The Hoosiers are turning it on at the right time. After starting out conference play 1-1, Indiana has won four straight, vaulting them just a half game out of first place in the Big Ten. They will try to stay at the top of their game on Sunday when they travel east to Columbus to face the Buckeyes of Ohio State. Also, Maryland tries to rebound from an IU beatdown when they return home to play Northwestern. What to watch for in Sunday's Big Ten games.
Game of the Day
#23 Indiana Hoosiers @ Ohio State Buckeyes - 1:30 ET (CBS Sports)
There's something special going on with Indiana. Maybe its Tom Crean and the coaching staff. Maybe its big time guards Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. Or maybe everything is just magically falling into place. For a while now, we've known the potential of this Bloomington-based juggernaut we call the Indiana offense. Entering Sunday, the Hoosiers (15-4) are averaging a ninth best in the nation 81.9 PPG as well shooting an impressive 48.3% from the field. Yet while some of this has been due to individual starpower provided by Ferrell and Blackmon Jr., it has taken a collective effort to turn their season down the right path. Troy Williams has stepped up big, pulling down rebounds and is shooting over 50.0% during the winning streak. Collin Hartman, be it hiding in Ferrell's spotlight, scored 15 against Maryland while going 3-3 from downtown. Even Illinois State transfer Nick Zeisloft has shown flashes of effectiveness, scoring 10 in the win over Illinois.
If Indiana wants to stay hot, they need to continue to move the ball. Coach Crean has done a great job at creating an aggressive and mobile offense that can put up serious numbers. Much of the offense's effectiveness however, is tied to the Hoosiers' ability to create shots by finding an open or cutting man. A unique aspect of this team is that they start no true big men. Williams is their tallest starter, yet is listed at just 6'7''. But while it may appear that Crean is sacrificing size for offense, he's found a winning formula. Despite their small size, Indiana is still top 50 in the nation in rebounds per game in both the offensive and defensive categories. To put it simply, this team knows how to play good, solid basketball, and they show no signs of slowing down.
On the other hand, Ohio State is all over the map. Its been difficult to judge how good the Buckeyes really are, considering their 4-3 conference record without a top 25 win. Last time they went up against Indiana, they dropped a close one in Bloomington, 69-66. Forget about the budding D'Angelo Russell (19.3 PPG) , their next leading scorer Marc Loving is averaging 8.0 points per game less, a major drop-off. Ohio State will need to develop more offensive diversity and consistency if they hope to remain competitive in the Big Ten. The potential is evident with Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott if the Buckeyes can ever string a couple together. Thad Matta is a good, coach, but Crean has his number in this one. OSU should put up a strong fight, but today, Indiana gets the edge.
Northwestern Wildcats @ #13 Maryland Terrapins - 7:30 ET (BTN)
After getting blown out on the road by Indiana, Maryland (17-3) will look to bounce back at home against a struggling Northwestern team. The Terrapins were thoroughly outplayed Tuesday and some may say were exposed by a superior Hoosier squad. Melo Trimble, Dez Wells and Jake Layman were the key components to getting Maryland into the top 15 in the country, and certainly have the potential to lead this team far into the NCAA tournament. Its difficult to see them dropping two straight, especially to the Wildcats.
Chris Collins can't be happy. Northwestern (10-9) is sitting at the basement of the Big Ten with not a lot of positive outlook. The Cats have dropped five in a row and show no real signs of a turnaround. While Tre Demps has been playing solid basketball, he's no match for Trimble or the rest of this Terrapin team. Sorry Northwestern fans, but barring a miraculous outing, there's not much to look forward to in this one.