Seeking a return to the No. 1 ranking they held for the first month and change of the 2012-13 season, the Indiana Hoosiers entertain the Owls of Florida Atlantic in non-conference action on Friday night.
FAU is a game under .500 at this point, having lost six of its 11 matchups, including the last two. The current slide comes on the heels of a three-game win streak, which included its first win in Sun Belt Conference play -- 72-65 over Arkansas State. The game prior, the Owls dropped their league lidlifter against South Alabama, 77-66. This bout, while being the first-ever against Indiana, starts a three-game road trip for FAU, the team logging a 1-4 mark in true road tilts this season.
Through nine games, Indiana lived up to its preseason billing as the top team in the land. But the Hoosiers suffered an 88-86 overtime loss to Butler on Dec. 15, dropping them to sixth in this week's AP poll. IU bounced back with a 93-54 trouncing of Mount St. Mary's on Wednesday, and the team will play just one more non-league tilt following this game before kicking off Big Ten Conference action at Iowa on New Year's Eve.
Florida Atlantic is fortunate to have one of the top players in the Sun Belt wearing its uniform, as Greg Gantt averages 21.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest. He is a 42.7 percent shooter from 3-point range, helping the Owls muster a 38.0 percent showing from beyond the arc as a team. FAU, which has just one other double-digit scorer on the roster in Stefan Moody (15.0 ppg), is hitting only 39.3 percent of its total shots and averages 66.2 ppg as a result. Defensively, the Owls yield 68.7 ppg and they are in the red in both rebounding (-1.2) and turnover margin (-2.9). FAU was most recently in action on Tuesday night, and despite 23 points from Gantt the team dropped a 69-68 decision to visiting Stetson. The Owls lost the game despite forcing 19 turnovers, mostly because of a 12-5 deficit in points from the foul line.
Like Gantt for FAU, Indiana has its own star in sophomore Cody Zeller, a 62.2 percent shooter who leads the team in scoring (15.7 ppg), rebounding (8.3 rpg) and blocked shots (14). But unlike the Owls, the Hoosiers have several others who have the ability to lead the way on any given night. IU had five players reach double figures in the recent rout of Mount St. Mary's, with Zeller and Will Sheehy netting 16 points apiece for a team that shot a sizzling 70.6 percent from the field, knocking down 9-of-12 3-point tries along the way. In stark contrast, IU's overmatched opponent hit a mere 31.5 percent of its field goal attempts, and suffered a crippling 41-18 disadvantage on the boards. The one area coach Tom Crean would like to see improve however, is in the turnover department as the Hoosiers coughed the ball up 19 times. For the season though, Indiana is +3.1 in turnover margin, +13.2 in rebounds, and a staggering +29.3 in the scoring column.