For the first two months of this basketball season, the Indiana Hoosiers were a hot team.
In January, they turned into a hot mess.
After getting off to a 12-2 start, they lost seven straight games, sustaining a series of key injuries and going from Jan. 3 to Feb. 2 without experiencing victory.
But that’s not the Indiana team that Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and his players expect to see today in an 8:05 p.m. tussle at the Assembly Hall.
They figure they’re going to face the November-December version that hammered Marquette, edged Louisville and Butler and won its first three Big Ten games.
"They’re a great team. They started 12-2," said Iowa freshman Joe Wieskamp, who led the 20th-ranked Hawkeyes to an upset of Michigan last week. "Obviously, they went through a rough patch, but I think they’re back. They got a couple of guys off injury that are back to make their team that much better. We expect them at full force with a home crowd. Playing on the road is going to be tough so we’re expecting a battle."
The Hoosiers (13-9, 4-7 Big Ten) seldom were at full strength during that seven-game skid, which included two losses to No. 7 Michigan and road losses at No. 15 Purdue and No. 24 Maryland.
Center Deron Davis missed four games with an ankle injury and played a combined total of 15 minutes over an eight-game stretch. Freshman point guard Rob Phinisee sat out three games with a concussion. Guard Devonte Green, who missed four games with an injury early in the season, was suspended for three games. Senior Zach McRoberts missed six games with a back injury.
The Hoosiers already were without Jerome Hunter, a top-50 recruit who underwent surgery in November, and redshirt freshman Race Thompson, who has played only four minutes all season because of concussion issues.
But Davis, Green, Phinisee and McRoberts all were back in action last Saturday for a game at No. 9 Michigan State. Even after losing star forward Juwan Morgan to a shoulder injury six minutes into the game, the Hoosiers were able to snap their losing streak with a stunning 79-75 upset.
"They weren't healthy," McCaffery said. "They were losing seven in a row and weren't getting drilled so they were playing as well as they were capable …
"Now they're all back. Go on the road and beat Michigan State. That's who we're playing."
Morgan will be there, too. The 6-foot-8 senior, a high school and AAU rival of Iowa’s Tyler Cook, returned to practice Tuesday.
"I’m pretty sure he’ll be ready to go Thursday," Cook said. "He’ll be there."
Cook and Morgan aren’t the only players who will be on opposing sides tonight who became acquainted before beginning their college careers.
Wieskamp and Indiana freshman phenom Romeo Langford were on the same team at an NBA development camp in high school. Wieskamp didn’t play in any of the games there because he had mononucleosis, but they were together in team meetings and got to know one another. Wieskamp thinks they may have squared off at some point on the AAU circuit, too.
Langford was regarded as one of the top 10 recruits in the country last year, and he is averaging 17.4 points per game, sixth best in the Big Ten.
"He’s just very smooth, I think," Wieskamp said. "Sometimes it doesn’t look like he’s trying very hard, but he’s flying past you, rising up for a dunk. Everything in his game is so smooth, and you can tell it’s going to translate well to the NBA."
McCaffery said he has been impressed with the way Langford has handled the hype that accompanied him to Indiana.
"He came in with a huge reputation, and I think a lot of times there is a lot of pressure on guys like him," he said. "He's going to be the fifth pick, going to be the sixth pick, but hasn't played a college game yet. I don't think that's easy. He's handled it as well as anybody I've seen.
"He plays at his pace. He's got a complete game. He can dribble, pass, and shoot. Plays defense, rebounds, they go to him late, makes big shots. Made big shots the other night in that game. Has tremendous confidence in himself. He's one of the best players in the country."