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What To Watch For: Question marks surround Indiana prior to Minnesota road trip

Road games have been synonymous with poor performances from Indiana men’s basketball this season.

Every road game has pretty much the same narrative to it as well, consisting of the possibility and wonder of if Indiana can carry over strong play from Assembly Hall to its road competition.

Al Durham blows by an Iowa defender in Indiana’s win over the Hawkeyes. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

This past Sunday, the Hoosiers gave it another go, and got an all-too-familiar result with an 89-65 beating of a loss at Michigan. That empty performance came right after Indiana impressively beat No. 20 Iowa 89-77 at home just three days prior.

Indiana is simply a different, and far worse team, when it plays away from home. When the Hoosiers travel, they are 1-6, with the only win coming at Nebraska.

That road win is not much to hang their hat on either as the Cornhuskers are 7-18 and are ranked No. 13 in the Big Ten standings.

Regardless of the road struggles thus far, Indiana can only focus on what’s up next, and that’s another opportunity to try and win on the road when Indiana will play Minnesota in Minneapolis on Wednesday night.

Entering crunch time

Including this matchup, Indiana only has six games to go and with the Hoosiers firmly on the bubble of NCAA Tournament contention right now, every game is crucial.

Indiana and Minnesota are rather similar on paper, as both teams are 6-8 in Big Ten play. Additionally, both teams struggle immensely on the road. Much like Indiana’s 1-6 road record, Minnesota is slightly worse, going 1-8 when away from home.

The equal conference record has the two teams tied for the No. 12 spot in the Big Ten rankings. In terms of overall record, Indiana has a much bigger advantage, being 16-9 comparatively to Minnesota owning a 12-12 record.

The record is a bit deceiving, as the Golden Gophers have a talented roster and can hang with anybody. They have beaten No. 25 Ohio State twice, No. 9 Penn State, and Michigan — who just beat IU by 24 — to list a few of their best wins.

Additionally, despite the significantly worse record, Minnesota is ranked much higher than IU in the NET rankings at No. 44. Indiana is at No. 63. The large differential is likely due to Minnesota’s stronger nonconference strength of schedule.

Just like the records, statistically speaking, both squads are pretty similar. Neither team is great at shooting the ball, with Indiana shooting slightly better from the field at 45 percent compared to Minnesota’s 42, and both teams shoot 32 percent from the 3-point line.

Also, both teams shoot free throws poorly (IU: 68 percent, Minnesota: 72 percent), each average about five steals per game and their rebounding differential is one, with Minnesota is on average grabbing 39 rebounds a game compared to Indiana’s 38.

Sophomore star power

What does separate the two teams is that Minnesota has more star power and it is far more consistent as well.

Minnesota’s scoring and overall contribution to the team is mostly concentrated between its three best players and three sophomores: center Daniel Oturu and guards Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur.

Oturu is a dominant 6-foot-10 center and double-double machine. He is the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten, with an average of 19.9 points per game and is the Big Ten’s leading rebounder, getting 11.3 rebounds per contest. Oturu is also highly efficient, with the Big Ten’s best field goal percentage of 57.6.

Carr supplements Oturu with the second-highest scoring average on the team with 15.7 points per game and is the team’s main distributor with 154 assists on the season, more than 100 assists better than anyone on Minnesota.

Kalscheur is a solid and stereotypical “3-and-D” player. He shoots well from 3-point range, making 37 percent of his looks from deep for his career, and leads the team with 26 steals this season. His scoring average stands at 11.3 points per game.

A similar game plan?

Devonte Green attempts a three-pointer against the No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

It will be interesting to see how Indiana defends Minnesota’s three-headed monster, but if the Iowa game is any indication, the Hoosiers will let Oturu have his way and focus on stopping the rest of the team.

In the Iowa game, Indiana let superstar Luka Garza score 38 points and kept all of Iowa’s other weapons in check. The result was a 12-point win for IU.

Following the same strategy with Oturu could be a real possibility for Indiana’s game plan.

Once again, the two teams are very similar on paper and if Indiana can slow down Minnesota’s star power while equaling or having better production otherwise, this is a winnable game.

At the end of the day, Indiana and road games have shown no logic as to why the team so often falls off when away from home except for that the team is consistently bad.

This is a desperately needed win for Indiana, and an attainable one too.

The question remains — and it sounds like a broken record at this point — but can IU get it together and put up a solid performance on the road?

Better effort, intensity and urgency will be needed if so, but only time will tell if Indiana can finally break its ugly habit.

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