BLOOMINGTON — Indiana opens a two-game homestand tonight against Minnesota (9 p.m., Big Ten Network) facing another critical juncture to its 2020-21 season.
The Hoosiers (11-9, 6-7 Big Ten) find themselves at No. 50 in the latest NET ranking, squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble heading into the final three weeks of the regular season. IU is 2-8 against Quadrant 1 (1-50 NET ranked) opponents and 5-0 against Quad 2 (51-100 NET) opponents.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has IU as a 10 seed in his latest bracketology.
“This is a time of year where you can’t let things slide by,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said on his radio show Monday night. “You’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities.”
Minnesota (13-8, 7-8) is the next opportunity for IU, a team that has posted wins over Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue at home but has struggled on the road, going 0-7 away from the Twin Cities. Under eighth-year coach Richard Pitino, Minnesota has relied heavily on the playmaking ability of junior point guard Marcus Carr, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten in scoring (19.4 points per game) and second in assists (5.2 per game).
“Marcus Carr is a first-team all-conference player,” Miller said. “Everything goes through him. He’s the head of the snake.”
It will present another perimeter defensive challenge for IU junior point guard Rob Phinisee, who held Carr to an average of 8.5 points and 4.5 assists in two matchups last season.
Inside, Minnesota could be down one of its key players as junior 7-footer Liam Robbins suffered an ankle injury against Maryland and is questionable for the game Wednesday night. Robbins, a transfer from Drake, is second on the Golden Gophers in scoring (12.6 points per game) and leads the team in rebounding (7.1 per game).
“The big thing with Minnesota, we’re going to have to keep them out of transition,” Miller said. “They are very, very explosive. When they score 80-some points at home, the big reason why is their defense creates offense, and they are able to get a great guard in transition, and (Carr) makes people better.”
After Minnesota, IU hosts reeling Michigan State on Saturday. The Hoosiers had struggled at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall before knocking off No. 11 Iowa on Feb. 7 thanks to a dramatic Armaan Franklin shot in the closing seconds. Miller is hoping that confidence will carry over for IU on its home floor this week, where the Hoosiers are 5-4 this season.
“You don’t want to say, ‘Hey, we gotta get both’ or one of those deals,” Miller said. “We have to get Wednesday. That’s what we’re really worried about, and I think it’s a big week for our team to be able to capitalize. Good teams will capitalize when they have these opportunities, and that’s what we need to do.”
STARTING CHANGES UNLIKELY
In light of IU’s recent slow starts, Miller was asked if he would consider changes to the starting lineup. The Hoosiers have gone with the starting five of Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson, Franklin, Phinisee and Al Durham for six straight games. In IU’s last three games, the Hoosiers have fallen behind by 13 points or more within the first 10 minutes.
“If we make any changes going forward, it won’t be due to slow starts,” Miller said. “If we change our lineup, it will have something to do with we feel like that guy really earned the right to maybe get off to an earlier start to the game or deserve more playing time, but the first five that goes out there has to be a more confident group.”
Miller said he would consider playing Jackson-Davis, Thompson and 6-foot-7 Jerome Hunter together more often to create more size across the frontline. Playing three guards on the floor, Miller said, has put IU in a bind at times rebounding the ball against bigger teams in the conference. In IU’s last game at Ohio State, the Buckeyes controlled the boards, as OSU outrebounded the Hoosiers 36-28 and outscored them 20-9 in second-chance points.
“No grand changes,” Miller said. “We are who we are. Most guys on our team all know they can contribute in different ways, and they are getting their opportunities. They’ve just got to be better.”
UPDATE ON STEWART
Miller said Parker Stewart is working out and practicing with the Hoosiers but offered no indication as to whether the grad transfer from Tennessee-Martin would appear in any games before the end of the season.
Stewart has two years of eligibility remaining but wouldn’t lose a year of eligibility this season due to an NCAA rule that grants all athletes an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic.
“As he’s gotten back, week by week, he’s started to get back into the routine of lifting weights, skill instruction, helping out in practice,” Miller said.
“He’s a big strong kid, 6-4, about 205, 210 pounds. He can really shoot the ball, is physical putting him on the floor. Just watching him in practice, I think he’s going to be a great addition to what we’re doing. I think the big thing for him is to continue to feel comfortable and all and learn what’s kind of going on here.”