Tipoff: Penn State at Indiana, 7 p.m. tonight
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BLOOMINGTON –- Victor Oladipo will never be confused with Johnny Depp.
And yet, for an hour or so, Indiana's junior guard tapped into the spirit of Depp's Jack Sparrow "Pirates of the Caribbean" character by virtue of the black eye patch he wore as a precaution.
“I was taking pictures,” he said. “Getting my 'Pirates of the Caribbean' on. It was fun.”
No, this was not coach Tom Crean's way of team stress reduction from Big Ten battles. Oladipo had injured his right eye during Sunday's win at Northwestern and IU's medical staff didn't want any problems to arise on the plane ride back to Bloomington. He wore it during the flight, then took it off once the plane landed
The pirate look, it seems, doesn't quite fit the Cream and Crimson's candy-striped image, especially with Oladipo set to start tonight against Penn State at Assembly Hall.
“I'm good, man,” Oladipo said. “It hurt for a little bit. It hurt (Monday), but it feels good now. I can see. That's all that really matters.”
Oladipo sees well enough to understand that Penn State might be 0-6 in the Big Ten, but is not, say, the second coming of Bryant.
“It's the Big Ten, the best conference in the country,” he said. “Just because they haven't won a Big Ten game doesn't mean they're not capable of it. Everybody in the Big Ten is dangerous. We can't take anybody lightly.”
The seventh-ranked Hoosiers (16-2 overall, 4-1 in the conference) need a victory to stay within range of No. 13 Michigan State (6-1 in Big Ten play) and guarantee first-place implications when the teams meet on Sunday at Assembly Hall.
But that's for late consideration. The Hoosiers won at Penn State 74-51 a couple of weeks ago, understand the importance of a sweep and recognize that defense fuels everything.
“It's something we take pride in because we understand that defense is going to be necessary to win a championship,” assistant coach Kenny Johnson said. “Whether it's a Big Ten championship or a national championship, we don't hide the fact those are our goals.”
Tonight's game might feature more of forward Derek Elston and guard Maurice Creek. Both have been sidelined because of injury –- Elston with knee surgery, Creek with a foot problem.
Elston did play one minute against Northwestern and received a standing ovation from the large IU crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena. He's only played five games this season and averaged 1.0 points and 1.8 rebounds.
The oft-injured Creek hasn't played since December's Butler game. He averages 3.0 points and 1.6 rebounds in 10 games.
“Maurice is just coming back and has not had any full practices yet,” Crean said. “He was available (for the Northwestern game), but that wasn't the time nor the place. That's coming and should be this week.
“Derek had not practiced until Friday. He had a tough week not being where he needed to be health-wise.
“We put him in (against Northwestern). He didn't do a bad job, but when they were to that zone and you haven't played in a long time, I didn't want anybody tentative in that situation.
“It will be good for him to be able to help us this week. We'd like to get them both integrated back to where they can be an integral part of the game for us.”
Penn State continues to struggle after the season-ending injury to guard Tim Frazier. The Nittany Lions are 8-10 overall.
Guard D.J. Newbill leads the Nittany Lions in scoring (15.3 points) and averages 5.9 rebounds. Guard Jermaine Marshall averages 15.2 points and 4.5 rebounds. Forward Ross Travis averages 7.0 points and 7.2 rebounds.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers has struggled in his attempts to rebuild the program. Crean knows the feeling, having endured three straight 20-loss seasons before turning things around last season.
“The biggest thing you have to have is patience,” Crean said about his rebuilding effort. “It's having patience and perspective. Make sure you stay with the vision you have, even when others don't see it, even when the players have trouble grasping it.
“Pat does an incredible job in getting his identity to his team. They never stop playing hard and competing. He has some talented guys who are figuring each other out. They need to have energy and hope. When those things happen, then the confidence will come. It's just a matter of time.”
As for the Nittany Lions' poor Big Ten start, well, it doesn't ease forward Cody Zeller's concerns.
“They're always confident,” he said. “They play like they're on a five-game winning streak.”