IndyStar IU Insider Zach Osterman and Chronic Hoosier recap a pair of wins, look ahead to Big Ten and offer their best of 2017. Zach Osterman / IndyStar
Senior point guard Josh Newkirk has stepped up his game lately.(Photo: Michael Hickey / for The Star)Buy Photo
BLOOMINGTON – Indiana exits the holiday period with two wins, an extended break and some time to refresh before the restart of Big Ten play.
Coach Archie Miller’s team hits 2018 on a two-game winning streak, thanks to a pair of relatively pedestrian victories in guarantee games. With league play back on the horizon, and two tough road trips to start the new year, here’s a look at what’s trending for IU:
Josh Newkirk: As responses to Fort Wayne, go Newkirk’s was noteworthy. Over two games in the past 10 days, the redshirt senior has 30 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, four made 3-pointers, four steals and only three turnovers. Of IU’s primary ball-handling guards, Newkirk is the only one with an assist rate (23.1 percent) higher than his turnover rate. That assist rate is also the Hoosiers’ best. And on a team of players struggling right now to reach career percentages from behind the arc, Newkirk is shooting a steady 38.3 percent. He’s a lightning rod for criticism, and the Fort Wayne game was far from his best. His response has been noticeable however.
Juwan Morgan: At a certain point, you have to acknowledge . I’m not sure how many would’ve pegged the 6-7 junior forward as IU’s most likely breakout candidate in the preseason. But he’s now scored in double figures in seven of eight, and nine of 11. On balance, he is Indiana’s most efficient offensive player, as well as its most productive, and his rebounding and rim defense aren’t far behind. He’s 11th in the Big Ten in both points and rebounds per game, and eighth in field goal percentage. Juwan Morgan is Indiana’s leading man.
Zach McRoberts keeps earning more and more playing time. (Photo: Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)
Zach McRoberts: The subject of , and suddenly a quiet candidate for a starting job in Bloomington. McRoberts’ Christmas looked like this: two games, 49 minutes, 15 points, 14 rebounds, five assists (and apparently some Chipotle gift cards on the holiday itself). Some sections of IU’s fan base lament a walk-on commanding such a prominent position, but remember McRoberts was on scholarship with a strong mid-major program at one time. His is not a normal walk-on story. His offensive confidence is growing, he’s becoming more of a force on the glass and he fills a lot of holes at both ends of the floor.
3-point defense: Will it last? Hard to say. But a pair of opponents shot just 7-of-43 from behind the arc against IU last week. Youngstown State — admittedly a very bad 3-point shooting team already — missed all but two of its eye-popping 25 3-point tries Friday night. For the first time in a long time, opponents are shooting under 40 percent from distance against Indiana, with that number down to 38 percent. Neither Tennessee Tech nor Youngstown State can alone be held as evidence of permanent change. But if some of IU’s problems behind the arc were about giving opponents too much confidence, it’s only fair to point out when the Hoosiers effectively take it away.
3-point shooting: Indiana needed that improved perimeter defense last week, as the Hoosiers shot just 13-of-46 from behind the arc themselves. IU now averages 30.7 percent from 3-point range as a team, and it’s a problem wherever Indiana goes. The Hoosiers only shoot marginally better from behind the arc at home (30.8 percent) than they do away from Assembly Hall (30.4 percent). IU has falling percentages across the board. This is a poor shooting team until it’s not anymore.
Schedule congestion: Indiana plays nine Big Ten games in January. It starts 2018 with two tricky road trips — Wisconsin and Minnesota — and faces two of its three one-day turnarounds before February hits. From Jan. 2-30, the Hoosiers will play once every 3.2 days. It’s something everyone in the league will face, but not ideal for a team that by its own admission is still building the proverbial airplane while flying it.
INDIANA (8-6, 1-1) AT WISCONSIN (8-7, 1-1)
Tipoff: 7 p.m., Tuesday, Madison, Wis.