When a team is mired at the bottom of the conference standings without its best player for the entire season, it can be hard to look at the silver lining.
That's the position Penn State and second-year coach Patrick Chambers are in.
The Nittany Lions are 0-6 in the Big Ten and have won eight games all season. Guard Tim Frazier, who many expected to be a first-team all-Big Ten, is out with a ruptured Achilles suffered early in the season, and there are some pretty dark days around the Bryce Jordan Center.
But if the Penn State faithful want to look for an example of how quickly things can turn around, tonight's opponent — Indiana — comes at just the right time.
When Tom Crean took over at Indiana before the 2008-09 season, the Hoosiers had lost tons of talent off a team that finished third in the Big Ten the previous year. And the program was in a bit of turmoil after coach Kelvin Sampson had been let go for violating NCAA rules.
In Crean's first season, the Hoosiers went 6-25 and won one game in the Big Ten. In fact, Indiana won seven conference games the next two seasons.
But the Hoosiers had faith in their coach and his system.
And it paid off with a trip to the Sweet 16 last season after a fifth-place finish in the conference. This year, Indiana is among the best teams in the nation.
"Patience," Crean said. "Having patience and perspective and making sure you truly stay with the vision that you have, even when others don't see it, even when players are having trouble grasping it, because they need confidence."
Crean is confident Chambers has Penn State headed in the right direction, too.
And even with Frazier on the sidelines, there is talent in State College. D.J. Newbill (15.3 points, 4.1 assists) has adjusted well to the point guard position, and guard Jermaine Marshall (15.2 points) is a solid second option.
"I think Pat does a phenomenal job of getting identity to his team," Crean said. "They never, ever stop playing hard and competing. He's got some talented guys that are starting to figure each other out on the court. That's the key because players don't need patience and perspective; they need to have hope and energy. When those come the confidence will come with that."
As Michigan prepares to host Purdue on Thursday, it will feel fortunate knowing freshman Glenn Robinson III is on its side.
Purdue seemed like the school for Robinson considering his father was an All-American for the Boilermakers. The elder Robinson also was a teammate of coach Matt Painter .
But Painter lost Robinson to Michigan simply because he didn't have a spot for the standout.
"We recruited him, and we actually ran out of scholarships," Painter said. "We really liked him, and he was a good player."
Minnesota gets some help in its bid to bounce back from consecutive losses (Indiana, Michigan) when it faces Northwestern tonight.
Joe Coleman (sprained ankle), limited in both losses, had an MRI last weekend and everything was fine. Rodney Williams (knee, groin) should be back after struggling against the Wolverines.
"He wasn't himself, let's put it that way," coach Tubby Smith said. "I think the combination of that, and being bumped, and when you go up against the best, too, they are a pretty talented team, you want to be at your full strength. Psychologically, I'm thinking he's fine, but in reality, he probably wasn't fully mentally sharp or physically sharp, but he's fine now."
Despite a 2-4 start in conference, Illinois coach John Groce hasn't lost his sense of humor.
When he was asked about the problems his team has had defensively, he pointed out how playing hard simply is not enough.
"I don't know if you've watched 'Christmas Vacation' with Chevy Chase ," Groce said. "The in-laws keep coming out to see him turn the lights on and they're not working. Chevy Chase's daughter says, 'Hey grandpa, he's working really hard.' And he says, 'Yeah, so do washing machines.'
"At some point you've got to execute, too. They set a back screen, you've got to help or it's gonna be a layup. It doesn't mean you're not playing hard, but we've got to execute the little details."