The Indiana Hoosiers haven’t yet encountered the toughest stretch of the Big Ten schedule, but they are riding a 10-game winning streak. A season which appeared to be in pronounced peril a month ago stands on much more solid ground today.
Weirdly, an injury could have unlocked the key for the Hoosiers and their defense.
There is no question that James Blackmon, Jr. is a strong offensive player for Indiana.
However, since the Hoosiers lost Blackmon for the season, they have been playing their best basketball. After Saturday’s win at Minnesota, Indiana has now started the conference season 5-0 and is tied atop the Big Ten with Iowa.
In the five conference wins, Indiana is allowing just 64.4 points per game. Prior to the start of Big Ten play, Indiana had allowed more points than that average in 10 of its 12 non-conference games. This included eight games with over 70 points allowed.
While Blackmon is clearly a decorated scorer, averaging 15.8 points per game before the injury, he is equally poor as a defender. There are stretches when he just does not show effort on that end and almost singlehandedly broke down the team’s defensive unit.
When the injury happened, it looked like it could doom Indiana’s season to an even greater extent. However, the Hoosiers have plenty of scoring. Blackmon’s injury was addition by subtraction, as the defense has improved significantly. The injury meant more playing time for above-average defenders O.G. Anunoby and Juwan Morgan.
Tom Crean also deserves some credit for this improvement. It is obvious that losing one poor defender does not completely turn around an entire unit. Crean has improved his strategy and points of emphasis. His adjustments have created a new dynamic which has drastically changed the way this team performs. Crean has also plugged in the right pieces, which might not have been an easy call to make at the time Blackmon left the lineup.
The Hoosiers are looking for their first 6-0 start in Big Ten play since 2008. Sure, some of this is due to a vanilla schedule, but it is not getting that much tougher. Indiana plays Purdue, Maryland, and Michigan State only once during the regular season.
The offense has opened up more as well. This has allowed Thomas Bryant to be an interior option the team lacked last season. After being riddled with foul trouble in the conference opener against Rutgers, Bryant has scored 14.3 points per game and has gotten much more efficient.
When you mix the inside-out game with the play of all-conference point guard Yogi Ferrell, the Hoosiers have become a force at both ends of the floor. For the season, Ferrell is averaging 17.1 points, 5.9 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game on 47.4-percent shooting. However, he is turning the ball over just under three times per game.
After early-season losses to Wake Forest and UNLV, as well as the blowout at Duke, Indiana appeared to be in the midst of another disappointing season under Crean. However, this mid-season rebirth has the Hoosiers in the mix for a Big Ten crown and a strong seed in the NCAA Tournament.
With that said, the Hoosiers were in a strong position last season before limping to the finish line. Only time will tell if this is a repeat performance or if the Indiana changes are for real.