The effect of losses on the psyche of Indiana players is much different now than it was two years ago. Back then, the Hoosiers tried to move on and forget each as fast as they could, less the collective mental anguish caused by 20 or more over a course of the season be allowed to crush their will. Now, the losses are fewer, but each is more individually irritating, and the Hoosiers have learned to turn the anger they feel from each into something constructive.
Each of the Hoosiers’ three losses prior to Tuesday’s brought renewed fire to the practice floor. After they lost to Butler on Dec. 15, they followed with some of most physical practices of the season and went on to win their next six games. The Wisconsin loss had a similar effect as the Hoosiers won five straight after that, beating Michigan State and Michigan in the process, and the loss to Illinois on Feb. 7 led to perhaps one of the most complete performances of the season, as the Hoosiers started a four-game winning streak with a brutally efficient win at Ohio State.
The Hoosiers expect that their 77-73 loss at Minnesota will produce a similarly effective wake-up call, because practice since has taken on the same tone and intensity.
“The thing about losses, with this team now, we take it real personal,” senior forward Derek Elston said. “A couple of years ago, a loss was kind of, ‘Oh, well.’ It was kind of one of those things. Now, every time after a loss, this team, if we don’t stay the night after we lose, we’re in here the next day. I had class yesterday, but I heard it was one of the toughest yet funnest practices. That’s the thing, after a loss, the next practice is always the most physical, but that’s just what we live for now. We want to get back in, we want to start working and we want to get back to it. I guess it was physical, and I guess it was one of the best practices we had all year. We hate to lose, but you love to see that fight and that anger come out in the next practice.”
Fight, of course, was the operative word. IU coach Tom Crean wanted to see a lot more fight in the paint after the Hoosiers were not just beaten but truly overwhelmed for the first time this season on the glass. Indiana had lost the rebounding battle before, but never by a margin of more than three. On Tuesday night, Minnesota outrebounded them 44-30.
“There’s no question that we didn’t do the job on the backboards,” Crean said. “… We did not do a great job of blocking out, man or zone, and we didn’t not answer the physicality bell, really with Trevor Mbakwe more than anything else. … The bottom line is the physicality and the 50-50s. We didn’t do that. When you get 70 percent of the 50-50 balls, you’re gonna win most of your games, and we weren’t close to that in that game.”
So the Hoosiers did a lot of rebounding drills and drills going after 50-50 balls. Crean said the most important thing stressed was reiterating to the Hoosiers the necessity of making first contact on missed shots and making sure to find a body to box out when the ball goes up.
“It’s a little bit technique,” Crean said. “It’s a little bit more awareness, then it’s a lot more just being the first hitter. You’ve gotta have first contact. It’s a physical game. It really is. It’s a very physical game.”
And the No. 1 Hoosiers know it could be again when they play Iowa today at 7:30 p.m. at Assembly Hall.
The Hawkeyes are 18-10 overall and 7-8 in the Big Ten and are in desperate need of a signature win that would turn them from what appears to be an NIT team to an NCAA Tournament team. It’s likely they’ll be playing without starting point guard Mike Gessell, who has been dealing with a foot injury. That’s a significant loss, but it makes Iowa a much bigger team.
The Hawkeyes had already started using a larger lineup with junior Melsahn Basabe (6-foot-7, 221 pounds) working as the small forward next to power forward Aaron White (6-8, 218) and center Adam Woodbury (7-0, 235) forming a true three-man front court. With Gessell out, the Hawkeyes have moved 6-foot-6, 194-pound junior Roy Devyn Marble — their leading scorer and the small forward at the beginning of the season — has taken on the point guard role. Shooting guard Josh Oglesby (6-5, 202) has stepped into the starting lineup and given the Hawkeyes a massive lineup.
“This is gonna be the biggest lineup that we have seen,” Crean said. “Even bigger than Minnesota’s, really, when you look at the point position and things. … They cause issues because of that size and because White can play away from the rim so well…. They’re a deep team and I don’t have any doubt they’re an NCAA Tournament team.”
Crean has a lot of respect for Iowa and for good reason. Indiana won a brutal first matchup 69-65 on Dec. 31 in Iowa City, and they also lost on the road at Iowa last year in one of the worst games they played all season. They were 0-for-4 against the Hawkeyes the previous two seasons.
“This is gonna be a battle game,” Elston said. “They’re the type of team that, they don’t care about the number in front of our name. We’re gonna get their best shot, and that’s what we expect.”