Tom Crean’s team has had some growing pains this season.
The Hoosiers were dealt a critical blow to their lineup when quite possibly their second best player, Justin Blackmon Jr., was shut down for the rest of the season due to knee issues.
Since then, the No. 22 Indiana has been tinkering with its rotation.
The Hoosiers needed a marquee victory heading into the final month before March, and that’s exactly what they got when they defeated the No. 4 team in the country — the Iowa Hawkeyes — this past Thursday, 85-78.
Thursday night was undoubtedly Indiana’s toughest test this season. Iowa has been described by some as the most complete team in the nation.
“We had a lot of energy because we were playing a great team,” Crean said. “And Iowa is everything they are made out to be.”
This was the same Hoosiers’ team that lost to a 11-12 Penn State Nittany Lions team earlier this season, mind you, so anything was possible. But Indiana aced this test with flying colors, and looked great in the process. As a team, the Hoosiers shot 46 percent from the field, 36 percent from the three point line and 85.7 percent from the free throw line.
Since Blackmon Jr was shut down, Crean and the Hoosiers have had a difficult time finding that “it” rotation. You know, the one that just clicks and makes sense.
But from what we saw against against Iowa, Indiana may be on the right track. Perhaps that perfect rotation is attainable, and the Hoosiers are figuring it out at the perfect time.
It all comes down to a balancing act.
Before Indiana’s game against the Wisconsin Badgers on Jan. 26, forward Troy Williams was averaging 25 minutes per game. He attempted 14 shots in 31 minutes in the 82-79 overtime loss to the Badgers, and after that his role decreased. His minutes per game dropped to 19, and he even played just 14 minutes in Indiana’s best all around game — before Iowa — against the Michigan Wolverines.
While Williams’ role had decreased slightly, freshman forward’s OG Anunoby’s playing time has increased.
Anunoby, as of late, has been splitting a lot more of those minutes with Williams, and it’s not surprising as to why Crean has trusted him out on the court. He may be Indiana’s best all-around defender.
But against Iowa, things flipped. Williams’ minutes jumped up and Anunoby’s went down. Against Iowa, Williams played 29 minutes. At first, he was ineffective. He went 2-of-9 from the field in his first 18 minutes of play.
“[Troy] was like Lazarus,” Crean said. “He constructed himself a couple times in the game.”
In his final 11 minutes of play, Williams went 3-for-3 from the field. Altogether, he contributed 13 points and seven rebounds.
IU takes down No. 4 Iowa, 85-78, behind Troy Williams' 13 Pts and 7 Reb. pic.twitter.com/8tybSvGeun
— Stadium (@WatchStadium) February 12, 2016
Although Anunoby only played nine minutes, he was still effective as well. He helped defend and limit national player of the year candidate, Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff.
It was a perfect fit. Crean tinkered and tailored the rotation in a way that made sense in order to beat a very good Hawkeye team. The Hoosiers also apparently realized that they need to utilize forward Thomas Bryant more often in the paint.
In the 24 minutes Bryant played against Penn State, Indiana really ignored him. He only attempted four shots in that loss to the Nittany Lions.
Against Iowa, Indiana found Bryant more, but still not enough. He only attempted six shots while tallying 10 points, but six of those points were on put back attempts.
“We got a lot of contributions from a lot of different people,” Crean said. “I thought for us, some real turning moments.”
Indiana’s rotation is still in flux. However against the Hawkeyes, the Hoosiers’ showed that once and if they find that “it” rotation, the rest of the Big Ten should be on alert.
When they’re clicking, the Hoosiers can beat any team in the nation. Any time and any place.