After a deserved week off following back-to-back victories over Ohio State and at Michigan, the Nittany Lions are back on the court later tonight. Pat Chambers' squad welcomes in Archie Miller and the Indiana Hoosiers. To get you ready for the action, we reached out to Mike Schumann at The Daily Hoosier to get the skinny on IU.
You can check out our answers to Mike's questions as well.
As with just about everyone in the Big Ten, it has been an up and down season to date. What is the general feeling around the IU team with about six weeks left until tournament time?
The answer to that question seems to ebb and flow by the day. After a win over Michigan State on Thursday night, the sky was the limit. After a disappointing loss to Maryland on Sunday in which a seven point lead was blown in the last few minutes, uncertainty returned. This team hasn't shown a killer instinct to put teams away, which has led to one close game after another. On the road, there have been blowout losses that have further fueled the uncertainty. With two more road games this week, there is a feeling of concern that things could start turning sideways. But the general sense is that there is enough of an identity with this team -- defense, size, offensive rebounding, that IU will find enough wins down the stretch to break their three year NCAA Tournament drought.
Archie Miller is in his third season in Bloomington, and has yet to take the Hoosiers to the NCAA Tournament. What is the feeling around him and where the program is overall at this point in his tenure?
If Miller can just find a way to get this team in the Tournament that should be enough for most to feel like things are headed in the right direction. This particular team has more of an identity and has been improving, which gives most hope that the ship is turning, however slowly. Of course there are fringe elements on both ends of the spectrum -- those that want Miller fired yesterday, and those who would preach patience for a decade. But the general sense is that there is no hot seat and things are gradually trending in the right direction. Indiana should return most of its roster next season, and most are eyeing an in-state group of 2021 recruiting targets where 19 of the top 215 high school juniors in the country are based in Indiana. There is a path towards continual improvement and sustained success. But if Indiana were to miss the tournament this year, and if Miller completely strikes out with the class of 2021, the fringe element would no doubt start to turn into a mob.
Just looking at the basic stats, Indiana goes nine-ish deep pretty comfortably. For more casual fans of the Nittany Lions and Big Ten, what are the key guys to keep an eye on?
IU has 11 scholarship players, and all of them have played meaningful minutes this year. That rotation is starting to get dialed back just a bit, but you can definitely expect at least nine to play on Wednesday. A good quality about this team is that they don't really rely on one person for production. Six different players average at least 7.3 points, and any of them could lead the team in scoring on Wednesday night. The off the radar guys to keep an eye on are Devonte Green, Jerome Hunter and Rob Phinisee. Green comes off the bench but he can take over games offensively. He scored 30 in a win over Florida State. Hunter is just now emerging after missing an entire season. He had 12 points on Sunday, and is Indiana's only true wing player on both ends of the floor. Phinisee has struggled with injuries early in the season, but in many ways he is the most important player on the team. He is IU's only true point guard and also their best on the ball defender. Many believe as Phinisee goes, so go the Hoosiers.
Diving back into the numbers a bit, this doesn't seem to be a terribly great shooting Indiana team. Is it a matter of just not having guys that can hit shots outside, or is there more to it than that?
Poor perimeter shooting has been an issue that has plagued Miller during his time at Indiana, and things have trended down each year. Indiana has capable shooters but they are streaky and none are elite. Green, Phinisee, Hunter, Al Durham and Armaan Franklin could all get hot, but it is rare for more than one of them to have a good game shooting the ball. The offense has been creating open looks, but for the most part Indiana has not been able to find any measure of consistency shooting from long range. Things have trended a little better in recent games, including a 6-of-12 day against Ohio State from three-point range, and a 9-of-19 day against Maryland. But those games were at home. Away from Bloomington, IU has been at its worst shooting the ball. The Hoosiers have played just six games away from their home floor, and five of their ten worst shooting games from three-point range came in those away or neutral floor games.
On paper this looks like another close Big Ten game. These two teams have had their fair share of close games over the years as well. How do you see this one playing out on Wednesday evening?
With Indiana coming off such a disappointing loss to Maryland on Sunday, it is going to be interesting to see how mentally tough they are. Can they respond on the road against a good team? Penn State reminds me a lot of Rutgers with their tough defensive style and how they look to score in transition. Indiana had one of their worst offensive games of the season at Rutgers. A similar showing will no doubt lead to an easy win for the Nittany Lions. Indiana will need a strong defensive game of their own to keep it close. Justin Smith did a really nice job guarding Lamar Stevens last year. If he can repeat that performance, and IU can keep Myreon Jones from getting hot then I think the Hoosiers will be right there. Ultimately, with Big Ten road wins so hard to come by, I see Penn State pulling it out by single digits. The only way I think Indiana wins is if they have a strong day shooting from the perimeter, perhaps making at least 35% or better from three-point range.