26 points) and Louisville (45 points).
All of this is to say that tonight will be one of those non-conference games in which Indiana will be best-served focusing on itself and how it can improve, rather than worrying about style points. It should also provide some of the rotation players a little rest down the stretch in the second half after so many close games in a row.
The most important way Indiana can improve tonight, in my opinion, is to keep encouraging Robert Phinisee to take open shots from the outside. Phinisee hit the game-winner against Butler on Saturday and has nailed six 3-pointers in the last two games combined. Early in the season, he seemed to be a little tentative shooting the ball, preferring to set up his teammates and act like a pure pass-first point guard.
That's all well and good, but the Hoosiers' main offensive deficiency has been in shooting 3s and Phinisee is one of the best shooters in the rotation. He seems to be gaining the confidence necessary to assert himself offensively, which could add a new dynamic to this already-solid Indiana offense. Maybe the Hoosiers will run some sets designed to get Phinisee open shots and build on the confidence he gained from the buzzer-beater against the Bulldogs.
This would also be a good game to try to work Zach McRoberts and Devonte Green back into the rotation in a more meaningful way. Both are still trying to get their legs back under them after missing several games early in the season and although they each played 21 minutes against Butler, their contributions haven't yet been at the level most expected before the season. If they can shake off some of the rust they're still feeling during games this week against Central Arkansas and Jacksonville, they should be 100 percent by the time the Hoosiers resume Big Ten play in 2019. The same goes for De'Ron Davis, though he was out longer than Green and McRoberts and his conditioning is still coming back.
Indiana has played five consecutive games against Power Five opponents and performed solidly, winning four of those. Tonight doesn't present the same challenge – Central Arkansas' most famous basketball alumni, Scottie Pippen, isn't walking through that door – but there are ways for the Hoosiers to get better. An undefeated record at Assembly Hall is on the line.