Indiana's season is hanging by a thread. The Hoosiers have lost four games in a row following a 15-4 start, and what once looked like a sure trip to the NCAA Tournament is now far from certain. In ESPN's latest bracket projections, the Hoosiers were among the “Last Four In.”
That's a precarious position, especially in a conference such as the Big Ten, where nearly every team is tough and losses can pile up quick A league such as that also provides plenty of opportunities for résumé-building wins, however, and the Hoosiers have one of those tonight when they welcome No. 21 Iowa to Assembly Hall.
Indiana will try to snap its season-long losing streak against what coach Archie Miller called “maybe the best team we've played all season.”
The Hawkeyes have won seven of their last nine games and are led by Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza, a 6-foot-11 ball of energy who averages a league-best 23.1 points and 9.9 rebounds.
“If (the season) ended today, and I had a vote, Luka Garza would be the national player of the year,” Miller said.
Garza is capable of scoring effectively in the post while also shooting 38.2% from 3-point range. He is helping the fast-paced Hawkeyes average 79.1 points per game, 20th in the country.
The Hoosiers have been focusing much more on themselves this week, trying to regain the swagger they seemed to have found beating then-No. 11 Michigan State three weeks ago.
“I think our team in general has lost some confidence here of late,” Miller said. “Typically when you lose your confidence, you don't hold yourself accountable as individual players doing what we need to do to be successful every day.
“And I think, you know, our team in general, confidence is one thing, but also buy-in and being unselfish and caring about the guys in the locker room is probably the most important thing that we have going on right now.”
When Miller talks about buy-in, he means a commitment to doing what the team has done when it has been successful: controlling the glass and getting to the foul line. Saturday's 74-62 loss to Purdue, in which Indiana was outrebounded and shot 10 fewer free throws than the Boilermakers, drove home how much IU has gotten away from what had been a winning formula.
With their season on the verge of slipping away, the Hoosiers have found support from each other, describing a new camaraderie in recent days.
“I think there's a sense of togetherness for sure,” freshman guard Armaan Franklin said. “You know, when you lose four straight, all you have is each other. You can't listen to the outside sources. You have to be in the room with each other and progress every day with one another. You can't listen to the outside noises.”
To get back to what made Indiana successful in January, Miller wants to see better leadership from his team. He didn't name any specific players he's looking at for that quality, but rather encouraged anyone – freshman or senior – to find where they can make an impact.
“This time of year, man, doesn't matter who you are,” the coach said. “If you have a voice that's a positive thing, that's a great thing. ... If you hear the right things out of guys' mouths, you can't put a price on that.”
Indiana vs. Iowa
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington
Records: Indiana (15-8, 5-7 Big Ten), No. 21 Iowa (17-7, 8-5)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1250 AM