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Posted on Mon. Jan. 20, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

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Does IU have the personality to beat Michigan State?

Hoosiers face big challenge at No. 4 Spartans

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Tipoff: Indiana at Michigan State, 7 p.m., Tuesday.

Radio: 1250-AM

TV: ESPN

Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

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BLOOMINGTON – What's next for Indiana and its split-personality basketball team?

The Hoosiers (12-6) head to No. 4 Michigan State (17-1) on Tuesday night to face the whirlwind that has become the Big Ten's best team, although surging Michigan might disagree.

But the answer goes beyond that.

Indiana faces a watershed moment in this Good-Hoosier, Bad-Hoosier season. It can rise to its Big Ten challenge (see Wisconsin victory) or it can submit (consider Northwestern loss). It can get tough-minded leadership from veterans Will Sheehey, Yogi Ferrell and Evan Gordon, or it can panic.

For better or worse, these Hoosiers do it all.

“I think we just played,” freshman Stanford Robinson said about the Northwestern loss. “I don't think we thought the game. I guess we thought the same things that were in the Wisconsin game were going to be there with Northwestern. I mean, they were, but it didn't happen as early. We tried to force it instead of just letting it happen.”

That's very astute. Even at a young age, Robinson grasps the big picture, which doesn't always mean acting on it.

“We weren't mature enough to handle a great win and play the way we needed to play,” coach Tom Crean said. “The distractions of winning a big game caught us.”

Will the disappointment of losing a winnable game motivate for what's ahead? Hoosier actions will answer that.

“There's a way to win; there's a way to lose,” Crean said. “(Saturday) we showed how to lose. The other night, we showed how to win.”

IU's future rests with Sheehey, Ferrell and Gordon, especially Sheehey and Ferrell. They have to lead, certainly, but they have to produce, consistently.

In 31 minutes against Northwestern, Ferrell was 2-for-14 from the field for nine points along with one assist. He's better than that.

Sheehey made 1 of 7 shots and had two points and three rebounds in 28 minutes. That's not close to his best.

So Crean pushes, prods and preaches. He demands much because the Hoosiers have much to give. And when they don't, he shakes things up by shaking up the lineup. Former walk-on Jeff Howard played 14 minutes against Northwestern. Current walk-on Jonny Marlin, who gave up a starting point guard job at IPFW for a limited Hoosier role, got eight minutes, all in the second half.

Here's what they produced – a combined zero points, one rebound, one assist, one steal.

That's not the answer.

Freshman Troy Williams has faded to typical youthful irrelevance -- averaging 4.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in Big Ten play. Sophomore Hanner Mosquera-Perea has limits that might never expand. Freshmen Devin Davis and Collin Hartman aren't yet ready. Oft-injured center Peter Jurkin just takes up roster space. That must be addressed in the offseason.

As for the mystery that is Jeremy Hollowell's three-games-and-counting benching, Crean remains vague, even when asked if the sophomore forward has been secretly suspended.

“You'll see him when I put him in,” Crean said. “That's where it is. That's where I'm at.”

Clarity is so refreshing.

As far as Michigan State, a victory would be an even better resume builder than beating Wisconsin at Assembly Hall because of the road implications.

Can IU get the upset? Logic suggests no. The Spartans won big in Assembly Hall a few weeks ago. They have won 10 straight games. They have talent, depth and experience.

Plus, they will have, as they didn't at Assembly Hall, the Breslin Center's raucous Izzone student section to ratchet up their intensity.

For the Hoosiers to have a chance, Sheehey and Ferrell must play to expectations, and beyond. They have to score, rebound, defend and lead.

And, of course, don't turn the ball over.

The Spartans will try to take away IU drives. They will put a wall around the paint with bruisers such as Adreian Payne (assuming he's healthy enough to play) and Branden Dawson. They will rough up Hoosier freshman Noah Vonleh. They will attack the glass and push the pace.

What will the Hoosiers do?

It depends on which personality shows up.

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.


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