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Instant Takeaways: IU is in the dance, Trayce Jackson-Davis shows up big

INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time since 2003, the Indiana men’s basketball team has won multiple games in the Big Ten Tournament. The Hoosiers defeated Illinois 65-63 on Friday to advance to the Big Ten semifinals.

Here are some takeaways from IU’s upset win over the Illini.

THE HOOSIERS ARE GOING DANCING

This is an obvious takeaway but it can’t be stated enough. This Quad 1 victory over Illinois locks Indiana into the field of 68. For the first time since 2016, IU will be in the bracket. 

When the Hoosiers trailed Michigan 60-43 at the under-12 timeout on Thursday, this didn’t seem possible. But Indiana rallied in that game and followed it up by going toe-to-toe with the Big Ten’s regular-season co-champions.

It felt like the Indiana men’s basketball team was cursed before winning these two games. Year after year, this program collapses after January. Fans have said, “we’ll be in the tournament” too early in the season and have experienced meltdowns that didn’t seem possible. This season felt identical to the seasons before this, but IU has come into Gainbridge Fieldhouse and given its fans a show this week.

In typical coach fashion after the game, Mike Woodson asked, “Are you sure we’re in the tournament?” The answer is yes, and after years of heartbreak, the Hoosiers deserve it.

TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS UNDERSTANDS THE MOMENT

At its core, basketball is not a one-on-one sport. But matchups matter and it’s hard for players to ignore the battles they have against peers at their position. Trayce Jackson-Davis has struggled on both ends against 7-footers throughout his career, but he’s shown out against two of them in back-to-back battles this week. 

Jackson-Davis had 21 points Friday against Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, with 15 coming in the second half. This comes after a 24-point effort against Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson on Thursday. Was it perfect? No, Cockburn and Dickinson both had nice offensive outings against IU. But Jackson-Davis’ ability to play at or above their level has been crucial for Indiana in these games.

Jackson-Davis also played the last 30 minutes of Friday’s game without a rest. When he had to knock down a pair of foul shots with 26 seconds left, Jackson-Davis stepped to the line and delivered. There’s a lot more to this sport than a matchup between two players, but it sure helps when your best player wins those matchups.

INDIANA’S OFFENSE JUST HAS TO BE AVERAGE

We’ve all heard the cliché: “Defense wins championships.” Indiana has the best defense in the Big Ten, and the team still finished ninth in the conference. That shows how atrocious the offense has been at times.

Against Illinois, IU’s offense wasn’t great, but it wasn’t atrocious. The national average for points per possession is nearly 1.02 points per possession. Indiana scored 0.98 points per possession (65 points) against Illinois. During the team’s five-game losing streak in February, the Hoosiers averaged 0.88 points per possession.

Illinois shot 35.7 percent from the field on Friday due to Indiana’s outstanding defense. Only two Illinois players, Cockburn and Coleman Hawkins, were really able to get anything going offensively. The rotations, closeouts and screen navigation were all excellent for Indiana against Illinois.

IU’s defense is so special that it doesn’t need to score like an Iowa or Purdue needs to. But it can’t be atrocious. Against the Illini, Indiana’s offense was a little bit worse than average, and that’s good enough to win games.

THIS TEAM CAN WIN THE BIG TEN TOURNAMENT

Think about the remaining teams in the Big Ten Tournament. The Hoosiers controlled most of the game against Iowa before a meltdown, they beat Purdue once and lost by just two at Mackey Arena last Saturday, they lost two close games to Wisconsin and they split the season series with Penn State and dominated the Nittany Lions on Jan. 26.

The only team remaining that Indiana didn’t compete with is Michigan State. The Spartans beat IU 76-61 in East Lansing on Feb. 12. And while IU got blown out by Michigan State, the Spartans haven’t exactly looked like world-beaters (just 21-11) this season.

Beating Illinois was the most improbable part of the week for this team, and they managed to do it. There’s no reason to believe Indiana can’t win another two games this weekend. The Hoosiers might end up losing due to fatigue rather than being outplayed.

The players and coaching staff sure believe that IU can get the job done. As Trayce Jackson-Davis said, “We didn’t pack for two days, we didn’t pack for three days. We packed to win the Big Ten.” This might be the most confidence an Indiana team has had in years, and they’ll take that confidence into Saturday’s bout with Iowa.

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