Indiana is halfway through its Big Ten season. The Hoosiers are 14-8 overall, 4-5 in the conference, and with Sunday's win over Michigan, very much in the NCAA Tournament bubble conversation. What does IU need from the second half of its Big Ten season to lock up a third-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament? Here are five keys: • Consistent play from Noah Vonleh: It's hard to be overly critical of a seven-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week who leads the league in rebounding. And even when he doesn't score a lot, Vonleh can still have a massive impact on a game with his rebounding (14 against Illinois, for example). But his seven-point, five-turnover performance at Nebraska is a reminder that Vonleh is still a freshman. When he's playing well, Vonleh is the conference's best rebounder. If he's scoring consistently, he's one of the three or four best big men in the league. This season, a good Vonleh has often meant a good Indiana. That needs to continue. • Defense: Indiana's wins over Illinois and Michigan were important for their Tournament resume, but they were impressive for the Hoosiers' defense. Against Illinois, IU neutralized everyone but Rayvonte Rice. On Sunday against Michigan, the Hoosiers took leading scorer Nik Stauskas out of the Wolverines' offense and held the Big Ten's best shooting team to just 40 percent from the floor. As IU moved deeper into conference play, the team's best efforts have often started with shutting down opponents, even if it meant games had to be won the ugly way. There's no reason that has to change. • More of the same from Yogi Ferrell: The sophomore guard's scoring average is more than 10 points per game better than last season, without a noticeable drop-off in assists or rebounds. His 27 points and stifling defense against Stauskas on Sunday were part of perhaps the best individual performance of the Big Ten season. IU shouldn't expect that every night from Ferrell, but on his current pace, he's exactly what Indiana needed him to be as a sophomore. • Road wins: IU didn't have any non-conference wins on the opponent's home court. So the Hoosiers' Tournament resume can use at least a couple Big Ten wins on the road. Minnesota on Saturday is an excellent opportunity. The Gophers are on pace to make the NCAA Tournament, meaning a win in Minneapolis should look good come March. Trips to Wisconsin and Michigan could also produce quality road wins. Overall, Indiana still probably needs at least nine wins in Big Ten play, if not 10. The Hoosiers have five road games remaining.
Five keys for IU to make NCAA tournament
Indianapolis Star | Feb 4