Indiana was not going to go undefeated this season. Everyone knew that, even the Hoosiers.
Losing their first game the way they did, though, falling behind by 31 against a Wisconsin team that came in with a 4-4 record, was a blow to the fragile confidence of a young, inexperienced team. Coach Archie Miller said his players were “pleading” with each other on the sideline for a spark during the 84-64 loss to the Badgers in the conference opener on Sunday.
Maybe luckily for the Hoosiers, they have little time to dwell on the sting of that defeat. They face another tough opponent, Connecticut, in the Jimmy V Classic tonight. Although it's not a road game, as the Wisconsin game was, the crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York will likely be significantly pro-Huskies.
“We have a quick turnaround,” Miller said. “We're on a big stage (tonight) as we head to the Garden. This feeling that's in us right now (after the loss), it's not going to go away until you work it out. You've gotta earn that right and we're going to try really hard to do that as we take the floor (against Connecticut).”
The loss to the Badgers was Indiana's first game away from Assembly Hall this season. Although the veterans tried to prepare the freshmen for the rigors of playing a road game in the Big Ten, Wisconsin's early shooting performance knocked Indiana on its heels and the Hoosiers (8-1) never recovered.
They are hoping that loss can be a learning experience and effort and execution will return when they enter basketball's most famous arena.
“It was a lot of getting used to,” guard Al Durham said. “First game on the road, we didn't know how things were really going to go. ... It didn't go our way. We have to come in with our hard hats and we gotta come in and play hard and no matter what happens we gotta fight through it.”
The Hoosiers' biggest problems were on the defensive end. Wisconsin shot 53.6% from the field and 40% from beyond the 3-point line. The Hoosiers particularly struggled against the Badgers' screens, with communication between teammates conspicuously lacking.
That's surprising from a team that played so well together against Florida State and has by all accounts exhibited very good chemistry.
“We know every guy has the next man's back,” said Devonte Green, a Long Island native who will be returning to his home state today. “I think that helps us stay together in tough moments. Unfortunately we couldn't be as good (against Wisconsin), but that will help us down the road.”
The Huskies (6-2) have won three in a row, including a resounding 25-point victory over Miami (Fla.). They have a win over then-No. 15 Florida and fell to then-No. 18 Xavier 75-74 in two overtimes.
Senior guard Christian Vital leads the team with 14.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest.
The Hoosiers, who were one of the best rebounding teams in the country through eight games, struggled in that department for the first time against Wisconsin, another area where better effort could improve the situation significantly against Connecticut.
Miller wants his team to be ready for a fight in all facets.
“We've gotta become more of a grimy team on the road,” Miller said. “At home it's easy, when you're playing in that environment we play in.”
Jimmy V Classic
Indiana vs. Connecticut
When: 9 p.m. today
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City
Records: Indiana (8-1), Connecticut (6-2)
Radio: 1250 AM