By Todd Golden
TERRE HAUTE — As a rule, when two teams have played each other eight days apart, familiarity breeds concern.
Coaches have to worry about creating wrinkles in a gameplan and hiding tendencies that haven’t had the march of time to alter much. Strengths and weaknesses of the opponent are more fresh in the mind.
That’s what normally transpires. But in a way, Indiana State’s 62-40 loss at Northern Iowa on Dec. 16 was so abysmal from the Sycamores’ perspective that the 20th-ranked Panthers might not have gleaned much of what ISU can do right in the flesh.
“It’s one of those games you just want to throw out and forget about. That’s the worst performance we’ve had this year, without a doubt,” ISU senior guard Harry Marshall said.
Could ISU’s poor performance at McLeod Center help them today? Especially if Dwayne Lathan is in action? It might be a stretch, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
“You can look at it both ways. It might help us, but you can also look at it and know that you can play that [badly] again. The way we’re looking at it now is we need to start off with some urgency. It’s hard to put this game in the must-win category, but we’re looking at it that way,” Marshall said.
As for Lathan, he is still questionable, but there are signs that he might be ready to return to action. He practiced more extensively on Saturday than he has been, taking part in drills that required him to cut and run.
“He’s coming along. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. He’s making progress, but there’s no guarantees by any stretch,” ISU coach Kevin McKenna said.
Marshall said that whether Lathan plays or not has had no bearing on how ISU should be mentally preparing for its games.
“You go about it the same way we’ve been going about it. You’ve got to get ready for the game thinking you’re going to be without him. You can’t be thinking about whether he’s going to play or what he’s going to give you. A player’s first game back is a feeling out process anyway, you don’t know what they might give you offensively and defensively,” Marshall said.
Since UNI’s victory over ISU, the Panthers lost to Wichita State on Tuesday and their week-long stay in the national rankings might be numbered. It is the fifth instance during the Missouri Valley Conference campaign that ISU has played a team coming off a loss.
n Conflict with Colts game unavoidable — ISU’s athletic department did everything it could to try and avoid a conflict with today’s AFC Championship Game, but ultimately, network TV obligations hemmed the Sycamores in.
The ISU game will tipoff at 2 p.m. — one hour before the Indianapolis Colts play the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game — and it will be broadcast as the MVC Game of the Week on Fox Sports Midwest. While ISU normally loves the television exposure, this time network obligations took away any flexibility ISU had in changing the game time.
Because the MVC game is slotted between a Cincinnati-Louisville Big East game on Comcast Chicago (which carries the MVC feed in parts of Illinois and Indiana) and a Big 12 women’s game between Oklahoma State and Colorado on Fox Sports Midwest, the time slot was locked in advance and could not be changed.
Knowing that, ISU also attempted to have the Colts game feed shown on the video screens at Hulman Center after the ISU-UNI game concluded. WTHI, which will carry the AFC Championship Game locally, was amenable to this, but showing the game at Hulman Center would violate NFL television rules.
McKenna knows how low the attendance might be because he was at Hulman Center when a Colts playoff game coincided with an ISU home game. He was on Creighton’s staff when the Bluejays visited the Sycamores on Jan. 15, 2006. The Colts played, and lost, an AFC Divisional Round playoff game against Pittsburgh that day. Hulman Center was near-empty.
“We can’t worry about any of that. There’s a lot of Colts fans in the area and it’s a big deal. To us, this game is a big deal too. I know our people tried to make arrangements, but it’s on national TV and they can’t move it out of that time slot,” McKenna said. “The people that show up? We’re going to play as hard as we can for them and for our school like we always do. Any non-Colts fans ... come on out.”
Marshall, a Steelers fan who said he’s rooting for the Colts today, said the attendance number is the last thing he and his teammates should be concerned about.
“Tomorrow has nothing to do with the crowd, it has nothing to do with a top 25 team coming in here, it should have to do with us being motivated to come in here and get a win against the No. 1 team in our conference on our home floor. We get our butts kicked in the last game. That should be the only worry on our mind,” Marshall said.