Yes, there are still obviously things that we need to work on, but I think we can agree that we all feel a little bit better after inviting Indiana to our place so we could have someone to kick around for a little while. That is what makes last night's win feel even better. You get the sense we simply toyed with the Hoosiers. Once we got the lead to double digits it never got closer. There were a few times that Indiana made some runs and got it down to 12, but then we would wake up and push it back towards 20. Rebounding and free throw shooting were major issues for us, but honestly that is the only thing that prevented this from being a 30 point blowout.
We even had a near Walk-On WhiteOut at the end, as Dru Anthrop gave us the first faint stirrings of the hallowed tradition since the SIU-Edwardsville game.
Ultimately, this game was about the three seniors though. Keaton Grant had another timid performance, but he didn't need to score much. Chris Kramer had possibly his best offensive game as a Boilermaker. Hoosier fans are saying "good riddance" to him this morning, but when Kramer left the floor for the final time last night he got an ovation that has only been topped by Brees when he left in 2000. I would like to have seen Mark Wohlford play more because he has been a contributor this year, but it wasn't to be. I still think he can provide depth and defense here at tournament time. All three seniors had a night to remember as they each got their ovation and each got one more victory over the hated Hoosiers.
Positives from the second Indiana game:
Chris Kramer - It was a fitting end to his Mackey career. We got scoring. We got Kramer Moments. We got to send him off the right way. Chris was motivated from the opening tip as he took it right at Indiana offensively all night long. This is an element we need from him the rest of the year. He has proven time and again he can be a scorer, so let's open it up for him.
A new offensive identity - This is something I saw a bit of in the Michigan State game, but it was really on display last night. We're a pretty damn good fast break team if we want to force tempo. Since we have a small lineup now by default, why not use it more? We have a plethora of guards, so we can even have depth for guys who get fatigued. I don't think we should become Loyola Marymount in the early 90's, but we can definitely look to push and drive to the basket. We've struggled so much with our half-court offense that it almost makes sense. Even last night against an IU team that sagged back you could see where our half-court offense would struggle with better defensive teams. When we ran though, we almost always had easy lanes to the basket.
Getting to the free throw line - This is another thing we absolutely must do if we're going to win more. We have got to attack instead of pass around the perimeter. I don't think it is asking too much to get to the line 20 times per game. If we can get there 30 times like last night, even better. We have to convert once we are there, but we have shown that these things move in streaks. Let's get the bad shooting out of the way now when it doesn't matter as much.
E'Twaun Moore - Jeremiah Rivers may not want to see E'Twaun anymore because Moore made him look foolish on multiple occasions last night. This is the E'Twaun we need too. He didn't even shoot very well, but he still was aggressive and scored 21.
Patrick Bade - People continue to rip on Bade, but I am starting to see flashes that he will be a decent player. He is getting more aggressive. He just needs to learn how to grab the ball instead of batting it around on rebounds. The light is beginning to come on in terms of his assertiveness. This is what he needs to do. We don't need 15 and 10 from him. We just need him to be a big body that rebounds, blocks out, doesn't foul, and can score from five feet in if he's open. I don't think that is too much to ask.
Lewis Jackson - LewJack for three? This was his best game since returning from injury, and I think we see him in the starting lineup for the rest of the year. Replacing Robbie means getting efforts like this from everyone. We have to have guys that can be threats to score, assist, and rebound. With nine points and five assists, defenses have to worry about LewJack, thus freeing up JJ and E'Twaun. If we can make defenses concern themselves with LewJack, Kramer, and Grant that makes things even more open for JJ and E'Twaun. Suddenly, we will look good again if that happens.
Offensive balance - This goes back to the point above. We don't have to get 15 and 10 out of one person just to replace Robbie. If we spread that over 3 guys we're fine. We had multiple options last night. Kramer scoring 18 helps a lot obviously, but John Hart had a big three. Kelsey Barlow was at least a threat on the drive. Grant had five, but he is capable of more. Even Bade scored, which doesn't happen often. With our defense we should win 100% of the time when we score over 70. Last night we had enough balance to get there. We have two more games where we will be heavily favored where we can work on achieving this balance. Last night was a good trial run. Let's keep it going.
The open thread - I have to give it to my readers for having a dynamic Open Thread while I was gone. Mrs. T-Mill and her mad graphic design skills will be producing a banner as the Big Ten champions in Open Threads. Keep up the good work, guys.
Negatives from the second Indiana game:
Free Throws - We need to be over 70% as a team, preferably 75%. Just hit them, guys. JJ needs to be especially strong because he is naturally going to be shooting the most. Barlow... sigh.
Rebounding - This wasn't as big of an issue last night, but we have got to crash the boards better as a team. I am very concerned when a team like Indiana has double-digit offensive rebounds. Yes, it helps that they weren't shooting well, thus creating more chances for offensive rebounds, but we have got to figure out a way to do better. I honestly feel like Barlow could be an answer here. He has the size and athleticism to consistently crash the glass and be a difference maker. He just has to do it.
It is simple: Beat Penn State and get a piece of the Big Ten title. I am fine with sharing it. If you had told me before the season started that we would be without Robbie Hummel for three and a half games and without LewJack for seven games during the Big Ten season, but we would still get at least a share of the Big Ten title I wouldn't have believed you. This was goal number one all year long. Despite everything, we can still get it.
From there, we can't give up. A win Saturday gives us the #2 seed in Indianapolis. That means we face Northwestern or Indiana on Friday night. We should beat either of those opponents, and I would like another shot at Northwestern anyway. Playing Northwestern again also let's us show the selection committee we can beat a team we've lost to even without Robbie Hummel.
Should the seeds hold we would get another chance against Michigan State. With two more games to figure things out offensively I wouldn't mind another chance to prove ourselves against them. Again, it would also be a big statement game for the selection committee if we can win that one after playing so poorly in the first game without Robbie. From there, the Big Ten Tournament final won't matter in seeding anyway because it finishes too late.
Also, don't forget that Kansas State and Duke both looked ugly last night in losses. I'm not saying it is a guarantee, but there is a 4th number one seed out there for the taking. Let's go take it.