Saturday, January 19, 2013

Indiana Ready for Big Ten Road

Fear the Big Ten road?

Not Victor Oladipo.

Indiana’s junior guard and defensive juggernaut embraces the challenges opposing gyms bring -- hostile crowds, hyped home teams, calls that don’t always go the Cream ‘n Crimson way.

The Hoosiers will get all of that on Sunday when they head to suddenly dangerous Northwestern, which is coming off a stunning 14-point victory AT No. 22 Illinois.

“(Going on the road) brings us together because that’s what you have to be in order to win on the road in the Big Ten. We’re looking forward to it. We’re definitely looking forward to playing at a high level and playing at Indiana basketball.”

Indiana basketball, or at least the perception of it, took a hit with the Assembly Hall loss to Wisconsin. If the No. 2 Hoosiers (15-2 overall, 3-1 in the Big Ten) are no longer unbeatable at one of the most intimidating arenas in college sports, does this mean they’re vulnerable elsewhere?

Not necessarily, but IU has to pick up its level of play, especially in the second half. The last couple of days of practice, Oladipo said, were designed to reinforce that.

“We’ve been emphasizing a lot of things. Getting back on track and playing Indiana basketball. The last couple of games we’ve been losing that. We’re getting back into the groove of things and doing a great job.”

Senior guard Jordan Hulls said practices reflect that emphasis.

“It’s been really competitive with a different edge. We’re trying to build back that mindset that we need in order to win. Focus on defense and rebounding.”

Unlike Assembly Hall, Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena is small and intimidate, but it can get loud. Still, given the large number of IU fans in the Chicago area, it wouldn’t be surprising that a lot of them attend the game.

“It’s a little bit of a different environment,” Hulls said. “It’s a smaller gym, but it gets pretty rowdy. You have to have the same mindset that you have when you play in every other gym. Play together, communicate and make sure we’re doing all the things we can to win.”

Northwestern (11-7 overall, 2-3 in the Big Ten) has adjusted to the loss of standout guard Drew Crawford behind guards Reggie Hearn (14.1 points, 4.9 rebounds) and Dave Sobolewski (11.5 points, 76 assists against 32 turnovers). It thrives with a patient Princeton offense and trapping defense.

“I think anytime you play a Northwestern team, you understand their system, what their system brings to the game,” associate head coach Steve McClain said. “This is a team that continues to get better. They’ve had to go through the injury phase and new guys getting into the system. There’s no question, they showed at Illinois the other night that this group looks like they’re getting more and more comfortable in the system and running the system to what it gives them to each individual.

“They are a team that’s coming off a big win at Illinois. You look at their wins on the road – at Illinois, at Baylor – they’ve been to some tough places and came away with wins, so going to their place, we know it’s a game where you’ve got to go in and be sharp defensively.”
McClain understands the challenges present by Hearn and Sobolewski.

“Hearn is a guy who’s a veteran. He’s a veteran in the system. You saw a year ago when they have five veterans out there running that system, it creates unbelievable problems. Reggie is a guy who is a senior and feels like it’s time to step up and he definitely did that the other night at Illinois and has shown the ability to step up and have big games.

“(Sobolewski) played a lot of minutes last year, so he got a year of understanding and running the Northwestern system, so he can direct everyone. He can tell people when they are in the wrong spot and he’s such a good driver, he’s a good reader and he finds a way to get to that rim. So you’ve got to do a great job on him or he can have a big night.”

One of the biggest challenges when playing Northwestern is dealing with all the backdoor cuts. Lose your focus for just a second and you give up a layup.

“They have a lot of back doors that we have to be aware of,” Hulls said. “They can all shoot, so they definitely make it a little bit different in that regard, just different than most teams in the style of play that they run in transition.”

Added Oladipo: “It’s hard because they are a very good team, especially on their home court. They run that offense where they move a lot and they won’t stop moving, so we have to come with our defensive hats on and be prepared and stay focused on both ends of the floor.”

IU’s relatively light schedule, where it basically just played one game a week, is over. It will basically be two games a week the rest of the way. That’s good, McClain said.

“You can prepare both mentally and physically for it. It helps your players. I think the other side of it is that this league has already shown that playing at home isn’t a given that you’re going to win, and going on the road doesn’t mean you can’t win. I think that’s what this league has always been about and we’ve got enough guys that should understand that every team is one big win from feeling good about themselves and Northwestern is coming off a big road win at Illinois, feeling good about themselves coming home.

“I know this, our veteran guys will be prepared to go in and know that you’re going to be at your best in this game.”

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