Indiana has done what it needed to do during the first two months of its season, racing out to an 11-1 record. From here on out, however, the Hoosiers' task gets much tougher.
After facing one of the softest November schedules of any Power Five team, Indiana has graduated to the most difficult remaining slate of any team in the country, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index.
That two-month gantlet begins today, when the Hoosiers welcome Arkansas to Assembly Hall for their final nonconference matchup of the season. This is the return trip of a home-and-home series that started in 2018 when the Razorbacks handed Indiana its first loss of the season, a 73-72 decision that ended when a De'Ron Davis tip came up agonizingly short.
Indiana returned that favor when the teams met in the NIT in March, ending Arkansas' year with a 63-60 win in the second round.
The Hoosiers haven't played in eight days, since coming from behind late to beat Notre Dame at the Crossroads Classic. They are finally healthy, going 11 deep, and coach Archie Miller is working to get everyone minutes.
He challenged his team to remain focused during the holiday break.
“That's probably our biggest challenge as a group is the return from Christmas,” Miller said. “No outside distractions and try to find a way to stay collectively in the moment and find a way to finish the nonconference some way because when you get into conference play, every game is going to be so hard.”
The Hoosiers are hoping the Christmas vacation doesn't cool down freshman Armaan Franklin, who had the best game of his young career against Notre Dame. The Indianapolis native had gone just 4 for 27 (14.8%) from 3-point range in Indiana's first 11 games, but against the Irish he made 4 of 5 3s, including the game-winning 3 in the final minute and finished with 17 points.
“Even though I was in a slump everybody was telling me to keep shooting,” Franklin said. “Putting in extra work after practice, before we practice really helps a lot.”
Miller has had Franklin playing heavy minutes from Day 1, and he knew the freshman would eventually find his shooting stroke. If the Cathedral graduate can find some consistency from the outside, he'll open up Indiana's half-court offense considerably.
“He needed to stop walking around with his head down and acting like people didn't know who he was because he wasn't shooting the ball real well,” Miller said of Franklin. “He can shoot it. He just gotten off to a tough start. ... In particular for young players that can really steamroll them.
“He hasn't let it impact his attitude.”
With Devonte Green back from a hamstring injury, Robert Phinisee rounding into form after an injury-riddled early-season stretch and Franklin gaining confidence, the Hoosiers now have a backcourt group that can hold its own against any in the Big Ten.
The Razorbacks (10-1) are in a position similar to Indiana's, boasting a gaudy record, but few quality wins. Under first-year coach Eric Musselman, Arkansas' best win is a 62-61 overtime victory over Georgia Tech (6-6), and its loss is to Western Kentucky on the road.
They've made their mark on defense, giving up only 59.5 points per game and holding opponents to 21.8% shooting from beyond the arc, the best mark in the country. Junior Mason Jones leads the way with 19.6 points per game, and Indiana's perimeter defense will have to be solid to keep the 6-foot-5 guard out of the lane.
Indiana vs. Arkansas
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington
Records: Indiana (11-1), Arkansas (10-1)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1250 AM