Thursday, December 31, 2009

Defense leads to a big win

Defense wins championships and for the Hoosiers, it won their first conference game of the season. IU defeated Michigan 71-65 -- sealing the nip-and-tuck game with 10 seconds left.

Michigan was a poor shooting team coming into the game, but Indiana had one of its best defensive outings of the season. After the Wolverines started the game hot behind the 3-point line, coach Tom Crean extended his defensive pressure. It was a great move and changed the game in the first few minutes. Michigan shot 39 percent for the game and the Hoosiers had 10 steals, two blocks, and forced 12 turnovers. They also held star DeShawn Sims to 12 points and three rebounds and forced him to foul out of the game.

The Hoosiers did not have any extended scoring droughts in this game as in previous losses. And they used their defensive pressure to create easy shots. The team played like they should win the game. They competed the entire 40 minutes.

Christian Watford also stepped into a role as primary offensive option with 19 points. Verdell Jones scored 20 and Jeremiah Rivers came up with some huge plays late in the game, including a double-pump three-point play.

Michigan seemed beaten as the second half wound down, but made some big shots late to get back in the game. The Hoosiers carved out a 4-point lead with 40 seconds left, but Michigan kept fighting, scoring a couple layups to keep it a one-possession game. The Wolverines immediately fouled each time and the Hoosiers made the free throws when they had to. Freshman Jordan Hulls made four big ones with less than 10 seconds left to end it.

This is a big win for the IU program. It gives the young team some confidence and, hopefully, gives Crean a clearer formula for success.

By the way, did you ever think IU fans could say this in 2010: Indiana is tied for first in the Big Ten.

Next up: at Ohio State, Jan. 6.

Time for Big Ten play

I'm a little nervous this morning as I wait for the noon tip off between Indiana and Michigan.

At times this season, the baby Hoosiers have appeared ready to take that next step in the rebuilding process. The team got its biggest win in the last two years on the game's biggest regular-season stage this month -- over Pittsburgh -- only later to play an absolute clunker first half against Loyola of Maryland and more resemble last season's team. The Hoosiers came back from 20 points down to take the lead late in that game, but could not finish.

Now they face another hurdle: the loss of Maurice Creek, the team's leading scorer through 12 games. Which team will emerge? I'm hoping the high effort this team is known produces positive results, because once again it's going to take a near perfect performance for this team to win. They are unlikely to recover from long scoring droughts or poor shooting halves against Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue.

The Hoosiers are 6-6, equaling the win total from last year. Ideally, the record would have been 8-4. I don't think anyone expected the team to lose all three games in Puerto Rico and Loyola showed in the second half they were not as unbeatable as they appeared. Still, Crean seems to be making progress. I think moving beyond 10 or 12 wins certainly should be a goal. The Hoosiers should get three or more of those wins in Bloomington. Could this team approach .500 by the end of the season?

Enjoy the game. It's on ESPN2.