BLOOMINGTON – Was Indiana's win over No. 4 Iowa, arguably the best victory of the Archie Miller Era, a blip in an otherwise forgettable season or the start of a longer string of success for the Hoosiers?
We'll begin to find out today, as IU returns home to face a struggling and desperate Rutgers team that has lost five in a row and six of its last seven following a 6-0 start. The Scarlet Knights are coming off a loss to 13th-place Penn State in their most recent matchup, a game in which they were out-rebounded 38-26. That's an embarrassment for a team that prides itself on toughness and physicality even when it isn't playing well. It's likely that Rutgers has emphasized a return to that mentality since the loss to the Nittany Lions and the Scarlet Knights will come out with a renewed intensity early in the game against the Hoosiers this afternoon. It will be up to Indiana to match that probable early surge of energy and weather the storm before both teams settle into what should be a hard-fought battle.
Indiana's win over Iowa was made possible in large part because the Hoosiers found their way on defense again. After putting together several fearsome performances on that end of the floor in the non-conference schedule, IU had floundered for much of the Big Ten schedule, much to the chagrin of Miller. The Hoosiers found their defensive rhythm against the Hawkeyes, holding one of the best offensive teams in the country to a paltry 26% shooting in the second half. Whether Indiana can repeat that performance after only a couple of days of rest remains to be seen. The Hoosiers will have to avoid any kind of letdown or complacency that could come after such a big win. Then too, their legs were fresh for the matchup against the Hawkeyes – they hadn't played in nearly a week. That won't be the case today. Can Indiana play with the same effort for 40 minutes on shorter rest? If not, the win over Iowa, as impressive as it was, won't mean much in the long run.
One way that Indiana could stay fresh even on relatively short rest is to continue to expand its bench. Miller has repeatedly expressed his desire to do so, but in games he has been hesitant. That might change somewhat after freshman Jordan Geronimo showed off his enormous potential against the Hawkeyes. The freshman is a perfect candidate to be Indiana's third "big" man – the Newark, New Jersey native is only 6-foot-6, but he plays much bigger because of length – and take a few minutes off the plates of Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson. His ability to do so should keep the starting IU bigs fresher at the end of games. The Hoosiers have struggled to take Jackson-Davis and Thompson off the floor this year in the absence of center Joey Brunk, but that could be starting to change in the wake of Geronimo's breakout against the Hawkeyes. Indiana's only out-of-state 2020 recruit has obvious athletic gifts and he seemed to be competent, if not perfect, in Indiana's defensive scheme against Iowa. Geronimo could be especially important today against a Rutgers team that boasts a pair of 6-11 players in its rotation in Myles Johnson and highly-touted freshman Clifford Omoruyi. The Scarlet Knights will likely try to get Jackson-Davis into foul trouble and Indiana could have to survive some significant stretches without the 2019 Indiana Mr. Basketball.
With the recent emergence of Geronimo and fellow freshman Anthony Leal, the Hoosiers are significantly deeper than they were earlier in the season. That depth did take a hit against Iowa, however, when freshman starting guard Trey Galloway sat out with a sore back. As I type this, almost all of the Hoosiers are on the court warming up, but Galloway is not. That doesn't bode well for his being back in the lineup today. That means more minutes for Leal and possibly Khristian Lander, who has yet to find his niche on this team.