The Indiana Hoosiers took care of business on Thursday as they easily defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini 74-47 thanks to a dominant second half performance. With the win, the Hoosiers now sit at 13-3 in Big Ten play and are closing in on their second conference championship in four years.
Yet how did a team left for dead at the beginning of December turn things around so drastically?
Here are three reasons the Hoosiers are one win away from clinching at least a share of the Big Ten title and two wins away from winning the conference outright:
- Depth: Very few college basketball teams have nine players who can contribute on a nightly basis and the Hoosiers take full advantage. Combining their breakneck pace with their ability to rotate players in and out keeps their players relatively fresh enough to make a game-ending run when the opponent becomes gassed. It has also helped the team weather what could have been a season-ending injury when James Blackmon Jr. went down right before Big Ten play began. Instead, freshmen OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan have grown up quickly and have provided superior defense along with adequate offense.
- Schedule: Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: the Hoosiers had a very easy early Big Ten schedule. This was even more important for the Hoosiers as it coincided with their period of trying to adapt their rotation after the loss of Blackmon. Looking back at a couple of those games it’s almost shameful to think that the Hoosier only beat awful Rutgers by 7 points. But those early games against lesser competition let the Hoosiers make a successful transition while not hurting their record. At the end of the day, you can’t control who you face in your conference and the Hoosiers took advantage of things breaking right for them.
- Yogi Ferrell: The senior point guard has been great throughout his entire career at Indiana but this year he has taken it to another level. In Big Ten games this season, Ferrell is averaging 17.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. On top of that, his defense has reached a level he’s never played at before and it has resulted in 1.31 steals per game in conference play for a player who has never averaged over one steal at any point in his college career. But what’s been the most impressive is his leadership. I only mentioned Big Ten games because those are the games he’s played with Blackmon out of the lineup, showing that Ferrell has stepped up in his absence. Ferrell reinforced the notion that he can carry the Hoosiers when the team needs it by posting 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists against Illinois in a game Indiana was without Rob Johnson and saw Troy Williams play limited minutes due to an injury. In the second half alone, after trailing the Illini 28-27 at half, Ferrell had as many points in the second half (19) as the whole Illinois team. He may not win Big Ten Player of the Year, but Ferrell has arguably been the most valuable player in the conference and is starting to climb the list of greatest Hoosiers of all time.