Despite a nailbiter Wednesday night at Williams Arena, IU basketball escaped Minneapolis with a victory 61-57. The Hoosiers are now above .500 in the Big Ten, standing 5-4 and tied with Illinois for fifth place in the conference.
Indiana has now won four straight games, and it seems like this team is really finding its groove now after going on a three-game losing streak to open Big Ten play. Yes, the Minnesota win was much uglier than Hoosier fans expected it to be. But at the end of the day, a win is a win, and the fact this team has shown that it can win on the road in a close game, and that will help later in the season. But what else has contributed to IU’s recent success?
Dominant play from Trayce Jackson-Davis
Jackson-Davis has been on another level during this stretch for the Hoosiers, scoring 25+ in the past three games. What I like most about how he’s playing now is his confidence in the post, as he’s not afraid to go up strong and draw contact to get points at the free-throw line. In games prior, we’ve seen Jackson-Davis try and make shots further away from the basket because of the post presence from opposing teams. But it seems as now he is not afraid of that anymore, as he is going up for shots at the basket without hesitation.
A big contribution to Jackson-Davis’s scoring output in recent games has been the way he’s rebounded these past four games. The senior has averaged just over 14 rebounds per game during this four-game winning streak, including a 21-rebound performance Wednesday night against Minnesota. Not only does this rebounding ability give the Hoosiers an advantage with Jackson-Davis being the finisher he is, but gives them second chances as well for players such as Jalen Hood-Schifino and Trey Galloway on the perimeter.
However, we cannot forget how much of an impact Jackson-Davis makes on the defensive end. Being the newest leader for blocked shots in Indiana history, it’s safe to say he’s been an elite rim protector and a huge reason why Indiana’s interior defense is thriving. This type of performance is what they need when they face off against forwards such as Zach Edey and Hunter Dickinson in February.
The defensive swagger is back
There were a lot of questions surrounding a loss of pride and effort on the defensive end to start off conference play. Against Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State, the Hoosiers were letting up an average of 86.7 points per game, which is obviously a huge reason IU wasn’t able to take one of these games. But now, it feels like Indiana has found the swagger it had on the defensive end that was there during nonconference play.
Against Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota, no opponent was able to score 70 points on the Hoosiers. Besides Minnesota, the other three teams are capable of making the NCAA tournament, so being able to hold these teams to a low scoring output is credit to the players for playing some lockdown defense.
While Jackson-Davis has been outstanding on the defensive end, we cannot underestimate how much of a key piece Jordan Geronimo has been. While as good as Geronimo has been blocking shots, his defensive rebounding and ability to box out opponents to limit their possessions has really helped IU. In the backcourt, guys such as Galloway and Tamar Bates have been great defensively, limiting some very talented guards in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers will need this team defense in February, as this will for sure be the toughest month of the year.
It feels like someone new has stepped up every game
A big question mark that some IU fans were concerned about was how the supporting cast struggled to take the pressure off Jackson-Davis and be a threat to score. Especially with Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson going down earlier in the season, this was a valid concern for fans to have. But it seems like every game, IU has someone who’s always on fire and can help take some of the defensive pressure off Jackson-Davis.
Take Bates last Sunday against Michigan State for example. Bates had really struggled offensively in the two games leading up against Wisconsin and Illinois, going 0-for-7 in those two games combined. However last Sunday, he turned into possibly the brightest spot despite Jackson Davis’s 31 point double-double, as Bates went 5-for-8 from the field and tallied up five of the nine 3-pointers made by the Hoosiers.
Another example would be Geronimo in just this entire stretch. It’s taken time for Geronimo to get himself situated with the bigger role, but boy has he been an X-factor for this team. His athleticism and ability to jump out of the gym really help Indiana on the offensive end in getting second chances and wearing teams down.
With this recent success, it should be interesting to see how much confidence each win gives this team. Ohio State on Saturday night will be a huge test, but the Hoosiers have the advantage with the game being played at Assembly Hall. Freshman sensation Brice Sensabaugh leads the Buckeyes in search of a marquee Big Ten win, so the Hoosiers will have to come ready to play in order to extend that winning streak to five.